The Water Cooler

IPL, Presidential Elections and Other Public Festivals

Do we instinctively enjoy a game more if we are not the players? What is it about cheering from the ringside that eggs us on so much and sets our blood afire? Or is it our natural instinct to turn any public event into a carnival, and in turn, an answer to all our daily problems?

'Religion is the opium of the people.' It's the most hackneyed quotation of Karl Marx. Sports, movies, and more than anything, politics, are also opiates for mass consumption. The basic requirement is opium. Something to numb the brain so we can black out something; may be everything.

To forget an empty stomach and the failure to fill it, one can drink cheap country liquor and puke. But even that bottle would cost a few rupees, and the effect would last barely a night. On the other hand, hollering with a mob at a game is free if you climb over the fence, and the effect can linger for weeks.The players can be hero worshipped, gossip about corrupt organizers circulated and enjoyed, replays watched, newspapers read. It can be the new symbol of national unity. Auto rickshaw drivers, business men, shopkeepers, students, starlets, everyone can bond smoothly over the topic of the day. And it's all good so long as we don't have to play.

We love our gods. We love our kings. There is no need to be ashamed of that. If there are no gods or kings around, we will create them. We want fairy tales. If the old ones turn boring, we will make our own stories. And then we will watch our hero all day, get stoned with excitement, and forget that two meals are a luxury for most.

Miriti, Pranab Babu's village, celebrates. Photo: ABPMiriti, Pranab Babu's village, celebrates. Photo: ABP

Pranab Mukherjee's climb from a little village to that big, beautiful palace in Delhi beats any folklore hero's journey. Shah Rukh Khan as the passionate owner of Kolkata Knight Riders has more appeal than a middle aged man displaying his hard-earned, glossy abdomen onscreen. When Sourav walks out of the stadium as the defeated warlord, crying our heart out can make us feel bigger, nobler and more important.

SRK and Mamata, Kolkata, May 29, 2012SRK's little kiss on Didi's head, Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Photo: ABP

It's not like this when it comes to the general elections. As voters, we have to participate. That does not qualify as opium. It's got to be a huge show. The crowd will roar as gladiators fight lions. Obviously, it won't be entertaining anymore if members of the audience are ordered into the arena.

The heavy stakes of industrialists and film stars elevated IPL to its gigantic stature. Similarly, the turbulence among politicians trying to elect another politician made the presidential drama so yummy this time. There's no wow factor in netas electing a scientist or the Lok Sabha Speaker or a learned Rajya Sabha member. But the smell of blood is addictive when folks we voted for, jump into an open dogfight over whom they should vote.

Let's face it, as we become more complicated as a nation, our list of festivals also gets longer.

Every five years, a learned and aged person became President. How he or she became First Citizen never bothered us. Oh we did make Sardarji jokes on Gyani Zail Singh, giggled over Morarji Desai drinking his own urine, and laughed at dear Pratibha Tai. But all that happened after they went to live in that big house! The Pranab-Sangma war, now, saw some heavy betting, Face Book/Twitter hyperactivity and general public involvement. Strangely enough, the same euphoria was missing when Gagan Narang bagged an Olympic bronze.  Why? It's not such a big show after all. Let the unemployed of London bask in the glory of hosting the Olympics, it doesn't touch us. It's their brand of opium, not ours.

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