On change, adaptation and the will to survive

A few weeks ago, when I read that IPL 2020 (Indian Premier League) would finally take place in a bio-bubble in the UAE, I received the announcement with both disbelief and pleasure. Disbelief, because one had assumed that like most other sporting events around the world this year, this one too would be cancelled; and pleasure, because I have come to look forward to this event with as much anticipation as I would to an annual holiday in an exotic destination.

As it is, this year has seen upheavals in almost every department – the Covid19 curse has almost halted education, strained the medical system, disrupted the economy and affected public and personal life in unprecedented ways. Amid this scenario, with no live audience and no crazy fans, would the IPL deliver its usual punch, I wondered. However, the first few matches have proved that it’s all there — the punch, the flavour and the madness (minus the usual noise, which is just as well). So the determination to hold the event against all odds has paid off.

I am neither a spokesperson for BCCI nor do I have a stake in IPL! However, as a writer I am tempted to use the IPL as a metaphor for positive change. The story of t-20 cricket is, in fact, a story of timely adaptation. Come to think of it, t-20 cricket itself had its critics when it was first launched in England in 2003. They felt that the drastically shortened version of the game would kill real cricket; replacing the slow, gentleman’s game with a fast, glamourous one. As we can plainly see, in its t-20 version, cricket is not only surviving but thriving. How beautifully the days-long game has been molded into the twenty-overs format completed in a few hours!

Today, the IPL cricket tournament is one of the most awaited events in the international sports calendar, watched live by lakhs of spectators and by television audiences in 120 countries. Not only does it pump crores of rupees into the Indian economy, it generates employment for hundreds of people – and I am not yet speaking of players. In sporting terms alone, it has brought opportunities to dozens of sportsmen, some of them struggling young cricketers from far-flung places and small towns. Now what is wrong with that?

As Steve Jobs put it, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.” And that is precisely what we are called upon to do in a changing world, where to adapt is to survive and to defy change is to become obsolete. Of course, adaptation has vastly different meanings in different contexts. In sports it may mean improving physical fitness to play more aggressively, whereas in some other field it may necessitate the innovative use of technology.

Here, I am reminded of a remarkable project being currently undertaken in Ladakh. Education is being taken to homebound children in remote villages of Leh and Kargil, not through books (or even online classes since these are not possible due to extremely low power supply), but through simple yet innovative means. Solar-powered electronic tablets pre-loaded with educational material are distributed free to the kids by rotation, so no schoolchild feels left out. The difficulties of treacherous terrain and limited electricity have been overcome through sunshine and a clever idea!

Turning to the natural world we see that whenever conditions became adverse, Mother Nature, in her supreme wisdom, enabled birds and animals to adapt to their environment. Some, like camels, developed the capacity to go without water for weeks at a time; others, like the giraffe, grew extra-long necks to be able to feed on the leaves of the acacia trees, their favourite food. These are, of course, physical modifications fit for lower beings. We humans, being much more evolved, are called upon to adapt in more complex ways, for which we need to use our minds. Every example of adaptation is a story of change, innovation and positivity. It follows that the attempt to adapt is not just a matter of survival; the process itself expands our minds and sharpens our brains, impacting our overall performance positively.

There are numerous examples of individuals and institutions adapting to new situations; it is fascinating to see this phenomenon at the larger, community level. A notable example of such a type is of the Parsi community, who migrated to India sometime between the eighth and tenth centuries. Through sensible and timely adaptation they made India their home, while retaining their culture and customs. This tiny minority has made remarkable contributions in multiple sectors of industry, education and the arts. As Socrates says, ”The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Speaking of the arts, art and entertainment is another sector that has been rudely jolted by the lockdown. But then, here again, artistes have risen to the occasion and taken to new platforms to showcase their performances. Recently, it was reported that the famous Rambo Circus is putting up its paid shows on a digital platform. This way audiences can enjoy the show while sitting in the comfort of their homes and the performers will have a means of income till regular, outdoor shows resume.

And now, coming back to the IPL, the fact that it is being played outside India in the UAE, has not diminished its excitement one bit. The sheer unpredictability of the outcome of each game is as fresh as ever. The matches are bringing much-needed cheer to us at a time when outdoor entertainment is banned. Thanks to the IPL, the dull daily routine is enlivened for a few hours every evening. Certainly, there are immense rewards in tackling change with an open mind. I would like to conclude with a beautiful Chinese proverb that comes to mind: “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”

(The author is a free-lance writer, editor and translator based in New Gurgaon.)