And still we lost at Lords?!

Whatever happened to those all-time greats in our XI?


Suresh Menon | July 26, 2011

Some years ago, Amitabh Bachchan was voted the Greatest Actor Ever to Wear Greasepaint in the History of Cinema on Planet Earth, or something like that. Sir Lawrence Olivier came second in this selection on the BBC website open to all citizens of the world. And Govinda made it to the Top Ten ahead of Marlon Brando. Mickey Mouse didn’t make it, Homer Simpson did. Last week came the cheerful news that four Indians make it to the list of the World XI chosen from players who have made an appearance in at least one of the first two thousand cricket Test matches played.

Do you see a pattern here? If you don’t, let me give you another challenge. Should a website ask for votes to select the ten best heads of state of all time, or the six greatest plumbers or the eight finest news anchors ever or the seven sexiest actresses, how many Indians do you think will make it? Ah! See it now? Indians are the No 1 (should there be such a vote) responders to online questionnaires, especially those involving lists of the best-ever. I mean, Govinda, I ask you!

I am not a betting man, but I am willing to lay a tiny bet that any list of the world’s greatest writers in English over the last 5,000 years will have at least half a dozen Indians, and will include Aravind Adiga, Chetan Bhagat, that guy with his toupee who advertises himself on television by telling us that he has written best-sellers that have changed lives, and possibly Shobha De too. William Shakespeare will struggle to make the list (especially since all voters are in the 19 to 22.5 age group and don’t know whether he was a writer or the title of a book).

This is no crib. After all, if the citizens of Sri Lanka don’t vote for their heroes like Aravinda da Silva or Kumara Sangakkara (or, if it comes to that, Shehan Karunatilaka or Michael Ondataaje), or if those in Iceland or Mongolia don’t feel the national pride that comes from voting for their own cricketers, why should the 1.2 billion of us worry?

In fact, it is a surprise to find the name of Don Bradman in the cricket list. A newspaper in Australia which asked the question of its readers discovered to its shock that most of the readers thought Sachin Tendulkar was the greater cricketer. The International Cricket Council which ran the recent World XI contest on its website has told us that 2,50,000 people responded with their teams. A look at the list suggests that 2,49,843 of them are Indians in the age group of six to 17 who know Kapil Dev only as an occasional commentator and haven’t heard of Garry Sobers or Malcolm Marshall.

These are the same people who will vote for Sachin Tendulkar no matter what the list – from sexy actresses to readily-available plumbers to the fastest-growing South Asian languages.  For too long have we been under the thumb of the western critic who thinks Shakespeare is a great writer, Brando a great actor and Sobers a great cricketer. If they have to come up on any future list (behind Tendulkar, of course), then their supporters better begin their campaign now. After all, how many times has Sobers dismissed Tendulkar? The answer is zero, so why should he be on the list?

Similarly, how often has a work by Shakespeare been made into an unwatchable film by Aamir Khan, or when did Brando romance Rekha in a movie? These things tilt the scales, you know. The only country with better cricketers, better actors, better writers and sexier actresses is China, but that country’s population is not interested in key-hitting manoeuvres which will place their heroes at the top of any list. In the old days, a large population was seen as a curse, eating into the nation’s resources and spreading everything thin. Now we know that there is strength in numbers. A billion-plus people voting for Govinda can make a Leonardo di Caprio question his choice of profession.

Forget dwindling resources; India finally has the power to place their men and women at the top (in the middle and at the bottom) of any list. Who is the best conman? Greatest burger-maker? Finest postman? Most incredible sports administrator? Indian, Indian, Indian, Indian. And there are a billion reasons for this. So tough luck, Shakespeare.



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