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Mainstream, VOL LX No 36 New Delhi, August 27, 2022

A Window to Cricket and India | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Friday 26 August 2022, by M R Narayan Swamy

BOOK REVIEW

Not Just Cricket:
A Reporter’s Journey through Modern India

by Pradeep Magazine

HarperCollins India
Pages: 371; Price: Rs 599
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9354892116
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9354892110

The best part about Pradeep Magazine is that he just doesn’t love cricket but his heart beats for India. As he exposes the rot in the Indian cricket establishment while hailing some of the finest players the game has produced in this cricket-crazy country, Magazine also takes you to the battered Kashmir Valley, where he was born, as well as Pakistan, where you get to feel the love for India on the streets.

A highly respected cricket reporter who came up the hard way, Magazine was among the first in India to expose the match-fixing scandal which eventually enveloped most major cricket playing countries. This was his forte. Even as he began his career, Magazine’s stories would expose malpractices much to the annoyance of the cricket officials.

He found out while posted in Chandigarh early on that children of influential people would get selected for the Haryana team before being weeded out after playing one match. That secured for them the credential of having played First Class cricket, which helped them to either get jobs or admission to colleges on the basis on sporting achievements. “This is a practice prevalent in many state teams in India even now, Delhi being the most notorious example.”

Magazine is full of praise for Mansoor Ali Khan “Tiger” Pataudi, who he says had to regularly deal with the ineptitude, indifference and callousness of the cricket administrators in India. During the 1967 tour of England, the daily tour allowance of the players was a measly one pound, forcing them to search for cheap food. While Pataudi’s contribution was immense in building a solid Indian team, the selectors played regressive politics. They would at times be screaming and creating a ruckus over something as trivial as shortage of ‘pakoras’ during team selection!

Bishen Singh Bedi also earns the author’s admiration. “Indian cricket has never seen, and will probably never see, a more large-hearted, well-meaning and honest person.” This is a huge praise in a country where even stars are known to cut corners. Bedi, Magazine says, was never drawn by personal aggrandizement. This was probably why Bedi never hesitated to take on the powerful cricket bosses.

What ails Indian cricket? According to Magazine, the conflict of interest is one of the biggest ills plaguing the game. Ever since players became brands themselves, the allegations have surfaced from time to time. And the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has not battled the ill as it itself is steeped in wrongdoings. Indeed, a judge asked to get to the bottom of it all moaned the lack of any ethical compass in BCCI’s working.

Magazine had a chance encounter with an elderly man in Pakistan’s Hyderabad city. He was among the millions of Muslims who fled India in 1947 but now bitterly regretted it. The stranger hugged the Indian journalist, tears streaming down his cheeks. “(It) remains one of the most enduring images of all my travels, during which I have been witness to the yearning for roots, with all its tragic and positive dimensions.” In Pakistani cities, Magazine felt a lot of warmth for the touring Indian cricket team and a complete absence of hostility.

Unfortunately, the attitude of many of the touring Indians towards Pakistanis was not the same. When legendary Pakistani batsman Zaheer Abbas and his Indian Hindu wife invited the Indian media to dinner, only Magazine and a friend turned up. The Abbas couple were naturally very hurt. They cited this as an instance of Indians trying to slight and shun Pakistani people.

Many Pakistani people and media also complained to Magazine that they found the Indian team aloof, uncommunicative and even disdainful of the locals. Sachin Tendulkar, leading the side, refused to speak to the press and distanced himself from his Pakistani fans, not even waving or smiling at them. Pakistani fans were angry and upset.

In contrast, the Indians were greeted by reassuring smiles from strangers in Pakistan. Two young women walked up to Magazine and friends and said: “Please feel at home. Pakistan is as much your country as it is ours.” The spontaneous gesture of warmth from total strangers in a market overwhelmed the author. Pakistanis at every step went out of their way to make the visiting Indians feel comfortable and welcome.

But on a later visit to Pakistan, Magazine became aware of the faultlines in a nation dominated by one religion and the dangerous spread of fundamentalism that was causing deep unrest in society. The only Pakistani he encountered with an intense dislike for India was a man who claimed he was ill-treated while visiting India because of his nationality.

The author provide some fascinating insight into his Pandit community, which lived in large numbers in the Kashmir Valley until militancy in 1989 forced most to flee the region. The Saraswat Kashmir Brahmins did socialize with Muslims but only in their offices, he says. “A Muslim touching a vessel in which we ate was considered similar to that of the ‘untouchable’ castes in Hinduism, a pollutant which could lead to catastrophic consequences in the life hereafter.”

Education, he says, was a ‘preserve’ of the Hindus in the Valley. As a result, most of them would secure the white collar jobs in administration, banks, schools and hospitals… Even though we were a minority, we still enjoyed a privileged status that perhaps very few minorities enjoyed anywhere else.”

Magazine admits that during peaceful time, even to the Pandits India was an alien land. “Any place outside the Valley was India for us.” During his many later visits to the Valley, the author found the population, particularly the young, deeply embittered. Most youngsters feel completely alienated from the Indian state. “All I could gather were threads that when woven together created a picture of a disgruntled, wounded populace living in anger and pain, with no room or space for forgiveness or reconciliation in their minds.”

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