Nigh on 40 years ago backpacking around India I sat very quietly beside a man on the banks of the Ganges at a Varanasi ghat as, for three hours, he burned his wife’s cadaver to ashes. Around me, another dozen or so bodies burned, with equally calm family members occasionally rising to stoke the fire, push it together and so forth.
Though I don’t pretend to totally understand the cultural reasons for their staggering and impressive calm, the essence of it was the Hindu belief that Varanasi was a holy place and that once those ashes were washed into the Ganges, their loved ones could begin eternity in a much better place. Just back from the river were establishments where very old, very sick Indian people were equally waiting their turn to die, calmly looking out on the very funeral pyres where they would soon lie. Many had journeyed from far away with their families, for the privilege of dying here, calmly.
Adam Zampa has chosen to leave the IPL – but the tournament continues.Credit:BCCI
These days, alas, it is not like that.
These days, as COVID-19 ravages the nation, they have around 300,000 new infections a day, well over 2,000 deaths a day, a hospital system teetering on collapse, and there is no time for the sick ones to get to Varanasi to ease their passage. Instead, they are building funeral pyres in the streets, and makeshift crematoriums and the smell and the smoke of burning human flesh is now part of daily life.
And yes, yes, I know that here in Australia we know better. Because of the likes of Alan Jones we know that Covid is no big deal and people are just being alarmist when for most people it not much worse than the flu, but look … our Indian friends seem to think it is rather serious?
Australian cricketer David Warner (right) in full PPE with IPL teammate Kane Richardson.
But here is the truly staggering thing. Even in the midst of such carnage in India, the cricket goes on. Despite it all, despite the widespread catastrophe – less a third wave, than a tsunami – they are playing the Indian Premier League and people care about the results! To get from venue to venue we have seen images of our own Australian players on planes in what look to be nothing less than Hazmat suits, each one of them risking their lives just to be there, let alone playing what is meant to be a mere game.
At first glance it looks to be worse than fiddling while Rome is burning – it is having a fiddling competition, #FFS!
On closer inspection though, for my money it is neither right nor wrong. It mostly just is.
Ultimately the whole thing stands as a testament to just what level of attachment the Indians have to cricket and once you know both the Indian people and government want the IPL to go on, as an entertainment to occupy the masses in such shocking times, who are we to argue? It is their joint commitment that makes it possible.
In Australia we would not only cancel all sport when things were a hundredth as bad, we actually did do exactly that around about this time last year and it was the right decision.
As to the Olympics going ahead in Tokyo come hell or high water, though, as the Japanese insist they will? Look if any nation can pull off such a thing in the middle of their own third wave, I guess it is the highly organised Japanese.
But I have two questions.
Are the Japanese people equally committed to it going ahead? If they waver, it should be called off immediately as unmanageable.
And secondly, despite the Japanese capacity, is this really feasible? The Indians are conducting their competition in a veritable bubble. But right now, in a world where the infection rate and death rate has never been worse than it is right now – despite vaccines starting to gain traction – is it really going to be manageable to bring athletes from all over that world, including India, get them into the Olympic Village without an outbreak, and make the whole thing work?
For my money it must be right on the edge right now.
Watch this space.
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