amit tandon

Amit Tandon performing Live

A little bit of humor is always nice when the times are critical. It works as a dose of respite, a distraction from everything that’s going wrong. Although the crisis in the Gulf is serious, it’s largely at a political level. The people are mostly unaffected. But, it does take a toll on the mind because you are in the middle of it.

So when popular Indian stand-up comedian, Amit Tandon, who’s also a successful entrepreneur, visited Doha recently for his maiden performance there, it was a huge breather for the people of Qatar, especially the expats. He tickled their funny bones and for a few hours, they forgot that they were surrounded by a staggering crisis.

In an exclusive chat with Doha News, the mechanical engineer from IIT-Delhi, also an MBA, said he can’t wait to come back for another show because experience-wise, it was a new one.

“This was my first experience in Doha and I had a lovely time. The audience was amazing and I never knew I could get such a response. They were very supportive and amazingly on time… although the audience was a mix of Indians and Pakistanis, everybody came in on time and we could start on time, which was one good experience,” he finished with a laugh. Well, we get the joke. Audiences in India and Pakistan are not quite particular about keeping to the schedule.

The audience at the Radisson Blu, where Amit performed, was a mix of the expat community.

“Brilliant audience. It was a mix of North Indians and Pakistanis and some people from Bangladesh. I get a lot of response from Pakistan, although I have never performed there. So whenever people outside of India get an opportunity, they come in large number.”

The language barrier was a strong reason for the absence of the local Qataris. “There were no locals because my performance was a mix of Hindi and English. So I don’t think a lot of people would understand Hindi there. And since a lot of references were also from India, it was primarily India and Pakistan.” This is also a small, but significant, example of how the hostility between India and Pakistan is also purely political, and has nothing to do with how the people of the two countries perceive each other. People-to-people contact has always been warm and they have always enjoyed each other’s company.

Amit Tandon

Amit didn’t lose the opportunity to intermingle with the expat community and found the experience quite revealing. “I got to interact with a few people, yes. I was surprised to see that there was stand-up scene building up locally in Qatar. There were two local comedians who were both from India, originally, who performed before me. It was fantastic to see that there was some local scene in comedy that’s going on there. I didn’t know much about Qatar, but when I visited there I found it to be an amazing place. There was a lot of energy in the city.”

Coming to Doha and not getting time to explore its expanding glory is unfortunate, but there is always a next time.

“I didn’t get to discover Doha because I had to leave the city the same night, around 4am I had a flight. But we went out for dinner and got great Indian food options. My experience in those 18-20 hours that I spent was very positive. I know FIFA 2022 is going to happen there and a lot of work is being done. Next time I am in Doha, I’d love to visit the stadiums and see all the exciting stuff that’s happening in Qatar.”

He also called upon Arab countries to quickly resolve the issue.

“I know the crisis situation in the Gulf is grabbing headlines and it’s pretty sad because these are countries that are neighbours and must support each other. It’s tough to say anything… In Qatar when I landed, the airport was very welcoming, the immigration process was pretty convenient and I hope it gets resolved soon because it’s affecting the entire region. I met families where the husband is in Dubai and the wife in Doha. For them it’s a huge issue.”

India clinched the deciding match against New Zealand in the final ball of the final over in Kanpur recently. It was a moment that made Ramesh Yadav jump up with joy. He became almost hysterical. I was sitting alongside him in the stadium. Ramesh, who belongs to U.P., works as an electrician in Doha and is on a one-month leave.

We got talking and he shared how much he misses playing cricket in Doha. There are places to play, but it’s mostly make-shift. He wishes for a proper cricket ground with all the related facilities where he and his fellow workers from all parts of the Indian sub-continent can play a professional game of cricket after work.

For Qatar to become a center of sports in the real sense, it must move beyond football now. Basketball, handball and motor-racing are also quite popular, with the State providing enough impetus. But cricket is a game that Qatar must re-focus on. Build more public infrastructures, facilities, academies and cricket grounds, especially because close to two million-strong workforce from India, Bangladesh and Nepal enjoy cricket more than any other sport. Playing on well-manicured green grass with pads and helmets in a cricket park is a different feeling from playing on hard turf. And a happy worker is a productive worker.

Equal attention ought to be paid to the development of the national cricket team, which is not doing so well.

Cricket has been a part of Qatar’s sports culture for long, but has fallen by the wayside. It made its international debut in 1979, at an invitational tournament that also featured Bahrain, Kuwait, and Sharjah. For a period during the 2000s, Qatar was one of the top-ranked non-Test teams in Asia, standing fourth in the 2004 Asian Cricket Council Trophy. However, it has since been relegated to the lower divisions of the ACC system, and has failed to qualify for any World Cricket League events.

In the 2017 ICC World Cricket League Division Five, held in September in South Africa, Qatar won the third-place playoff to remain in Division Five. Not a happy place to be in. The tournament was part of the World Cricket League(WCL) which determines the qualification for the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

The team may be at an ebb, but there are ways to improve the ranking and stature.

Get India on board

Cricket Coaching by Certified Coaches.

Qatar is already in talks with Dav Whatmore, the Sri Lanka-born Australian coach, who will be providing guidance to Doha-based cricket academies as part of the “Trucoach – CSS Whatmore Centre for Cricket” initiative. But he will not be a permanent fixture and will only be providing coaching lessons now and then. Even that much would benefit cricket in Qatar immensely, but difficult situations require long-term measures.

India has seasoned coaches even at the academy level and they possess the wherewithal to reverse the fortunes of the tailspinning national team. They can be spread across academies in Qatar, playing a major role in shaping budding cricketers. Like John Wright, the former India coach, says, ‘coaching is just moulding a group that has the skills and the attitude to win’. The men in maroon have the character and the potential to win, which they showed when they won the seven-nation International Cricket Council’s (ICC) World Cricket League Asia Division 1 event in Thailand with a heroic run chase. They defeated Saudi Arabia, who had stayed unbeaten in the tournament coming into the finals.

Whether from India or elsewhere, Qatar needs a top-class full-time international coach who can get them some really tough playing opportunities to bridge the gap. Instilling belief will be the starting point. It can be developed with time, like a win here and a win there.

The critical question is whether the Qatar Cricket Association will take the initiative and approach cricketing greats for coaching assignments in a manner it has not done before. Like a revolution that has made football so popular today. If the development of cricket is not taken upon on a war footing, public interest will further diminish, ultimately resulting in the shrinking of the talent pool. Merely surviving on the fringes could prove fatal for cricket in Qatar.

In a candid chat on American television show, 60 Minutes, HE Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani spoke about the now five-month long ongoing diplomatic crisis that has jeopardised the stability in the Gulf region. He believes the attack on Qatar’s sovereignty by the coalition of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt has an ulterior motive: Regime change.

He pointed out: “History tells us, teaches us, they tried to do that before, in 1996 after my father became the emir”.

Expressing shock at the diplomatic blockade, the emir claimed that the obstructionist approach by the Arab bloc seems out of place, unless there is a covert agenda to force change of leadership.

The blockade was imposed on June 5 on the basis of support to terrorism by Qatar, which it has vehemently denied. Interestingly, the blockade was implemented just two weeks after the Arab Islamic – American Summit, which included all parties involved in the blockade.

The emir said: “A few weeks before it all began, we were meeting, all of us together, in one room, including President Trump.” What is astonishing is that while everyone discussed the threat of terrorism and its financing, no one really talked about any action of alienation.

Qatar, though, was asked about the presence of Taliban in the country, for which the emir granted permission to setting up of offices in Doha to investigate and check as per the US request. He categorically denied any support to terrorism.

Qatar’s sovereignty paramount

The emir was clear that there is a difference of opinion “The blockading countries don’t like our independence, the way we think as a society, our vision for the region. We want freedom of speech for the people of the region and they’re not happy with that, and so they think that this is a threat to them. But even if that is the case, we want the crisis to end. But make no mistake, nothing is going to be above our dignity, our sovereignty.”

Considering the volatility of the situation and without mincing words, he warned of the possibility of military confrontation, saying, “I’m fearful that if anything happens, if any military act happens, this region will be in chaos.”

Consensus, not confrontation

Dialogue is the key.

Both sides possess the wisdom and the means to control disputes and tackle the region’s issue suitably. You can agree to disagree, but not at the cost of peace in the closely-connected region. But it will require give and take from both sides and cannot be a one-sided affair.

The Arab bloc has made infringing demands from a sovereign state without addressing its own deep-rooted, extremist ideologies. To make matters worse, they continue to refuse to talk. This suggests that they are looking for a protracted conflict, aimed at hurting Qatar’s economy and its very survival?

The quarrel has disrupted trade, affected workers and families, and delayed projects in Qatar that are critical to FIFA 2022. Of course, Qatar has multiple options to create alternative channels, which could, in turn, alter the economic, social, and political landscape of the Gulf in ways that will ultimately hurt its neighbours. While bringing upon itself some losses, its isolation is bound to usher in an era of new business opportunities and introduce new geopolitical alliances. But that is the last resort. If push comes to shove.

The tiny, yet resolute, nation has demonstrated it will not be held hostage to forces that do not want progress in cosmopolitan Qatar. Yes, it wants to engage in talks. But that is not possible in the current scenario where the Arab bloc is not interested.