Former English cricketer Robin Jackman is giving his pitch report (April 25) in Chandigarh, and the girls, both blonde and brunette, mainly white, and unmistakably Caucasian, are dancing before him. He seems indifferent. He has a job to do: report the weather conditions and discuss the “toss” between the captains for audiences across the cricket world. Amidst this workmanlike program is a flurry of skirts and pompoms.
This scene is surely unprecedented in the annals of this provincial, rather stuffy sport, long given over to social hierarchies in both Britain and her former colonies. A sport dedicated to the long afternoon, the gin and tonic, and the imperial self-satisfaction, was not meant for this. Suddenly, we might as well be in Yankee stadium.
Indeed, the organisers of world cricket’s newest attraction, the Indian Premier League (IPL) would like to believe that. This brainchild of world cricket’s leviathan, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, arose as a means of coping with Subhash Chandra’s Indian Cricket League. International players, along with a potpourri of promotional gimmicks, were sought to sweeten the mix. Ostensibly catchy names for the teams were also thrown into the bargain: the Mohali Punjab Kings, and the Kolkata Knight Riders. Then came the cheerleaders.
The match begins after an introduction and patchy analysis from commentators whose smiles linger for too long over pearly white teeth. This is the IPL, a league that is aspiring to be a baseball world series. Then come the performers, dressed in gaudy, somewhat jarring colours, who fight out a match of 20 overs a piece. Each over comprises six deliveries, and field restrictions are strictly designed to fetter the bowler and empower the batsman, who then proceeds to pummel to his heart’s content.
Some viewers, at least those who are being targeted by this format (audiences in South and South-East Asia) do not quite know what to make of the modern variants. An open question submitted on the Yahoo Malaysia search engine gathered a host of responses on the 20-20 format of the IPL. Where, posed the questioner, had the vigorous “sledging” gone? The racial taunts were absent, as was the direct questioning about spouse and parentage so typical on the modern cricket field. Even Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh were behaving, their exploits of a few months prior scotched by a mutual hunger for money.
The questioner, calling himself “Laughing Tears”, even went so far as to suggest that the format of the game be altered to bolster the competitive spirit. No girls please, but more rehearsed sessions of testosterone-charged machismo, “like WFF fighters”. This “artificial drama of sledging can be pre-planned to make this game more attractive”.
Organisers of this form of sport see cricket consumers as fast-food addicts. Like the documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, they are overtly keen on consuming the same food for a month, with its inevitable consequences.
The IPL, much like the polystyrene parallels of the fast food world, is also a peculiar cultural package. Take the insistence of its organisers on cheerleaders in the form of short-skirted scantily clad Caucasians. The Indian ideal of the model woman, at least in the commercial sense of the term, is a Caucasian beauty with flawless white skin. Indian audiences are constantly reminded of that fact.
This is far from peculiar to India - other Asian countries adhere to the canon that one white feature covers three aspects of ugliness. Whiteness was aristocratic and sheltered, a glaring contrast to the field hand or sun-burnt labourer. “Flawlessly milky skin is to die for”, promotes one particular website for Asian women.
This fascination with whitening comes with its hazards - in 2002, some 1,262 people flooded a hotline established by the Hong Kong health department fearing a toxic cream outbreak. Mercury levels in Rosedew and La Rose Blanche, both whitener creams, were somewhere between nine to 65,000 times the recommended dosage.
The advertising machine is driven to producing whiteness, and the cricket behemoth that has given the IPL is no different. An Aryan obsession dominates like an imperialist trope - the Dravidian cowering, indeed covering, is still there.
Black, or for that matter brown, is not beautiful in the commercial drive of the subcontinent. Physical fairness is what counts, as the Indian National Party Congress Chairman Sonia Gandhi finds in her supporters. One columnist went so far as to find in this Italian-born figure and widow of Rajiv Gandhi the “highest Vedantic ideals”.