Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: All That You Can’t Leave Behind

All That You Can’t Leave Behind: Why We Can Never Do Without Cricket
Soumya Bhattacharya
Rs 199
Pp 129
ISBN: 9780143066293

If one were to do a nationwide poll of Indians born after Independence and ask which is the one date they remember most, the answer may well be 25 June 1983, the date on which India won the cricket World Cup. It is often said that cricket in India is like a religion; nothing could be more misleading. Religion has scarred the nation more deeply than anything else. Cricket is the balm that heals.

In our collective consciousness, there is nothing quite like cricket. As the most visible expression of national identity, as an obsession or a dream, cricket is the only thing that possibly unites a country as diverse and as contradiction-ridden as India.

In this brilliant book, Soumya Bhattacharya shows how we have made this game our own, given it our own colour, our own customs, our own codes. And how cricket in turn has come to permeate every aspect of our public life, from popular culture to politics—so that, when a game is on, the rest of life happens strictly between overs. In the end, All That You Can’t Leave Behind is as much about India as it is about cricket.

Our secular institution Deccan Herald
Hockey continues to be our national sport (yes, from time to time, we need to keep reminding ourselves) and disciplines such as tennis and more recently badminton have captured the imagination of Indian sports lovers. But nothing quite excites and drives us like cricket does. Everyone has an opinion, and the beauty is that there is no such thing as a correct opinion or a wrong one. Yes, statistics throw up cold numbers and therefore leave little room for debate, but that is certainly not the case when it comes to opinion.
Not everyone who is passionate to the extent of being obsessive about cricket, however, gets a platform to express himself. Most of us have to make do with discussions with friends, which begin pleasantly enough and soon become animated before mushrooming into full-blown and heated arguments because each man has his opinion, and is completely convinced that he is correct. Time after time.

Then, we have people like Soumya Bhattacharya, tied to cricket through a special bond that was the extraordinary World Cup triumph in 1983. Bhattacharya is fortunate in that he is in a position where he can share his views with millions of people. Fortune, however, has had very little role to play in the manner in which he has communicated with fellow cricket-lovers through All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

This labour of love isn’t overpowering in that it doesn’t beat you into accepting the author’s point of view as being the only one worth consideration. If anything, All That You... is a personal account of a fascinating relationship that began with Kapil Devils conquering the world, and that hasn’t suffered because of the passage of time or the escalation of responsibilities.

Given that he is the Resident Editor of The Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Bhattacharya doesn’t need a book to influence opinions, which in any case doesn’t seem to be his motive. Right at the beginning, though, he debunks the popular myth that cricket in India is a religion.

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