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Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Cricket Changed My Life: Stories of Hope and Despair from the IPL and Elsewhere

The world is a vastly different place from the time that I was young. Computers were things of legend in American laboratories and science fiction books. Our electronic video games were little handheld devices with Pacman or some such on it. Yet, some things haven’t changed at all. I watch cricket on television with my nephews and nieces just as my parents watched it with me. They like hearing stories about these cricketers, and I like telling those tales.

There’s a lot to say. Our cricketers come from various corners of India, from different backgrounds, classes and communities. Some of them tell cautionary tales, other accounts are inspirational, or moving, or just plain feel-good. They speak of conviction and hardship, hope and despair, and of the cricket that lies just beyond the game’s biggest stars.

From cricketers who have played for the Indian team to the ones that failed to make the cut, players who have achieved success only at the IPL to a couple of men not many know about at all – they are all there. Also present are foreigners who earn their living in India and Indians who went the wrong way, choosing easy money over the grind. And players that could, possibly, have reached higher had they been luckier, or better, or playing at a different time. A few players who qualified as hopefuls at the time of I spoke to them for this book, have moved up several notches since – like Shikhar Dhawan, Stuart Binny and Rajat Bhatia.

The career curve of cricketers is one of the by-lessons in here. Ryan ten Doeschate explained it well in the context of an IPL team when we were chatting. “There are a lot of similarities between a cricket team and a corporate set-up,” he said. “You have the obvious levels of management with the owners, the CEO, the coach, the captain, the manager and the others. There is also a hierarchy within the players. The big players, who play the leading roles, are, like a corporate entity, shouldered with the bulk of the responsibility and ultimately the team’s performance. They are also the high earners of the team.The guys with back-up roles can grow into these positions of higher responsibility through striking and consistent performances, which can again be associates with a corporate structure.”

To that I add: there will be the laggards and the hard-workers, the smart ones and the not-so smart ones, the ones that get where they want to by pleasing the bosses, and then the ones who perform well one day and not so well the other day. Some of them have problems that weigh them down and there are yet others that don’t let personal issues clip their wings.There are people who give it their best shot and are happy in the knowledge that they did everything they could to succeed, and some who sit back and blame the world for all that is wrong with their lives.

Sport, it is said, is a microcosm of life. Indian cricket, with all its hues, is no different.

Cricket Changed My Life tries to tell some tales that I would enjoy reading myself.

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To read this book, one prerequisite, of course, is a love for cricket and cricketers. It would also help to have the capacity to learn from the experiences of others. As a youngster, I didn’t much enjoy being told what to do (I still don’t). And I certainly don’t like the idea of telling people what to do. But it is a good idea to just present the facts and then leave people – young and old – to do what they will with them.

Maybe someone else – with a deeper understanding of cricket and better writing skills – would have done a better job of this. But the big reason I wanted to tell these stories is because in all these years of being a cricket fan and then a cricket writer, I have found precious little in book form about the world of Indian cricket beyond the marquee stars. Yes, news articles are a dime a dozen, but the value the permanence of a book brings is missing.

Off-hand, I’d say there are 30–40 books on Sachin Tendulkar alone. But why is there so little about everyone else? Is cricket, or Indian cricket, only about Tendulkar and the other stars? It cannot be – just look at the vastness of it, from the Ranji fields to the Safi Darashah Trophy to smaller tournaments played between villages (where too there is a certain amount of money to be made).

This book is an attempt. An attempt to try and tell stories we don’t get enough of. There are other cricketers and other stories just as worthy and interesting. But we’ll start with this lot and then, maybe, someday, we’ll all want to share more of them.

Shamya Dasgupta

A HUGE thank you to all the schools that welcomed Oscar to India in February!

A HUGE thank you to all the schools that welcomed Oscar to India in February!

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When I reached home after my February visit to India, I looked at the figures. Seven cities, thirty-nine schools, more than seven thousand children. Add to that the New Delhi World Book Fair, a transmedia workshop sponsored by the Australia-India Council and an awesome festival – Kala Ghoda in Mumbai – and it was a crowded month.

It was also joyous. I’ve visited countless schools in many different countries – Australia, naturally, but also China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Oman. It’s always fun, but nowhere is it more fun than in India.

Indian kids are simply the best when it comes to being truly engaged with an interaction, and they are simply the best when it comes to asking questions. I’ve come to expect this with my Jake series, and talking about I Am Oscar with older classes was just as wonderful.

A question often asked was this: “Why did you write I Am Oscar?” That gave me a chance to talk about my favourite subject – imagination.

It also made me think about my Jake character in the Jake series and identify a thread that runs through my work generally. But whereas Jake simply has fun with his imagination, characters like Oscar and Advaita (in Advaita The Writer) depend upon their imaginations to survive. Oscar is funny, sure. But most of all he’s a creative guy who allows himself flights of fancy. To me, that’s about resilience – the capacity to work through difficult times by releasing the ‘reality valve’ sometimes.

A psychiatrist features in I Am Oscar and, although he doesn’t say this in the novel, he would know that a famous psychiatrist named Viktor Frankl – a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp – said that our ability to see beyond present circumstances allows for the possibility of hope. This capacity to imagine, then, becomes a life tool, a survival mechanism.

Speaking to 12, 13 and 14 year-olds on my India tour, I told them that their lives were getting more complicated and that, over the coming years, they would feel many stresses and anxieties – about study, careers, parents, relationships. I encouraged them to have fun with their imaginations, and to remember it’s the greatest power they have.

During and since the February trip I’ve received some lovely emails. Here’s one:

Nishant here. You came to our school in India (Hiranandani Foundation School)… You highlighted your book “I am Oscar”. And thank you for that ’cause, boy… I tell u I just finished reading it and I am sooooo impressed… I even feel like Oscar Is a real guy. I’m sure that somehow this book is going to change my life. Many thanks!!

Well, thank YOU, Nishant – and thanks to the many other students who have written to me.

Huge thanks to the teachers and principals who made the interactions possible, and most of all, thanks to the generous and hardworking Scholastic representatives who looked after me so well everywhere I went.

 

Ken Spillman

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