Burma, CPM, and Football Trippiness

On occasion, people ask me what it’s like to live in a state run by Marxists. In many ways, I hesitate to answer because you’re never quite sure what it is you’re actually seeing in India. People far more intelligent than I have made a mess of trying to explain this country. For every diction, there’s a contradiction. And you never quite feel good about yourself, or sure of your footing, because really, it’s bigger than you are.

Still, there’s nothing like seeing the circus of the absurd first-hand to bring a clownish dose of reality to your life. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the opportunity to follow some issues related to Burma. A complicated subject in its own right to be sure, but in particular, I’ve studied and learned about a group of Burmese who have been held in India for the past 10 years. Their trial started finally last year in Kolkata.

The group is supported by The Solidarity Committee for Burmese Freedom Fighters, who arranged a friendly football match between a local club (E. Bengal) and a team from Mizzima News, a news agency that reports on Burma from New Delhi. Seems simple enough. But in India, everything gets complicated faster than they can spin a kati roll onto your plate on Park Street. The match took place on E. Bengal’s home ground, which reminded me of a pitch in a small town somewhere, with warping wooden bleachers, a convex playing surface, all just crying out for paint (and a structural inspection). Mind you, this is a professional club sponsored by Kingfisher, which runs a sleek airline with sleeker flight attendants, not to mention the major label beer in the country.

The surreal began with the entertainment Now these are cheerleaders!. People have been arguing recently over the effect of “western” cheerleaders on Indian cricket and Indian morality (and some cheerleaders have fought back bringing to light the indecent comments, the rude behavior of many a (male) Indian cricket spectator). At the football match, the cheerleadersmascots ranged from some sort of witch to Spider-Man to a horrific stereotype of an African “savage” (I think) to Santa Claus. Hey, maybe these costumes were part of a fire sale or remnants at a garment factory or just fell off a truck, I dunno. Of course, the kid in a leopard suit with a paper mache duck mask is still one I’m trying to figure out. I want to say it’s all harmless, but really, it’s just ridiculous.

Add to that leaders from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (the CPM), one of whom basically owns the E. Bengal club, and you see what passes for government in West Bengal could easily switch places with the mascots on the field. One speech began with the thundering observation that “the Burma junta changed the name of Burma to Myanmar!” which indicated the “scourge” of dictatorships (note: Calcutta became Kolkata fairly recently).

I asked one of the mainstays of the Burmese defense team is she would mention the American Consulate’s support for the Burmese if she had the opportunity to say some thank yous. No way in hell, she said. These were Marxists, for God’s sake, and enough of her friends had given her grief, horrified that she’d sought out their help. She couldn’t possibly let it be known that Americans had been helpful and that at the same time she was hoping the CPM could help too. Horrors! Anyway, we’d get a mention in her book one day.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Yay. The Burmese trial restarts in June after a long delay to find a new judge. Boo.


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