Wednesday, April 29, 2015

PLAYING IT MY WAY: Sachin Tendulkar’s Autobiography

Playing It My Way is a book that insists on satisfying every bit of expectation the reader may possess regarding a book by Sachin Tendulkar, India’s cricketing legend. Playing It My Way has 28 chapters. The appendix that follows contains Sachin’s farewell speech with which he damped the eyes of millions of his fans after the final match of his career, on 16 November 2013 at the Wankhede Stadium. The publisher is Hodder and Stoughton and the revenue from the selling of the book (actually the author’s share) would go to two charitable causes: the alleviation of malnutrition in children and the provision of clean water to the underprivileged.

Playing It My Way has almost 500 pages and covers Sachin’s life from Childhood to his Final Test Match. What I found intriguing is that printed in this book at regular intervals is score cards from significant games Sachin was a part of or whenever the story of his life demanded the scorecard’s presence, which in Sachin’s life is quite often. If you are a cricket fan and a close follower of Sachin mania, you are also in for a treat, for towards the end of the book, you will find a Career Statistics of Sachin Tendulkar compiled by Benedict Bermange.

Playing It My Way is a book that every fan of Sachin would love and cherish. Reason? This volume contains not just scorecards and career statistics. It has pictures in it. In other words, Playing It My Way is not just a verbal treat on the unforgettable journey of Sachin Tendulkar, but also a visual treat. From family photos to pictures from memorable occasions in various turns of Sachin’s life are for up grabs. This makes Playing It My Way a souvenir for safekeeping for the generations to come.

Playing It My Way brought answers to several of the questions I had in my mind. When Sachin first played his international game, I was not in a position to even understand even the word cricket due to my young age. As I grew up though, Sachin Tendulkar became a household name, the name of a new ‘religion’ so to speak. Some say, Cricket is religion and Sachin it’s god. In India, with its dozens of religious faith and divine figures, perhaps, there was some reality in this popular saying.

As a young man, I observed that a sort of divinity was associated with Sachin in and out of the field of cricket. It wasn’t merely because he was a good player. Although I understand it now, back then I could not quite locate the reasons for venerating the player to the heights of the gods, during those early days. I was very young for such deeper thoughts to come my way. And I too was a fan of the great player. Still, my admiration of Sachin never crossed the boundary of sanity. I presume there were those in the early days who were ready to die for this man, as if he was really someone the heaven had sent.
Author Anu Lal with Playing It My Way

Even before Playing It My Way was released, I was intent on my reviewing this book in the future. As Playing It My Way manifested in book form I realized that perhaps, there exists a chance to see through the veil of stardom, who Sachin really is by reading and analyzing the book. Is he a new god in the Indian pantheon? Or is he an ordinary middle-class boy from Mumbai who happened to have a lot of fortune on his side? But most of all, I wanted to identify the reasons for him staying for such a long period of time a person of immense importance in India.

As a player, Sachin had been reticent outside the field most of the time. He was never an active participant of the regular press banter. This led to a surprisingly narrow trail of written material by Sachin or with his stamp saying this is authentically me speaking. Playing It My Way is significant in many ways, but the way it offers Sachin’s story in Sachin’s own voice is unique of them all. Even before I got my hands on Playing It My Way I wished to see how the book opened. It was a mere curiosity.

Chapter One begins as follows: “Son, life is like a book.” What ends up being a narration of how his father advised Sachin Tendulkar on matters of life and cricket, is essentially what a psychoanalyst may call a Freudian slip. The subject of this first sentence and the main topic of the opening narration seem to amalgamate the core essence of Sachin, the man. Here lie the secrets behind his popularity and acceptance in India. Sachin is the good son, the ideal man, or the man with values. One of which the first sentence of Playing It My Way reveals—honoring father.   
Image Courtesy: Google

The values Sachin Tendulkar represented were evidently based on the Indian traditional grand narratives. The ‘son’ image in Ramayana, the epic written by Valmiki, in which Ram follows the promise his father had given one of his wives, even in a situation when his father, Dasharatha regretted each word of the vow he had made to Keikeyi. As a result, Rama had to spend fourteen years in forest, away from home. Thus the son honors his father. It may not sound unfamiliar for most world cultures to honor one’s father. Christianity is full of divine paternal images. And in that respect these cultures have striking similarities too. But the point is, in India, as seen in the Bible or in the Ramayana, prodigal sons do not earn much respect, neither from family nor from society.

Sachin had been immune to scandals and charges of match fixing that surrounded Indian cricket from late 90s. Often, he had been the one-man army to save Indian cricket team from devastating failures in international matches. One such event, I remember well. During the South Africa cricket match fixing, Sachin took upon himself the “burden” of taking the team to victory against great odds.

Playing It My Way is co-written with Boria Majumdar. Another aspect that renders Playing It My Way especially apt for showcases is its cover. The hardcover edition features Sachin with his bat raised, and looking upward toward heavens—a gesture that the fans of Indian cricket remember as the sign on thanksgiving by this legendary player, whenever he contributed toward a decisive victory. The back cover features no blurbs as is in the tradition of book publishing. Another photograph of Sachin playing his unique shot adorns the back cover of the book. Of course, the picture says it all. The price of the hardcover volume in India is just a hundred buck short of a thousand. Those who are considerate about money may find this another factor to find a space for this book in their showcase and not just in dusty old bookshelves.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

GÜNTER GRASS: John Irving’s Teacher, Mine Too.

New York Times bestselling author John Irving in his recent article, published in The Globe and Mail, writes a capturing eulogy for Günter Grass. In his article titled “An unanswered letter from Günter Grass,” John Irving underscores how Grass combined contemporary novel writing with 19th century storytelling.

“I learned from my favourite 19th-century writers that I wanted to be a certain kind of novelist – like Dickens and Hardy, like Hawthorne and Melville. I learned from Grass how to do it,” says John Irving. I would like to draw a particular conclusion with great eagerness from this statement by John Irving. I consider this a crucial sign of a relationship that seems to transcend time and cultures. In every culture, teacher-student relationships have always been given special positions, both personally and socially. The extent of this relationship makes me wonder if it’s actually person-bound at all. I consider this relation soul-bound. The student, fundamentally, gives identity to a teacher. John Irving is not alone in considering Günter Grass his teacher. I have had my experience too.    

R. I. P Günter Grass.

Günter Grass has been an inspiration to the writer in me during my early years of the calling, similar to what John Irving mentions in his piece. I wonder at the multifold possibilities a writer could achieve with the subtlety of a theme that Grass handled in his book The Box. All of a sudden, after reading this volume, a door to new possibilities flung open for me.  

Image Courtesy:
Here is a blog post I composed in the year 2011, shortly after finishing Günter Grass’ work, The Box. I was working at the University as an Assistant Professor on contract back then. When I go through this blog post, it fills me with memories both joyous and painful. Perhaps, it is true to assume that we all have a reason to be in certain places. Sometimes, we are required to be in some place for ourselves, and sometimes, for others. However, when we learn a great truth about life somewhere, remember, we have come across the juncture of greatness, because learning great truths about life may not just benefit our limited selves, but it may also provide many blessings to the whole of humanity. I believe that on that day in the library when I discovered Günter Grass and The Box, I was doing just the same, growing out of my seed form to benefit the whole of humanity in my own small way.  

Günter Grass, you will be missed. Your book was hard to read, but it had inspired me, nevertheless. You will certainly be remembered. May your soul rest in peace and journey into the deep depths of Cosmic Consciousness and meet with the Creative Source, from where it originated.   

Although this blog post lacks a deeper appreciation of Günter Grass’ works as an author, this piece of writing would surely give the reader ample evidence of a young writer’s excitement at the sight of a few significant books that he encounters on the way.

The following is the blog post I published in 2011. 
Thursday, December 15, 2011
There is always a new book awaiting. One I have just finished; The Box by Günter Grass. I stand up from my office chair. Like all office chairs it’s comfortable in a profane sense. It always seduces me to sleep; makes me work one minute less than the time to finish. It loves me lazy. I hate it. But it stood by me this time, partially oaring me to an unknown island of sleep; flashes of faces, words spoken in English, a fairy tale divulged each time; and partially fixing me where I am, with the hard cover volume in my hand. I love the later part.

When my feet feel swollen, I stand up and contort my body once or twice, and then sit down, pushing forth my eyes on the white paper, only to find how familiar words dance to some mysterious tune to concoct the most fascinating potion of literary alchemy.

This time I stand up again; take a stroll around my chair in a ritual to warm up my legs. I finished the book, which I have been reading from the previous week. A thread sized stream of contentment oozes down into my mind. A smile spreads on my lips that takes a rightward move and settles on the right side for some time.

Another irritable pleasure I seek is to return this book at the library. I imagine my walk to library; contented, poised, with the same right corner smile. I may meet my students there, too. One inexplicable advantage of teaching profession; you get a tremendous amount of spare time. It is two in the afternoon, and I still have two and half hours left, which I can spend in the library. Thursdays are usually off days for me, due to some technical requirements, in order to balance the total hours of lecturing among other teachers: a whole day between me and my muse.    

My colleagues raise their weary glances up at me, while I pass their cabins as a traveler just back from his inter-continental mission, content.

The library is not as crowded as I expected. I see the librarian lady passing a curious glace at the stack of papers in my hand: a short story I downloaded from the internet. She hands over my library ticket, which I have to exchange with each book I take. But today I have no intention to take another book. The Box was a hard read. Words dancing, changing into voices and creating a mysterious alchemy.

The short story with me serves for another plan. It forms part of my creative writing practices. The story is by a writer who is new to my reading universe, so I am keen in observing him in action.

I am standing among the bookshelves now. I feel my legs need a real nice stretch. A stroll is needed, at least. So I take a round among the shelves, just dab my fingers over the covers of books, leaf through some and just move from shelf to shelf. The reason why I don’t want to take a book today is that I already have one at home; the biography of C. G. Jung, which seems to be a good one, though I haven’t started reading it yet. Some books create an impression upon us even before a page is turned.

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Henry Miller: Plexus: the cover read. It was just a brown cover with the title in white with red bordering. I have been searching for any book by Henry Miller for a long time. Though, enough attempts were made I could not succeed. Somehow his books are not in many numbers in libraries; not even present in most of them, neither at book stores around in Kannur. May be the reason is their covers with pictures of naked women on most of them. That is why the cover of this edition catches my attention. It is a 1963 edition by Granada publishing company.

I take it in my hands, look at it and put it back from where it is taken. Promises have to be kept; I decided not to take a book today. I take it once again; turn the pages; they are yellow with time and the print is crammed. I put it back. Promises are promises, even if they are made to oneself. I am walking out of the library after 4.30, with a paper stack and a brown covered book. Plexus.

Sometimes it’s ok to take a chance if it’s worth it…I guess.