My first sighter of a ticker-tape parade was in a comic book. Tintin rides on an American car (possible Ford) and waves out to people as he slowly moves down a street in an American city. He had just helped the police round up a whole lot of gangs including Al Capone and his rival Bobby Smiles.
Winning a major tournament is often treated on par with rounding up criminals. New York City was out cheering the Giants after their Superbowl triumph. Manchester celebrated their City team winning the Premiership this year. The last time Liverpool did the same was after the Miracle at Istanbul in 2005.
In many cases, the victories of the national team also triggers such parades. Spain’s World Cup win in 2010 was their second major win after Euro 2008 and Madrid was out on the streets cheering them. India had its moment twice – after the 1983 World Cup win and the 2007 T20 World Cup win.
Perhaps the most poignant of such victory parades, at the national level, was Iraq winning the AFC Cup in 2007. Its football team was the top ranked Asian team in the ’80s but a combination of Uday Hussain and the war saw their team disintegrated, football virtually shut and a few players who survived the war getting involved in sectarian violence. After defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the final, there was firing on the streets of Baghdad – this time in the air, the traditional sign of celebration.
So why do cities come out to celebrate their sportsmen? It’s not as if they have won a war, conquered another country (like the triumphs that were given to Roman generals when they returned to Rome after securing another corner of a foreign field in the name of the republic, or later, the empire) or like Tintin captured criminals. These are sportsmen who have just won a sports competition and in most cases, especially in professional competition like NFL, EPl, etc, are paid millions to do so.
There were many people asking this question last week when Kolkata celebrated their IPL team winning the tournament. Kolkata Police, taking poetic licence from William Blake, launched a Road Safety awareness campaign “Knight, Knight, Burning Bright / Drive Safe, Day and Night.” The Hindu called it the Mamta show.
“Bengal is proud that our Knight Riders team has been victorious. We believe that it has conquered the world,” said Ms. Banerjee, attired in her usual white sari but this time around one with a purple border, resembling the Kolkata Knight Riders colours.
On Twitter and Facebook, there were the usual cynical and snide remarks about Kolkata. There may have been some eloquent writings on these lines as well but one excellent piece I found was that of Swapan Dasgupta who says it is a battle of the city against its own schizophrenia.
I have a slightly ambivalent take on this. Sitting in Bombay, one is exposed to the events in Kolkata only through the eyes of the press and over the last one year, the press coverage of Mamata Bannerjee’s 1st year of governance has been none too complementary. However, the people from Kolkata when I have met them usually display a sense of optimism which was distinctly missing in the last ten years of the Communist regime. True, there is an overdone attention on the cultural side of things with Robindra Sangeet playing at traffic signals, metro stations renamed after poets, the city getting a facewash in celebration of some literary events, etc. Cold rational political and economic thinkers dismiss all this as a Crazy State. Which may be true.
But like in Iraq, at the height of hopelessness, a victory, even on the sports field, can be a huge social event. More significantly, when the sports team is made up of players who are primarily not from Kolkata, the social event is not just a mere touch of optimism but also an event where the knowledgeable Kolkata bhadrolok, a usually very proud person and dismissive of anything west of the Hooghly, starts including non Bengalis into their universe. Sourav Ganguly is no longer the Do-or-die hero to fall back on. It is now a Delhi lad by the name Gautam Gambhir.
Kolkata has done celebratory parades before. When South Africa were invited to play a series of 3 ODI matches in 1991, 20 years after being banned for apartheid, Kolkata was on the streets to welcome them. This was not a team that had won anything. Nor was this team ever connected with Kolkata. And yet they were there.
There is a quirk that runs amongst the Kolkatans and indeed Bengalis that goes beyond the rational. There is no need to celebrate.You just celebrate. The hell with political theory, the economy, the rationality of doing the right things as recommended by experts.