Two significant and not unconnected events occured within a short space of 24 hours: the Indian Idol finals on Sunday, 23rd September and the World T20 World Cup on Monday, 24th September 2007.
So what's so significant about it? And how were the two connected at all? On the face of it, they were completely unrelated events with no connection whatsoever. But there runs a common strand uniting the two.
Go back to Sunday evening, with Prashant Tamang and Amit Paul's destinies in the balance. Here was Prashant, a young cop from Darjeeling who was unknown, nothing in this wide world, in a country of over a billion people barely 6 months ago. With him was Amit Paul from Shillong, a place seldom remembered, from Meghalay, a state the very existence of which is almost forgotten by the rest of India. Both these young men were from the North East- a part of the country that has never fully integrated itself with India and about which the rest of India knows but little. These two young men brought their parts into the collective consciousness of India. Between them, they managed in a few months, what the Government of India failed to do in 60 years.
The following evening, India win the first ever T20 world cup. The winning catch was taken by a young man from Kerala, off the bowling of a player from Haryana and watching anxiously was their captain from Jharkand. Three men from completely different states who would perhaps not even understand the other's native tongue. These three men were proudly representing India.
But Dhoni and Prashant are somewhat similar: both from humble backgrounds, both from Eastern India and both from places very little known. Darjeeling is in the North-East, virtually seperated from the rest of India, where seperatist sentiment isn't wholly unknown. Jharkand, from where Dhoni hails, is one of the newest states in India, carved out of Bihar- a shockingly backward state remembered almost always for the wrong reasons (I can testify to the appaling condition of Bihar, having been there myself). Until Dhoni came along, Jharkand was known perhaps, as the state which has Jamshedpur in it.
And therein lies the similarity: both these young men have achieved extraordinary success, both are from little known places, hundreds of miles away from the bustle of metropolitan cities like Bombay, Madras, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore or Hyderabad. Both of them have brought their native places into the radar. Most importantly, they have come to the national stage and shown that even people from provincial cities can match or even outdo their counterparts from the bigger metros, given the right opportunities. Prashant and Mahi will both inspire countless young men and women in provincial India to believe in themselves, to aim higher, to dream bigger than their predecessors a generation ago.
I am from Bombay myself, exactly the same age as Dhoni. I know how little people in bigger places know about life in provincial India. I have myself been to several cities across India and I know how different things are, out in the smaller towns. And yet, I have also seen how attitudes are changing out there. There is talk about economic boom, globalisation, etc even in those provincial cities.
Personally, I believe that as far as India is concerned the metropolitan cities have played out their historic role. Its the smaller cities that have to come forward and contribute to the boom if India's spectacular growth is to be sustained over a longer period. That is where the significance of people like Amit Paul, Prashant Tamang and Mahendra Singh Dhoni comes into the picture. They are the people who will inspire a new generation of young Indians to believe in themselves, to take India forward. Those two events reflect the India of today and will inspire the emergence of the India of tomorrow.
This, my friends, was not just about music or cricket or entertainment.
This was a celebration of new India.