Corporate Networking, Indian Style

May 10, 2011 • Features • Views: 1740

by Abhinav Gupta:

‘It came right down to the end, right to the last over,” reminisced Shailendra Singh, a software engineer at EMC Corporation. “But, of course, we made sure that we won.” On a crisp mid-October Sunday afternoon, Singh and 21 Indian immigrants received small trophies under a blue tent on a baseball field in central Massachusetts. Singh’s team, the ECC Hoickers, had just defeated TechPro to win the inaugural 2010 Cornell’s Cup. But, though they stood on a diamond, it was not baseball that they had been playing for the last three hours. Rather, as Singh put it, “we played the only sport that brought us together, cricket.”

Though foreign to most Americans, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world. In India, cricket transcends sport: It is religion. In every park, alleyway, and parking lot, youngsters can be seen smacking tennis balls with makeshift wooden bats. Team India players like Sachin Tendulkar and M.S. Dhoni star in shampoo commercials, light up roadside billboards, and decorate the walls in the rooms of Indian children. “It’s a fact. If you’re Indian, of course you know cricket,” said Singh.

As Indians have emigrated from India, they have brought their national pastime with them. In the United States many cricket leagues are composed of company-sponsored teams that draw the many educated Indian professionals working in the corporate world. In the ten-team New England Cricket Association, teams from EMC, MathWorks, and eClinicalWorks, among other companies, compete in a round-robin three month summer season. Similarly, the Michigan Cricket Association fields teams from Ford, DaimlerChrysler, and General Motors, which compete in a Detroit-based summer tournament. At the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, seven different intra-company teams compete year-round. Leagues have emerged across the United States, especially in areas with large Indian populations like New York and San Francisco.

Though informal, these leagues draw players with true talent. “Sure, some play casually,” said Singh. “But, for us, we want to improve. Cricket is our passion.” In fact, many of the players played cricket at the collegiate level in India. In America, these recreational leagues scout players, form selection committees, and employ formal umpires to foster healthy competition.

That said, cricket is more than an imported hobby: It is a way for immigrants to stay connected to the life they left behind. “We played all the time as kids,” said D.V. Nagraj, an IT specialist who plays with his colleagues from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “It allows us to relive the memories of India.”

Cricket in the United States is rising in popularity as Indians im- migrate. (Flickr Creative Commons/Michelle Tribe)

Cricket not only connects immigrants to their pasts but also helps them adjust in their new homes. Ashish Singhal, a Silicon Valley engineer remarked, “It took a long time for me to adjust to the States. Even now, it’s hard to fit in; however, cricket helps me feel part of a community.” The sport has facilitated the creation of pockets of Indian culture in America. “We’ve formed a circle that’s into cricket,” said Singhal. “When you’ve moved past wives meeting, to males playing together each weekend consistently, you’ve got a community,” he said, laughing.

While Indians may not grasp the four down system of American football or the office March Madness pool, they can readily appreciate the differences between the off-cutter, the leg cutter, and the reverse swing: the nuances of cricket. At EMC and other organizations that employ large numbers of Indians, recent conversation has been dominated by the ICC World Cup that occurred in March. “It’s been the status quo, at lunch, in meetings, anywhere. It’s been all we’ve talked about,” said Singh. “It’s the most common topic; it really breaks the ice.” Singh’s teammates and coworkers awoke at 4:30 a.m. to cheer on the Indian national team in the World Cup Final, as did countless other Indians in living rooms, bars, universities, and theaters across the world.

Just like chicken tikka masala or “Slumdog Millionaire,” Indian cricket has been exported globally. As the Indian team lifted the Cricket World Cup, Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian commentator, exclaimed, “All Indian fans will be rejoicing, not just here, but wherever they are in the world.” Through leagues, television, and passing office conversation, cricket culture unites Indians, shaping a collective national pride that crosses oceans.

Abhinav Gupta’13 is a Biology and Political Science double major in Davenport College. Contact him at abhinav.gupta@yale.edu.

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