What we talk about when we talk about the IPL

by Devanshu Mehta

What is it we are talking about when we talk about the IPL? We are talking about a new sport, with the language of an old sport.

We are talking about colonialism, and the reaction to colonialism. When you criticize the IPL from outside India, remember that you are doing so with the full weight of past colonial wrongs, even though you did not cause them or intend them through your critique. The colonial past is.

Colonialism is the baggage carried by every Englishman–or anglophile– who criticizes the IPL for being lightweight, or lacking gravitas, or exotic. The IPL is an Indian product, and a signifier of modern Indian power. A criticism of the IPL is often perceived in that context.

There should be a term similar to mansplaining that would mean a white man explaining the nuances of culture–or cricket– to an Indian. I’m sure an Indian Solnit could write a long and painful article titled "White Men Explain Things to Me". I agreed with everything The Economist wrote recently about the Indian election–imploring the Indian electorate to stop Narendra Modi– and yet I hoped they would just shut up.

And so, when you explain the pitfalls of the IPL, know that even though you may not be biased, your readers feel the weight of centuries of condescension.

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What is it we are talking about, when we talk about the IPL? We are talking about class warfare. Even the supporters, the promoters of IPL are excruciatingly classist. How many times have I been told that for the fictional common man and housewife, at the end of a hard day’s work, the IPL is the ideal form of entertainment. Oh the stupid working man, he knows nothing better. The class warfare is even stronger, if less explicit, from the detractors. The IPL has reduced cricket to a tamasha, we are told. The language of describing the Test cricket fan versus the T20 fan is the language of class warfare.

So what is it we are talking about when we talk about the IPL? We are talking about a fear of change.

So dear reader, when you talk about the IPL, know what it is you are really talking about. You may not think you are prejudiced, but we all bring our lenses to the party. You describe the IPL through your lens, and the people you are talking to see you through theirs.

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And yet, and yet, I strongly believe that T20 is a broken format and the IPL is an incomplete tournament. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will describe why. But I know the baggage we all bring to this conversation, and I will do my best to respect that. I do not enjoy T20s or the IPL, but I harbor no illusions about the future of cricket. I am going to enter this minefield with my eyes wide open. See you on the other side.

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