Vinoth Ramachandra

Opium of the Masses?

Posted on: April 18, 2011

In December 2009, Karin’s scathing review of Greg Mortenson’s best-selling book Three Cups of Tea was written up on this Blog. She drew sharp criticism from some American friends who were shocked that she dared to question what was obviously such a wonderful and encouraging story about building schools in Pakistan and central Asia. Much to our surprise, a Pakistani mentioned prominently in the book, Ghulam Parvi,  responded to the Blog post. Not only did he agree with Karin but stated that many of the claims made by Mortenson were actually false.

We have been involved for over a year in making futile appeals to foreign journalists to investigate Parvi’s allegations and expose Mortenson if, indeed, the allegations were true. Many of our appeals seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. But one of the commentators on our Blog, an American woman living in Mortenson’s town and who herself visited the schools in Pakistan, took up Parvi’s allegations. She contacted Mortenson’s  Central Asia Institute directly, as well as former employees, and pursued the story with the dedication that we were incapable of.

Last night CBS Television in the US did an expose of Mortenson in their program “60 Minutes”.  (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363068n)

Today, we read of it on the BBC:
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/world-south-asia-13112799 >

Perseverance sometimes pays off!

But now I want to turn to another area of mindless gullibility. One of the blessings of having been away in March, was that I missed entirely the cricket World Cup hosted in India and Sri Lanka. Both host nations made it to the finals, with India winning. Ever since Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, the attraction of the game has palled for me.

Cricket in Sri Lanka has become so politicized and commercialised, with the administration of the game in the hands of politicians and their stooges. Corruption and nepotism are rife. Massive amounts of funds are diverted into building showpiece stadiums around the island. The sports minister recently admitted that Sri Lanka cricket is saddled with a US $23 million debt after cost overruns and hefty bills incurred building stadiums for the recent World Cup. Very little of the money that is poured into the game trickles down to the poor or to develop public infrastructure.

What is true of Sri Lanka also applies to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The game attracts gambling syndicates, criminal gangs and TV moghuls. It leads to an almost total neglect of other, less costly, sports. It encourages the mindless chauvinism that equates a nation’s greatness with the performance of eleven men on a cricket pitch. The mindlessness is taken to new heights in the Indian Premier League which invites cricketers from all over the world to become virtual prostitutes, paying them huge salaries to play a bowdlerized version of the game (called 20-20). The latter comes replete with American-type “cheerleaders”; all fair-skinned Indian women, even some foreigners, aping their American counterparts.  The ridiculous has become sublime.

In other words, cricket has become the  “bread and circuses” that increasingly masked the oppressions and decadence of the Roman empire. In our case, there isn’t even bread, only the circuses.

Perhaps a more appropriate metaphor would be that which Karl Marx used of religion. As the new religion of the Indian subcontinent, cricket has become the “opium of the masses”. Lulled into a make-believe world, millions of the urban poor congregate around their collective TV sets, thus creating an illusory sense of national unity. The more cricket is on the TV, the less time to agitate on the streets against the cruel indignities of work or the humiliations of chronic unemployment. Like soccer and royal weddings in the UK, I suppose.

What sport do I enjoy watching the most today? One that is almost impossible to catch on South Asian TV channels, because it is the least commercialized and politicized- international Rugby Union. I never tire of watching the southern hemisphere teams, and especially the New Zealand All Blacks, my favourites. Rugby may be the religion of New Zealand, but that’s their problem, not mine! All I can say is, Roll on, the Rugby World Cup!

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11 Responses to "Opium of the Masses?"

It’s a funny world Vinoth. In Ireland, rugby is disproportionately represented in the media and in marketing campaigns because of its alignment with the upper classes and with the historic Protestant ascendancy. Rugby is played primarily by a small slice of society that marketeers call the “ABC1s”; consumers with lots of expendable income. So even though soccer, the Gaelic games and even basketball are more commonly played across the country, the commercialisation of rugby makes it unduly prominent!

Of course it helps that our rugby team is excellent (relatively speaking) but it probably goes to show the nuanced texture of globalisation; from one place to another one particular phenomenon may vary but the larger trend is omnipresent- everything, especially sport, increasingly pursued for the profits of the elite.

On your comments on cricket- why do you need to use phrases like ‘virtual prostitutes’? By that token all of us who work for money abroad should be virtual prostitutes. Anyone who leaves his shores for financial reasons should be a virtual prostitute? I don’t watch IPL because it has indeed become distracting and commercial. There is also no sense in rooting for your home team because the home team has people from all over the world, but please stop these loaded statements.

Vijay, going abroad has nothing to do with it.

We call a man/woman who sells his/her body purely for money a prostitute. What term should we be using for a man who sells his brains or his sporting skills to the highest bidder (with no other consideration than how much he gets)?

Whatever else, certainly not a prostitute. Such terms cheapen your appeal.

“Perseverance sometimes pays off!”

Amen to that.

Vijay, I suggest you suggest a term ‘for a man who sells his brains or his sporting skills to the highest bidder’ and do you find any difference between the two? Using the term prostitute may be harsh but thats what it is.
During the just concluded world cup one not so known model by the name Poonam Pandey offered to strip herself if India wins world cup. I ask what difference is her offer to strip from the hijras who offers/threatens to strip in public if we don’t give them money. She threatens to strip if the media don’t give her attention and hijras threatens to strip if people refuses to give money. Both are extortionists in the same sense.

Reference to sale of bodies or brains, if one regards unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong, the sins of the flesh are bad, but all the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. Let’s remember that there two things inside us competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the animal self and the diabolical self. The diabolical self is the worse of the two. That’s why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church maybe far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But ofcourse it’s better to be neither.

Vinoth, I believe the spelling is Mortenson. I will email you a piece written by Dr. Robert Johnson, our incoming Executive Director for Friends of Forman Christian College. He has some personal and first-hand information. A bit of a mixed bag to say the least.

Thank you very much, Jim. I have made the correction to the spelling.

This comment is not about Three Cups of Tea or Greg Mortenson – though after reading your post I noticed that my sister happens to be reading it.

I really wanted an opportunity to complement you on your book “God’s That Fail” and this post seemed as good (or bad) an opportunity as any. While I’m still a little way from the end (I also happen to be reading “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” which is an enjoyable but time consuming book) your words has been thoughtful, insightful and, on a personal note, very challenging with respect to what it means at heart to be a follower of Jesus (concern about matters of social justice, poverty etc.). I think you have an important message to tell, Mr Ramachandra.

I certainly think cricketers who are playing in the IPL are selling their skills to the highest bidders. But I also asked myself which other consideration is there for which a cricketer must prefer this IPL team to that IPL team, if not money. And I don’t find any other reason if not for money. And since there is no other rational reason apart from money I think it’s okay if they play for the highest bidder.

But I wish that they also get involved in other things besides cricket. Since they are celebrities there are many things they could do. I remember Steve Waugh getting involved with street children in Kolkata quite closely; not just visiting once and saying good-bye. I have never heard any Indian cricketers do such things. Secondly, I wish that IPL allows Pakistani cricketers to play. If the cricket fraternity in India is really concerned about cricket, as they often claimed, they should allow Pakistani cricketers to play. That would partially help in bailing Pakistan cricket from the current mess. Moreover, such gesture could build relationship between the two countries. Thirdly, IPL should keep the politicians out of the picture. Sharad Pawar have 1.2 billion stomach to feed. So he should spend his time in addressing cases of farmer suicide instead of chairing BCCI meetings. Fourthly, power supply that is diverted to the cricket matches from agricultural sector should be taxed more heavily. Cricket is part of entertainment, and agriculture is not! The extra money that is taxed could be used to subsidize loan/electricity to the farmers.

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