2011: Virat Kohli’s Year

Written by  //  December 31, 2011  //  National Politics  //  3 Comments

[This is not a year-end review. I am so saturated with Anna Hazare, Lokpal and corruption and 2G, which seemingly are the only five words in every Indian’s 2011 vocabulary, that writing a review about them is beyond me. Instead, I write on what has been a pet topic I have been mulling over for the last year: Virat Kohil and how he beautifully encapsulates the contradictions that lie at the heart of India, circa 2011.]

Let me say it up front. I dislike Virat Kohli. I dislike the way he plays his cricket, his attitude on the field, his incessant proclivity towards abuse, his win-at-all-costs mentality. At the same time I am keenly aware of his prodigious talent. Many a U-19 cricketer has shone at the level before fading away into obscure Ranji oblivion- Mithun Manhas, RS Ricky, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, Amol Mazumdar- the list is endless. Kohli belongs to the rare breed of those U-19 players who have seamlessly transitioned to the senior squad almost immediately. Not only did he merely make the senior squad, at the age of 23, he is already a World Cup champion having played a crucial role in India’s victory. Most notably in the final, with India tottering at 31-2 and ghastly memories of the semi-final against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in 1996 surreptitiously creeping back, Kohli played a mature innings of 35 steadying the Indian ship, giving us all belief that the target could yet be achieved. Kohli’s natural talent combined with his equally natural vituperations makes him a fascinating character, one, who for me, best captures the contradictions at the heart of new and emerging India, which have played out in our national politics, like never before, in 2011.

A strong sense of self-belief is Kohli’s finest attribute. Whether in a World Cup final or in seaming conditions in England, Kohli’s virat self belief, justifiably or otherwise, never lets up. It is the same self-belief that has seen a more activist, vociferous and determined youth take to the streets in protest against corrupt politicians, eve-teasing murderers, honour killers or atrocities by the Indian army in Kashmir. A sense of injustice and wrong has for long prevailed amongst Indian youth. However in the last year, this sense of injustice has been coupled with the unprecedented gumption, to go out there, act on one’s beliefs and believe that the result is possible. New India has thus reaffirmed Swami Vivekananda’s clarion call to the youth of India to “Arise, awake and stop not, until the goal is reached.” Anna Hazare’s campaign, dismissed inexplicably by armchair intellectuals, as a “middle-class facebook activism”, for all its faults was the beneficiary of such an attitude amongst India’s youth who came out in droves to support it. And though a “strong and effective Lokpal” could not be passed this session, (and just as well) it forced Parliament to discuss the issue openly, thereby making our elected representatives accountable like never before.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this self-belief is an uncritical and almost irrebuttable belief of one’s rightness and the consequent wrongness of others. In a seemingly inconsequential incident on Day 3 of the Boxing Day Test, Kohli fielding in the deep unnecessarily attempted an ambitious and meaningless direct hit. No one was at the stumps and Ravichandran Ashwin backing up was nowhere close to preventing the overthrow. Of course, that made little difference to Kohli, who convinced he was not in the wrong, spewed some choice expletives in Ashwin’s direction. Similarly, when he was adjudged LbW for a golden duck in the second innings, he stood around and glared at the umpire as if he had just announced a call for genocide and Kohli was about to become its first victim. Needless to say, he couldn’t be caught more plumb in front.

Now conviction in one’s view is no bad thing but conviction which becomes dogmatic to not countenance criticism or allow for introspection is deeply problematic. Emerging India suffers largely from a similar malaise. The classic example of this is a foundational plinth on which emerging India is built: The 24*7 news media. In a year in which the role of the media has been scrutinised like never before, their coverage of the recent Lokpal debate in Parliament, was testimony to how uncritical and unquestioning the fourth pillar of our democracy has become. All channels were quick to claim that what transpired in Parliament was the “murder of democracy”; it was “murder at midnight” and a “travesty of representative government.” They also uniformly claimed credit for being “the first” to predict that such an “orchestrated chaos” would ensue. What was so murderous about what happened in Parliament? Is the government not entitled to defer the passage of a bill to the next session if a better debate could be facilitated? And can the discretion of the Vice-President of India so blithely be questioned by a few news anchors, without proof or special knowledge? Now it well may be that the chaos was orchestrated by the government, but surely the entire sequence of events was more complex than a banal headline. To claim, without evidence that can be brought to bear publicly, is journalism of the worst kind; of a kind that revels in the power of shaping public opinion without having to reflect even momentarily about the gossip, hearsay and rumours which shape such opinions.

Kohli undoubtedly has the spunk to take on the world and beat it. Cricket isn’t just a game, it’s a battle which has to be won. Much like India in 2011, which dared to take on the world on the nuclear liability bill, adopted an increasingly aggressive stance regarding permanent membership of the UN Security Council, became an independent voice in climate change negotiations, Kohli stridently blazes his willow away to glory, irrespective of the nationality of the opposition. No longer do we cower in front of sledge-happy Aussie quicks, super-fast South African ones or Pakistanis keen for restoring their national pride on the cricket ground- we take them on and quite often win.

But yet for some reason, I, despite my obvious delight in seeing India win in cricket and prosper everywhere, don’t feel happy in the same way. I still pine for elements of the older India; an India of Javagal Srinath or Anil Kumble, where despite losing more often than winning, there was an innocence to the way we played our cricket and led our lives. When winning and results didn’t matter very much but doing the right thing did. When hundred hundreds was a wonderful statistic to achieve and not a daily national obsession, when the Beatles sat easily with Bharatanatyam and Treasure Island, one of Calcutta’s first malls with New Market, one of its oldest, when life was altogether more simple and our identity more entrenched.

In no way at all am I advocating a return to an older, less economically prosperous, but more socially secure India. Not only is it not possible, but it also undesirable. What I would like to see is a coming together of Kohli’s India and Srinath’s India; where winning matters, but winning by being playing the game in the spirit of the game matters more, where being important in world politics matters, but having an independent mind matters more, where organising a protest movement matters, but ensuring that the atmosphere is not so vitiated that no debate and fruitful negotiation is possible matters more. And where we continue to remember that while we must make every effort to become a superpower in the 21st century, our current and most pressing concern must be to ensure that every child in the country from the day she is born, can get three square meals a day. That, I hope, is what we can go some way towards achieving in 2012.

A very happy and prosperous new year to everyone!

3 Comments on "2011: Virat Kohli’s Year"

  1. Suresh a December 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm ·

    A lot of thought has gone behind this year end piece,Arghya. Have read the rest as well. Keep the flag flying high,young India,that I believe ,your team intrinsically represent. A very Happy New Year to all of you in ten Critical Twenties.

  2. Sudeshna December 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm ·

    I had placed my comment above. Don’t know how suresh came in.

  3. Agrima January 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm ·

    Kudos, Arghya. Your piece beautifully allows a confrontation between the ‘stumbling blocks’ and the ‘stepping stones’ of the year gone by. And to propose, as you do, an amicable handshake between the two is a great way to journey into the new year.

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