In the UK, Asian refers to the 4.9% of the population that is of South Asian origin. Football evokes the rest of Britain. Much to the consternation of DJ Nihal of BBC Asian Network, football and Asians don’t mix. Even in areas where the Asians form 20% of the population, there are only 1% of them in the fan clubs. Apparently, even when they are welcome, Asians prefer to support rather than play football. Although Nihal might consider it a lack of “education”, it is due to ingrained prejudice against the sport received from first generation immigrants.
Here’s the story.
During the British, Raj, Indians disdained football as a sport of ‘cooks, butlers and grooms’! They enthusiastically adopted and played cricket, tennis, hockey and badminton, lauded as gentlemen’s sports. It would be an intellectual cop-out, though, to process this cultural transference as emulation, projection and self-loathing.
This is easily challenged by inverting the situation.
Raj-Brits did not play kabbadi, gulli danda or fly fighting kites in Gandhijee-type dhotis. These commoners played polo and went hunting on elephant-back, both of which were princely pastimes. In fact, polo was appropriated so thoroughly that between Prince Charles and Ralph Lauren it has lost all hope of being instinctively associated with South Asia. The Raj Brits played Mahararjars until it was time to go back home to extol the virtues of vacuum cleaner housework over live flunkeys.
The Indian and British cultural cherry-picking is actually very much in order.
In an encounter of two cultures, each retrieves and attempts to appropriate selective accoutrements of the other’s upper classes, rejecting components of the lower classes.
Social acceptance is subject to an equally disproportionate mechanism.
An English working or middle class individual will happily accept an upper class foreigner as an equal. Yet, within the framework of social class, surely the upper class foreigner is not an equal, but a superior!
South Asians will process a visiting foreigner in the same way.
Racial profiling thrives under this disproportional perception of The Other that feeds and re-designs the perceiver’s self-image.
The stiff upper lipped British colonials are a stereotype and not a ground reality. Only a minority of them were graduates of Sandhurst or Haileybury College. The rest were box-wala merchants of indifferent upbringing and the rank and file of their army who enlisted, according to Philip Mason in A Matter of Honour, for “a shilling and a warm coat”.
They were uncouth, chewed tobacco, smoked, drank, kept common law native wives, were under debt to Pashtun usurers, and were unmitigated racists who played bingo, volleyball and football.
The only Indians they were able to coopt or coerce into their games were their social equals they considered to be their racial inferiors trying to move up the social ladder — from the scullery to the football pitch.
‘Nice’ Indian children were thus warned to stay away from this sport, study hard, play tennis, cricket and badminton and excel.
This attitude accompanied the Post Second World War immigrants from South Asia. In the UK they populated working class neighborhoods and the life-style of their neighbors only vindicated their inborn attitude. So they resurrected the role model of the successful middle class individual ‘back home’ who played cricket and wore bespoke western clothes with a flair. It also helped that the same Asian role model was actually available in the UK in a doctor’s surgery or a pharmacy. So football had no place in this mindset, and even less so when the sport’s associated hooligans started appearing on the front pages.
Perhaps Asians are the United Kingdom’s most prosperous community because they stuck to South Asian middle class goals and values which, with a spot of tennis or cricket, led them from corner shops to pharmacies, hospitals and universities, rather than football pitches.
Time, though, will ensure that worries about the Asian community’s degree of cultural integration are laid to rest. After all, they already have their street gangs.
The current generation or the next one will, sooner or later, end up bending it like Beckham. They might even start mortgaging their pharmacies to fill charter seats for binge drinking holidays in Majorca! And it may be hoped that the Brits will then stop moaning about the insufficient integration of its most prosperous wealth-creators.
The Kohinoor diamond has once again been dragged into pathetic squabbling by South Asians hoping to wrest some honor after having lost their birthright for over a century to beef-eating fishermen turned pirate under the thin garb of corsairs. The current semantically enabled bunch with overdeveloped vocal cords should be force-fed a session of Satyajit Ray’s pointed Shatranj ké Khilardhi — The Chess Players. Our ancestors, busy playing chess chanting hymns, or admiring themselves, successfully lost everything to waves of looters who came through the Khyber Pass and eventually, the sea.
Their princes, bereft of their ability to pursue their dharma of war, emasculated themselves into parodies of western playboys in a game of one-upmanship with their rulers that fooled nobody and amused many.
Now, just as the so called ‘world’ has started accepting that India is a prominent player among the comity of nations and that the new-look Pakistan might join it one day, the Kohinoor hullabaloo is a stentorian reminder that we were either cringing water-carriers in loincloths or debauched, impotent pseudo nobles who lost the heritage of people for whom they were mai-baap — mother-father.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bhose believed that without an armed revolution to wrest freedom, Indians/Pakistanis would never retrieve their honor. The current edition of give-me-back-my-stone only proves him right. An attempt to recover war booty by the losers without going to war to complete the circle reduces the effort to pathos.
Evoking moral reasons passed into law by the erstwhile conquerors further drags down pathos into bathos.
To establish ownership other than by right to conquest, there is a conflict of Place and Person for the origin of the Kohinoor. Chronological claim should have it back in its place of origin in the hand of the original owners, like the relationship between descendants of Jews and Swiss bank accounts and objets d’art.
In that case, being a three thousand year old stone claimed by Hindus, that’s who it belongs to unless their descendants are now living in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the UK or the frozen wastes of Antarctica.
As claimed by Muslims of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Kohinoor was mined in the 13th century under Muslim rule. Which only makes it property appropriated for personal aggrandizement by a monarch and not at all a national treasure.
Which is why the Supreme Court of India has wisely ruled that the Kohinoor may continue to dazzle in Queen Elizabeth’s crown. (That should make the British PM smile).
The Kohinoor was then looted by Nadir Shah in the 18th century and in the next century, circuitously ended up in the Punjab, displayed on the arm of Maharajah Ranjit Singh Jee who valued it as worth “two shoes” i.e. finder’s keepers and the principle of possession being nine points of the law.
And if the Kohinoor was gifted to the British by a subjugated monarch, it’s still a gift – and you don’t give a gift and ask for it back, especially when you are neither the donor nor a direct descendant — if the latter, play possum!
Loud voices are accusing the British of stealing, which is acquiring somebody’s property by stealth. In this case, it happened in broad daylight with the connivance of the possessors at that time, tripping over themselves to curry favor with the new rulers.
In all this noise there is no mention of the Peacock Throne and the Darya-e-Noor in the possession of the Iranians — why are they being let off the hook? Their Nadir Shah, touted as the Iranian Napoleon or Alexander, snapped up the Peacock Throne, the Kohinoor embedded in it and added the Darya-e-Noor diamond.
The Iranians and the British both should contribute a sum worth the value of the Kohinoor, the Peacock Throne and the Darya-e-Noor to Nalanda University in Bihar, India, resurrected by the efforts of the Nobel laureate in Economics, Professor Amartya Roy.
In the 13the century, Bakhtyar Khilji ransacked and destroyed this seat of learning. The size of the library alone can be gauged by the forty days it took to burn. In the 700 years from Bakhtyar Khilji to Bahadur Shah Zafar, no Indian Emperor ensconced on the Delhi Throne built a single university. This period only testifies to astounding architecture displayed through places of worship, tombs of the dead and palaces. Nothing for the people. It is time to use the Kohinoor issue to raise the Darya-e-Noor and Peacock issues and imbibe Nalanda with funds that restore it as a seat of world learning.