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Understanding the Australian

Last updated on: January 15, 2008 10:41 IST

Soon after the second Pokhran nuclear tests, the western world was outraged. America was quick to apply sanctions. In an insufficiently recalled incident, a bumptious Australian army official stomed into a lecture room in Canberra where some Indian army officers were attending a course by invitation. He interrupted the lecture, asked the officers to get up and follow him. They were asked to pack up immediately and put on the next plane to India. Such was the Australian's moral outrage at India's temerity in threatening the world with destruction.

I wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, which understandably was not published. I said I was confirmed that Australian foreign policy was to follow the American with a scoop, a bucket and a roll of paper.

More confirmations of that opinion have been arriving thick and fast. [Do be patient. I will come to the cricket soon]  As soon as America lifted the sanctions, Australia was instantly convinced the Indian ogre was no longer a threat and lifted its own sanctions. In an episode that must shine  in our history of statesmanship, when the Australian Deputy Prime Minister -was he Mr Chambers?; I truly don't care to remember - came calling, looking for business, Vajpayee let him cool his heels for three days before a low level foreign office man gave him an audience. The Australian DPM had spent the waiting time visiting places of interest like Appu Ghar and the Rail Museum. Such are the rewards of camp followers.

More recently, a few days before the US nuclear deal was announced John Howard declared, Australia was resolutely against uranium sales to India. Within a few days of the announcement, it was very ready to sell to India whatever uranium it cared to buy. In the war against terror, soon after Glasgow bombing, the Australian throve on the opportunity to raise his visibilty in the world, by hounding the poor Dr Haneef. An Australian needs to show he's a strong man and very much around in this planet.

We must understand the Australian craving for being noticed with sympathy. There he is, dangling lonely, castaway and vulnerable from the underside of Asian land mass. In a usage that gives him away, he refers to his country as being in the 'West'. When America - earlier it was the then mighty Britain- is at war he ups and buttons his tunic and marches off. He was in Vietnam and he is in Iraq now. He allows nuclear tests on his soil. Every fashion, fad, posture or policy that overtakes the west, is immediately sniffed in by him. Poor bloke, he wants in somehow.

Sport gives him a wonderful identity. Fed on the bountiful land and enriched by inexhaustible minerals, he is a bold and physical fellow with a lot of free time. With weekends that start on Friday noon and last till Monday morning, he excels in almost every sport he cares to play. Success in sport gives him a great identity. Speech is another unique reinforcer of his identity. He goes out of the way to distort English even when the distortion adds nothing by way of colour, originality, clarity or wider acceptance- he is searching for uniqueness. He is proud of his culture central to which is the number of beers he can empty of an evening in a bar standing around with his 'mites'. I have just learnt from Alan Border that calling someone a 'lucky bastard' or a 'wanker' is also a culture thing of the Australian.

Mind you, I am not calling him a hostile fellow. He's very gracious when all is well, like when he is winning. But he's prone to jump in fright when someone stands up to him. Like, when his wallet could be hit. Like, when he is likely to be thrashed in a game of cricket. He will react with panic, abuse, deception, boorishness and lies. Ask Muralidharan or Shoiab Akhtar. And don't you dare question Trevor Chappel's bowling action. That is in the past. we are talking of the here and now.

Sense arrives only if he realises he's monetarily vulnerable like say it will hit exports or contracts. He will then capitulate quickly. He needs his good life,  made of leisure and  beer; and he needs money for that. Wait for a few weeks and see how he will come around  on this Sydney Test caper - by then, he will have learnt India can indulge the Australian cricketer and give him endorsements and business. After all, the best of the then national talent did toss away their baggy green caps to go invent the one day international under the benevolent gaze of Kerry Packer.

The other unique thing about the Australian is this: when he has made some amends to correct a shameful aspect his recent history, he will quicky climb a high moral ground and lecture anyone who cares to take notice of him.  When I first went to Australia 1967, I saw a ship load of immigrants from Italy who knew no English. Didn't matter, as long as they were white. It was when the Rt Hon Albert Calwell's 1947 dictum still reigned: "Two wongs don't make a white"; 'wong' of course is how the Australian affectionately refers to the Chinese. Our emigrating Anglo Indians were assessed for the shades of their skins in personal interviews. But soon after the USA adopted a freer immigration policy in 1965, Australia lo and behold, quickly became a proud multi-cultural society and now you won't ever stop hearing of its liberalism.

And so it came to pass, that after close to 150 years of playing cricket, and having acquired its first non-white cricketer it has become the Australian's burden to 'protect' Symonds from racist slur. Never mind he has not cared to develop a single Aboriginal cricketer so far.  So he's now lecturing on how our cricket team is picked on the basis of caste. We seem to have booed Kambli out because of his caste though possibly we had made an exception and let him become the best friend of a Maharashtrian Brahmin. But we kicked him out; the matter of his inability to cope with the rising ball was probably an excuse. A strange quota system may also be operating against our Muslim players. The Austraian media's research on this is on right now.

Serves us well too. We are a people who love being lectured. We are a people who offer to be civilised yet. Look at our Prime Minister! How promptly he replies with unctuous care, to Gladys Staines' concern for the persecuted Christians of Orissa. I dare say the BCCI will discuss reservations in our team, lest Australia's moral fibre be offended.

In the meantime the sport loving nation of Australia keeps on rolling with its muscular tradition. A captain who hoists himself with a grounded ball to claim a  catch, will be succeeded by a pup that scoops a bumped ball and then grounds it while claiming a  'clean' catch. As I write the vice captain Gilchrist says he 'appeals for a catch' when he is sure of the nick and 'asks the question' when he is not sure. Notice the uprightness of the man.

Unlike us Indians who are secure in our several layered identities, the poor Australian needs to win anyhow, to retain his only identity. Do we owe him an understanding?  Or do we give him a jolt? That is the question.

When a Ponting or a Clarke or a Gilchrist cheats we must be aware of the innate fairness of the Australian. He only awaits the right moment in history to awaken. India as an economic  superpower in cricket can hasten that moment by thwacking him where it hurts- in the approximate physical equivalent of where he is located in geography: Down Under.

[D V Sridharan is the publisher of goodnewsindia.com]

D V Sridharan goodnewsindia@gmail.com

D V Sridharan