Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Chak De! moment October 7, 2007

To get to the playing field where children play in our neighborhood, you must turn right at the market and then take a sharp left. A bhuttawali sits at the corner. Go past her another fifty metres and you can’t miss it, especially in the evening when the occasional roar of ‘Chak De’ will announce that someone has just scored a boundary. The Hindi film, ‘Chak De India’ with Shah Rukh Khan, has given us a new slogan that at once unites us and captures the exuberant mood of a confident, young India. Amrita Shah put it nicely, ‘Part exhortation, part exaltation—it has just amount of zing and energy to work in a stadium or on the street’.

Our sports teams have also won in recent months and returned the compliment. Vijay Santhanam, is right when he says, ‘Vishwanathan Anand’s becoming the undisputed world champion of chess is a bigger Chak De moment for India than either winning the 20/20 Cricket World Cup or the Asia Hockey Cup. Chess is played in 166 countries; field hockey is played in 61; cricket in less than 20. But my proudest Chak De moment came last Tuesday when our local 14 year old hero, Arjun, whose cricket bat rains sixes like Yuvraj Singh’s, did an amazing thing. He offered to give up his place on the team to a young urchin who had been hanging around for weeks, drooling to play and no one would let him. Arjun’s was an act of unbelievable kindness from one 14 year old to another. At one go, he washed away some of the stain of mean hearted Dronacharya’s against Eklavya in the Mahabharata.

Arjun’s act is a lesson for another reason for the millions of young Indians caught in today’s rat race where only money matters. I enjoyed the cliffhangers in South Africa as much as anyone, but I was offended by the vulgar display of public cash rewards and the Porche afterwards. Although the pursuit of success is hard wired in our genes, I do wish that higher status would attach to being kind and considerate, to compassionate acts like Arjun’s. I have no problem with money. Unlike our hypocritical socialists, I do not rail against the culture of consumerism. Competition, Hesiod pointed out long ago, is built into our natures, and it calls for real victory and real defeat.

This is where a liberal education comes in handy for it allows one to cope better with the rat race. The education systems of some nations do a better job of inculcating values that produce Arjuns. When English teenagers were asked, ‘Are most of your classmates kind and helpful?’ only 43% said ‘yes’, according to Richard Layard of the London School of Economics. On the other hand, 75% of Scandinavian children said ‘Yes’.

I think our neighborhood hero was given the wrong name by his mother. She should have called him Yudhisthira, not Arjuna. Recall, great souled Yudhishthira, tormented and embattled, refuses to enter heaven at the end of the epic. He insists that an unclean, stray dog, who had been following him, is admitted into heaven as well. It turns out to have been a test, and Yudhishthira and his ethical goal of anrsamsya or compassion, are paid the highest compliment. He is told, ‘Great king, you weep with all the creatures!’ I wonder why no Indian mother calls her son, Yudhishthira. There are millions of Arjuns. It is not because it is difficult to pronounce. The fact is that Arjuna is a winner in the self-defeating kshatriya rat race of life. We prefer winners to goodness.

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