When Ravindra Jadeja was recently abused on Twitter by fans, he retaliated with some explosive Direct Messages. Arunabha Sengupta analyses the tendency of the Indian cricket fans to hurl insults, wondering if it is okay for the stars to react to the provocation.
We are a nation of stargazers. On the streets, a face seen on television, even in the most inane show that assaults intelligence and sensibility, brings traffic to a standstill.
We are fascinated by the spotlight. That’s our dream, our holy grail. That is why we train our young kids to dance to raunchy numbers, gyrating their baby hips and rudimentary bosoms, to qualify for some obnoxious dance show that will pitchfork them into the living room of millions.
We love celebrities and Page 3. We have 24×7 shows which enable us to know about the details of their private lives. We like to know what they have for breakfast, the colour of their bed sheets and who sleeps on them.
If we are honest – which is not really our strongest asset – we will acknowledge that cricket tickles our imagination less as a sport and more as a reality show. We love the cricketers. Not because they toil hard and sacrifice most of the best years in their lives for a game they love. After all, that is the story of so many thousands who never make it even to Indian Premier League (IPL) – thousands of faceless drudges in countless clubs, maidans, academies and even Ranji Trophy sides we don’t really care about. We love the superstars because they are celebrities, always in the news, who step out of the field and endorse products. We love to know which of them is dating the latest Bollywood nymphet. We also love the cheerleaders who shake their hips and more after every notable and not so notable event in the modern day manifestation of the game.
And we do love to collect trophies – those quaint brushes with celebrityhood that lends a splash of borrowed glamour to our lives. We love being photographed with superstars, love having them on our Facebook friend lists. We go overboard when they wave at us. We love to follow them on Twitter. We love to send them Tweets using the @ utility, and are on seventh heaven when we are retweeted.
Dissent and insults
Yet, we do not only worship and deify them. We are besotted by a nagging sense of unease when we know how much money they make. Forget the talent they are blessed with, the hours they put in – the enormous sacrifices they make to get to that level. Sitting on the couch, we find that we make much less than them. And that produces sparks of dissent.
When we dwell on the money, we revel in tearing apart the biggest sporting heroes we have ever been blessed with – calling them selfish, calling them a money-grabbers. We can tar and feather him with all our creative zeal which finds expression in millions of forums. Sparks of spontaneous wit are used with nonchalance, to pull down the greatest cricketers we have ever had.
And if we can do this to Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, in methods suited to their respective day and age, does someone as insignificant as Ravindra Jadeja stand a chance? He cannot really bat, cannot really bowl … can only score triple hundreds against weak domestic sides.
What? He was the best bowler in the series against Pakistan? Bollocks, we don’t care about numbers… The only number we see infront of us is the money he makes – and it is outrageous.
We have thrown rotten tomato and orange peels at Gavaskar. We reserve the right to heap abuses on Sachin Tendulkar on discussion forums. In these circumstances, can someone like Jadeja get away with it?
We have abused him often enough in the past, about his performances and the atrocious disparity between his pay-cheque and his runs and wickets. He seems to have absorbed all that, they don’t affect him anymore. But, we know where to hit so that it hurts the most.
We have long experience in mental disintegration. Mohammad Azharuddin knows all about it. In 1998, Azhar was at his beloved Eden Gardens, having taken India to the brink of victory with a classy 163 against the Australians. He was standing in the slips in the second innings, when a ball passed Nayan Mongia and sped towards the fence. The captain pivoted and chased with the lithe panther like strides, that fielder the likes of whom we have never seen in India, and stopped the ball with a slide just inside the boundary line, keeping the batsmen down to three. And we knew where to hit so that it hurt. There was one of us right where Azhar was retrieving his cap, who bellowed in a proud voice amidst the facelessness provided by the massive crowd. The cry was heard well into the field of action: “Sabaash, Sangeeta!”
The section seated next to the fine boundary where Azhar had fielded the ball had roared in laughter and titters. And the man had just glanced up at the crowd, picked up his cap and returned to his place in the slips.
That’s after all what these celebrity cricketers are supposed to do. Digest the insults that we fling on them with our ‘brilliant sparks of witticism.’ And if that same man is later accused of match-fixing, we cannot forgive him. He has committed the cardinal sin of letting his fans down – those very fans who sat next to the fence shouting “Sabaash, Sangeeta” when he was unleashing his brilliant effort on the field. The loyalty of cricketers and performances that make us feel good are after all our birthright.
Yes, we do have experience in these matters. So, we decide to taunt Jadeja with remarks that are insensitively communal – using ‘Bapu/Darbar’ and Saurashtra to generate the local flavour. That shoots mercilessly at him and his community. And we have a new technology enhanced weapon to deliver these insults right into his sphere of awareness, from which he cannot shut himself off. We tweet the insults tagging the man himself. We get lots of kudos too. After all, we fans stick together – and ganging together on one who cannot defend himself is another of those traits we specialise in. Perhaps the only thing we specialise in.
Social Media is so wonderful. We can live virtually next to all the celebrities and can get under their skin from the comfort of our homes. We can hurl abuses at a stretch, pushing some buttons, taking time off to blacken our Facebook profile pictures to protest against the Delhi gang-rape. Social Network has made it easy for us follow cricket by indulging in insults, as well as becoming social activists without getting up from our arm-chairs. These duties of the honest Indian citizen performed, we can go back to sharing all the Rajnikanth jokes at our leisure.
And would you believe the cheek of this Jadeja? Instead of letting it hit where it hurts and swallowing it in meek silence that he owes the Indian cricket fan, he decides to send a Direct Message asking us to shut the f*** up, threatening us with consequences otherwise.
This is a disturbing trend. These cricketing celebrities are not swallowing the shit we throw at them anymore. A few days back, when the Virender Sehwag maniacs among us had heaped uncouth slangs upon Aakash Chopra for daring to criticise our hero, he had responded by retweeting our brickbats. What on earth was that meant to be, I ask you! We had provided strongly-worded constructive feedback for him to digest and adhere to in his next article, and he had made the confidential communications public, so that the world could witness the full colour of our rather restricted vocabulary.
And now, Jadeja has decided to respond with a Direct Message. He is not fit to use Social Media if he cannot control these urges to respond to abuses of fans in kind. And he used some f-words too, which as the world knows is the sole prerogative of the hordes of cricket fans. Sorry state of affairs indeed.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)