By Bala Sai:
One day she admitted that she didn’t know who Sachin Tendulkar was. In less than 24 hours, every Indian with internet access knew who she was. Meet Maria Sharapova, the one who didn’t know Sachin Tendulkar. Also, she plays tennis.
In the span of just one press conference, she managed to invite the wrath of an entire nation. The internet was rife with colorful memes and tweets that mocked her, condemned her, threatened her, and insulted her. People were suddenly furious with her because she was dumb, racist, arrogant, disrespectful, and ignorant. People had issues with her wearing short skirts, stretching her muscles on the tennis net and even with her being a woman. She lost many fans, with some even going to the lengths of forsaking all of tennis. Thankfully, there were no suicides reported.
Theoretically, one could sympathize with her for her ignorance – After all, the poor lady was born in Russia and lives in America, two countries where cricket is more a scary, jumpy insect than an actual sport. But forget theory, you are dealing with India here!
I believe it is time Ms.Sharapova knew about our nation and how things work here. India is a mammoth country of 1.2 billion people (3 times as much as both Russia and the USA put together), and we have 26 Olympic medals in all of eternity, and we keep forgetting that. Our national game is hockey (last I checked), and most Indians can’t name one hockey player. Throw at us the world’s top-20 popular sports persons and watch us bravely scratch our heads and shrug. A 20-year old Bangladeshi cricketer is likely to be more popular here than the likes of a Martina Navratilova or a Pete Sampras; because in India, cricket is much more than just a sport.
One could sadly recollect that cricket once used to be a gentleman’s game before it came to India and festered into a religion. Cricket is an Indian’s claim to global recognition. It is a symbol, a shield, a matter of pride. But unfortunately, that isn’t where it stops. The Indian holds cricket too close to his chest; it is the only thing he’s got. An insult to the sport is bound to be taken personally. He finds it difficult to comprehend that it isn’t such a huge deal in most parts of the world. Inevitably, when an international sportsperson as popular as Ms. Sharapova doesn’t recognize the very God of cricket, not only has she blasphemed, she has insulted our entire country.
It doesn’t help that she is a woman either. Indians have the glorious distinction of whipping up a nation-wide controversy solely based on Sania Mirza’s short skirts. Ms.Sharapova’s innocuous comment is an excuse enough to unleash torrents of ‘Indian culture’ on her, throwing curses and abuses aimed at her womanhood, sagely advising her on how to be a ‘decent woman’ and teaching her to ‘respect’ her own game.
Browsing through the tennis star’s plagued Facebook wall is a definitely entertaining and potentially scary prospect. One of her recent photographs became a battlefield for warring Indians and Pakistanis (who have risen in support of Ms. Sharapova as means of enraging the Indians), as they exchange expletives and insults, displaying to the world the sub-continent in all its glory. Even innocent by-standers who dare question the attackers are insulted and driven away from the scene. For those who require excuses to escape the traps of rationality, there are also conspiracy theories alleging that Ms.Sharapova knew Tendulkar and was lying merely to insult him.
Though it is a surety that Maria Sharapova has been reminded sufficiently of the existence of a little man named Sachin, a sport named cricket and eventually a strange exotic country named India, our valiant cricket crazy internet population has exhibited to the world at large, just how childish and insecure we can be, when faced with even a minor bruise to our egos.
Now that Wimbledon is over, Ms. Sharapova might want to pay a visit to our country and learn about our ‘culture’, lest she should endanger her life in some future press conference. If she does choose to travel here, she might be warned by her country’s authorities of the dangers of being a woman in India, which just stops short of being a punishable offence. She might be told to refrain from wearing short clothes, using the street at nights, being seen in a pub or holding hands in public- all of which are seen as legitimate grounds for rape. She will most certainly be warned not to dare attempt crossing an Indian road without prior training or carry any sort of valuables with her anywhere. Maybe a few days in India will teach her some respect. She might at one point wonder why Indians would fume over some foreigner’s inconsequential statement when their country is reeking with so many problems that need attention, but hey, this is India. This is how we roll.