Can You Consume A Knight Rider? (updated)

When Rahul told me “The IPL…We have to go…It’s a once in a lifetime event,” he was, to put it mildly, grossly overstating the case. However, a free ticket came knocking at my door Tuesday morning and so on Tuesday evening I found myself entering the legendary Eden Gardens (without Rahul, who was in Singapore) to watch the Kolkata Knight Riders play cricket against the Delhi Daredevils.

Eden Gardens. The layout was inspiring, in that the design was more horizontal than vertical. If you’ve been to some modern stadiums in the U.S., you’ll see that the pitch of the seats, particularly in the upper decks, is often scary. Lean forward and over the rail you go. Not so in Eden Gardens. It allows 90,000 people to lounge in the scorching sun, or the scorching Kolkata night. The seats are narrower than what I’m accustomed to. I thought to myself, “This place must have been something once.” See, don’t ask me about the cricket, or the new 20/20 format that the IPL employs, or the damn cheerleaders, who were too few and far between for my mind to make any sort of difference. No, to be honest this post is not about cricket, it’s marginally about the future of cricket and more about how I’m fed up with the formulaic commercialization of the modern world.

Does anyone care anymore about aesthetics? Could you allow a moment’s silence, for example, between bowlers during a cricket match? No, of course not. Every gap in the action had to be filled with blaring, numbing Bollywood numbers, or the announcer urging the fans on. The official team jerseys cha-chinged at Rs 1899 (about $45), and the knock-offs were being snapped up outside the stadium at about Rs 100-200, which is a lot of money in India for many people.

And then there was Shahrukh Khan. Literally after any sort of significant action in the game at least half the stadium craned their necks toward Sharhukh and Co to see what his reaction was. He was the game, he was the spectacle, and he stood up perhaps 5 times the entire match. I half expected people to swoon (maybe they did), and I grimaced at each squeal when he raised a hand toward his fans.

And somewhere during the 13th over, while Kolkata was maintaining a pitiful 6.48 run rate, it hit me that the cricket I was watching was nothing like how it had been advertised. It was all a trick, masquerading decent athletes (kids really) under layers of high-tech breathable fabric, in photo shoots with airbrushed chiseled jaws, performing feats with cricket balls and bats that were physically impossible w/o computer graphic enhancement. It was fake, the way all adverts are fake. The authenticity of cricket, of so many things these days, is really in something other than the spectacle. You know it, people. Really, you do. It’s called variously the essence of the game, the beauty of it, the tradition, the skill, the awareness of history, the silence.  The IPL is the game that Joseph O’Neill describes in Netherland as, ‘…devoid of the beauty of cricket played on a lawn of appropriate dimensions, where the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converge in unison towards the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.’ You know it. Please tell me you do.

Because the IPL will change cricket. It will make an obscene amount of money (it already has). It will provide the people with the circuses (the bread these days is missing — see the global food price rise). It will leave old cricket fans long faced and melancholy as they wait for the occasional Test Match in between World Cups. City team loyalty isn’t the new nationalism, consumerism is.

So how much can you consume, India? We in America consume like we’re shooting for a spot in the Limca Book of World Records. I have visions of Gluttony, straight out of the movie Seven. You’re a shut-in. The food gets delivered to your door. It’s all being shoved down your throat. It’s nothing pure. Just can after can of processed, tasteless goods.


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