Yogis & Junglee Cricket in the land of Yahoo

It’s an appropriate metaphor to discuss the fascinating emergence of the US as a cricketing nation.
Yogis & Junglee Cricket in the land of Yahoo
Picture credits: AFP

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That’s a memorable quote from American baseball player Yogi Berra, famous both as a sportsman and one whose sayings often made one laugh and think. The quote sounds like a stand-in for how one can eat a cake and have it too, but its origin lies in his instructions to a friend visiting his home. No matter which path you chose at the fork, you would end up at his house.

It’s an appropriate metaphor to discuss the fascinating emergence of the US as a cricketing nation. The US team’s upset victory over Pakistan in the ongoing T20 World Cup in the US and the Caribbean was led by Saurabh Netravalkar, who seems to have taken a fork of sorts in his life’s journey. He is successful both as a techie and a cricketer—an ultimate contemporary Indian middle-class dream. A search on his name leads first to his Instagram handle, followed by his profile as an Oracle software engineer, and then reveals his cricketing credentials. Netravalkar played under-19 cricket for India, and this month, he played for his adopted homeland against India. Such is the circle of life.

But my story today is about the fascinating link between the US and India across spheres—politics, spirituality, technology and sports.

Yogi Berra was called ‘Yogi’ by a friend who used to see him sitting cross-legged in a pose that reminded him of an Indian yogi. Now, it is widely believed that baseball has its origins in rounders, a variant of cricket. English settlers in the US played the game that later evolved into baseball. The free-swinging baseball batter even gave the term ‘pinch hitter’ to the cricket lexicon, as the latter morphed into shorter, limited-over versions. The T20 version is almost like baseball in its combination of colourful outfits, cheerleaders and popcorn capitalism. It is as recognisable from the Ashes Tests as a giant, old IBM mainframe computer would be from the more powerful, hand-held iPhone.

The man who steered the iPhone at Apple, late Steve Jobs, was influenced by Paramhamsa Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi, a copy of which was handed to those attending Jobs’s memorial service.

Fascinatingly, Yogananda, who was sent to the US by his guru Sri Yukteswar Giri as a kriya yoga evangelist, has a chapter in his book titled ‘I go to America’ in which he exclaims after seeing meditative visions of American faces: “Surely there is a karmic link between these two lands.”

Two lands? You can make it three, if you want to make a triangle out of the US, India and Britain.

It is not very well known that the first commercially successful portable computer was made by British-born Adam Osborne. Born in Bangkok but raised partially in India, Osborne died in Tamil Nadu’s hill station of Kodaikanal in 2003, well after the internet had arrived in India. All of his family members spoke fluent Tamil. His father Arthur was a teacher of Eastern philosophy and engaged with Ramana Maharishi’s spiritual ashram. Osborne may not have guessed when he passed that one day, Microsoft, Google and IBM would all be run by people of Indian origin.

There’s even a Bollywood link to America’s tech revolution. Born in 1994, one of the internet’s earliest giants, Yahoo, is a tongue-in-cheek acronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. But four IITians with memories of Shammi Kapoor singing “Yahoo!” in the 1963 movie Junglee did not let go of a chance. Anand Rajaraman, Venky Harinarayan, Rakesh Mathur and Ashish Gupta founded Junglee Corp, a provider of web-based technologies in 1996. Amazon acquired Junglee in 1998. Junglee co-founder Rakesh Mathur also started a Web 2.0 company called Purple Yogi, later renamed Stratify. Meanwhile, Shammi Kapoor became an early web evangelist and the founder-chairman of the Internet Users Club of India.

I prefer to call T20 the game’s junglee version. It has too much yahoo-ing going on!

Perhaps this whole transcontinental dot-joining began with the use of zero as a mathematical symbol by ancient Indian mathematicians Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, as it today forms the basis of the Boolean algebra at the heart of computer science. Indian cricketers, however, are not encouraged to score a duck because of this.

We can say with a degree of certainty that cricket, democracy and information technology have a reverse swinging relationship, though we may argue who gets the credit for starting it all. That works for politics as well.

There are those who would point out that the sabhas and samitis mentioned in our old texts showed some of the earliest representative exercises, or that the Mahajanapadas in the Bharat of yore were among of the world’s first republics.

In the modern era, the first general election was held in Britain at the turn of the 17th century, while the US held its first presidential polls in late 18th century. And so on. There is a fourth, French angle to the democratic tangle. They say Tipu Sultan, who valiantly fought the East Indian Company, was inspired by the French Revolution in 1789, which in turn was inspired by the American Revolution against colonial rule in 1776.

Democracy, technology and cricket have an evolving karmic link. But their newer versions may be unrecognisable from the older ones.

(Views are personal)

(On X at @madversity)

Madhavan Narayanan | Senior journalist

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