Wednesday, April 16, 2008

India’s Game, U.S. Spice 

Posted by James at 2:39 PM ET

By Tunku Varadarajan
The New York Times
In the blink of an eye, India has gone from faith, prudence and chastity to ... Brittany, Courtney and Tiffani. On Sunday, a team of Washington Redskins Cheerleaders landed in Bangalore to help create India’s first cheerleading squad.

According to the Redskins’ Web site, the Cheerleaders will “conduct a national audition of Indian women.” The aim of the exercise is to set up a squad of indigenous pompom wielders for the Bangalore Royal Challengers, one of eight teams that will play in the Indian Premier League, a rich new Indian cricket league.

“Cheerleading is a unique American spirit and the fact that it is now a bridge into India and their national sport cricket, speaks to the world vision of the Washington Redskins,” said an American spokesman involved with the effort. But it speaks to other things, too. It shows how brash India has become, and also how this brash new India has transformed cricket — once the most staid of sports — into a game that is perilously close to a circus.

Redskins Cheerleaders go to India

Yet how paradoxical it is, and how delightful, that Bangalore, a city that has leapt to global prominence on the back of work outsourced by America, is now itself outsourcing from America — outsourcing glamour, no less. How will India respond to cheerleading? An old language scholar I spoke to declared himself unsure of what a Hindi neologism for “cheerleader” might be. He offered “utsaah-pradarshak naari” — “a woman who displays enthusiasm” — as a candidate.

But when I countered that the job of the woman was as much to spur on a crowd as to spur herself on, we agreed that “utsaah-utpaadak naari” — “a woman who generates enthusiasm” — might be more apt. (We ruled out “utsaah-utpaadak-pradarshak naari” — “a woman who displays and generates enthusiasm” — on grounds of unwieldiness, although we have a sneaking suspicion that Hindi speakers will simply import “cheerleader” into their lexicon, as a loan word from English.

Redskins Cheerleaders go to India

Inevitably, moral scolds — of which India, as a society, has a surplus — will write letters to the editor complaining about the vulgarity/anti-Indianness/neocolonialism of the cheerleaders. It is conceivable, too, that there will be demonstrations outside the cricket stadium by women’s groups and Hindu fundamentalists.

All this, however, pales when compared to the broader lessons. With the Redskins Cheerleaders on Indian soil, one can safely declare that the British cultural influence in India has been entirely replaced by an American one, cricket notwithstanding. India’s relationship with the United States — economic, strategic, diasporic and cultural — is now its primary external alliance, with a complex nuclear deal at one end of the spectrum and 12 cheerleaders and two choreographers at the other.

Update: Photos of the Cheerleaders in India now up at Redskins.com

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