Mumbai featured quite prominently in President Donald Trump’s address in the mammoth public meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the newly minted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad if you were attentive. The references were not direct but oblique, and in case you missed these, while President Trump spoke at length on several issues, it’s not insignificant that he chose cricket and Bollywood to prop up his speech for brownie points.
This was obviously for the 100,000-plus crowd that had assembled at the stadium, but perhaps more importantly for him, the 4-million-plus Indian diaspora in the US which will vote for a new (or same) person in the White House this November. In the riot of mispronunciations of names at the event, President Trump’s “Sooochin” was most endearing, though it took a few seconds for anybody to understand where this was headed. When the President followed up with “Tendulkar”, the stadium erupted.
Cricket is steeped in our national psyche. It impacts Indian life across the length and breadth of the country. Tendulkar is among the most revered players, not just in India, but everywhere the game is played. He retired in 2013, but his appeal remains undimmed. Global fame notwithstanding, Tendulkar is quintessentially a Mumbai cricketer, weaned on the maidans that dot the city – from deep south-end to the distant suburbs on the east and west flanks – which have provided India so much fabulous talent over decades.
Over the years of playing, Tendulkar transformed from being just a sportsperson to a metaphor of New India, where talent aligned with passion and commitment can achieve not only excellence, but also get the recognition and rewards it deserves.
Likewise is the influence of Bollywood in Indian life. In a wider sense, the movies produced here, the actors, the action – particularly songs and dances — India all over the world, magically cutting across language and cultural barriers. President Trump stumbled over pronouncing Sholay too, but got DDLJ correctly, though it is doubtful he knew that the acronym stood for a movie that will complete 25 years of non-stop exhibition on October 19 this year.
Over the past few decades, Bollywood movies have become big box-office draws everywhere. The US is probably the second largest market for Indian movies – particularly Hindi – after India, as box office collections reflect. Movies, in that sense, have had things easier because of the nature of the medium. But cricket, though played seriously in a handful of countries still, is identified as an “Indian” sport everywhere else, much to the chagrin of England, where it originated, I would imagine.
In using cricket and Bollywood as crutches, President Trump’s advisors and speech writers had done their homework well to zoom in on two of the most compelling aspects of India’s soft power which have found widespread global acceptance.
So, I want to make the case that Mumbai which, apart from being the bastion of cricket (despite a terrible Ranji Trophy season) and Bollywood, is also hub of big business (yet), and repository of multiculturalism (under threat every now and then, this time sadly in Delhi which took the sheen off President Trump’s visit) that best defines India, should be given more importance for head of state visits. Delhi being the capital will obviously get top priority. It is also understandable that Prime Minister Modi being from Gujarat would want Ahmedabad as primary venue for the recent public event. This was home turf as well as smart politics. And the new stadium looked spankingly good.
It would have been difficult to accommodate Mumbai for President Trump’s event as the demand was for a large number of people on the streets and the arena, both of which may not have been logistically possible. Also, with a non-BJP government in the state now, it would mean sharing honours with a past ally-turned-foe now teamed up with other traditional enemies, which would be not-so-smart politics for PM Modi. However, I argue that Mumbai wouldn’t get sidelined so easily in such matters. Having made this point with more levity than gravitas, here’s the serious part, especially when it comes to showcasing India’s soft power, cricket and Bollywood: Not just for heads of states, but all visitors.
Where are the museums (or other fixed forums) that highlight our achievements in cricket and Hindi cinema in themselves, and also their impact on Indian life? Why is this not being formally documented and preserved? When will this start?
About time these questions were answered.
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