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An Indian making the most of life in sports-crazed Melbourne

Far Pavilions

The Great Indian colonial hangover

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"When do you think an Indian boy will represent Australia in cricket?" asked a person from a gathering of Indian cricket fans to the amiable Peter Roebuck. This was at an informal gathering after the boxing day test match last December. The venue was a North Indian restaurant in Melbourne. Roebuck had agreed to come over and chat up with the cricket enthusiasts from the local Indian diaspora that evening. The AU$10 buffet for a moderately lavish spread was good enough an inducement to get away from the chore of churning up dinner for the evening. Add to that, a couple of hours of blissful cricket chat with one of the hottest contemporary cricket writers, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Roebuck answered the Indian-boy-in-Australian-team question with aplomb and rightly suggested that the Indian diaspora needed to answer that question themselves. To me, this question and a quite a few of the others that followed, seemed to carry a recurring underlying theme. The theme was one of seeking recognition for the Great Indians and Indianness from a foreigner of standing.

In 8 months of moving to Melbourne and reading their local newspapers, I got an orthogonal sense of recognition-seeking behaviour by the Australians. Australia is a country that derives large amounts of self-esteem from its sporting achievements. The 8 page sports section in the weekend edition of the local broadsheets is a good indicator of that. What you notice as you read through this section is how inward-looking the Australians can be. The local newspapers carry reports on cricket matches not involving Australia, with about the same frequency that George Bush has words of praise for Saddam Hussein. When Australia is not involved, only a landmark event like Lara regaining the highest test score record with a 400, or Tendulkar scoring his 10,000th run in test cricket can merit a few inches of column space.

This led me to ask Roebuck a question related to this phenomenon –Indian newspapers have a trend of seeking foreign columnists and members of the opposing team to write pieces during an ongoing series –a trend that you never see in the Australian newspapers (time for them to take a cue from the Guardian in UK, which features excellent reports from Amit Varma on the India-Pakistan series). So the question –Is the Indian trend to be construed as an increasing broad-mindedness for a foreign view? Or, is it the remnants of a colonial hangover that we haven’t been able to shake off?

Roebuck had a view on this which probably covers an arena larger than sports. He observed that he too had witnessed this phenomenon. When in India, he recounted instances where his views were sought on every little thing –to the point of being intrigued on why he would be considered an expert on every topic. In that, he felt that Australia had had a similar pattern of kow-towing to the English for many years. He suggested that prolonged success breeds a self-esteem that makes you less dependant on approbation from outsiders. Roebuck was of the view that Australia has long gained that confidence over the last decade and if anything, India was well on its way there. Economic success has made India a place for professionals from all industries -including that of sports, to make a mark. In a reversal of trend, he thought it was the foreign experts –in their quest to make a name for themselves, that were beating a path to India for assignments.

That may not have been an observation of the greatest profundity, but if any such session in future has an audience less insecure of their origins, India is certainly making progress.


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