PlaybackMartin Chandler |
Author: Carvalho, Stanley (Editor)
Publisher: ATC Publishers
Rating: 4 stars
Some books are easy to ignore, and this is one of them. The look is unassuming, and the title, entirely appropriate to those who have actually read the book, is not tempting at first blush. Add to that the fact that only around a quarter of the book is devoted to cricketers and it was very easy to dismiss this one as only being of real interest in Bangalore, so I put it straight onto the shelf.
And there Playback may have stayed, had I not reached for a different book and picked it up by mistake. Having done so I did at least open it and, noticing that my great favourite Chandra was one of the subjects, thought I would at least read that chapter.
The essay on Chandra is written by S Nanda Kumar who, it seems, combines an acting career with his writing. In some ways it is not unlike other pieces I have read on Chandra, but what captivated me was the account of Kumar’s pursuit of his subject in order to interview him. In the space of a page or two that episode spoke volumes as to the sort of man that Chandra is and what makes him tick. Pen pictures seldom achieve that, and doing so lifts the writing well above the ordinary.
Sticking with the same writer I then turned to his chapter on Syed Kirmani. The long time Indian wicketkeeper has not been the subject of a book before. Hopefully one day he will be, but in the meantime Kumar’s contribution is another most satisfying read.
By now I was enjoying Playback, so it was straight on to Gundappa Viswanath. Vishy has been the subject of a book, albeit one that is extremely rare and, for those who are able to track down a copy, not very good. The writer this time is R Kaushik, who I had never previously heard of, although I now know he was VVS Laxman’s ghost. Kaushik also writes about Erapelli Prasanna and, like Kumar, does much more than just rehash earlier writings on his men.
At this point I had run out of familiar names but, enthused by the four essays I have referred to decided to read those on the other cricketers, and an interesting selection they are too. First up is the appropriately named Bangalore Jayaram who played with WG Grace for London County back in Edwardian times. Journalist Jayanth Kodkani is the writer.
Of more modern vintage are Venkataraman Subramaniya who played nine times for India in the late 1960s, Shantha Ramaswamy (a leading Indian woman player of the 1970s and 1980s and Mangalam Chinnaswamy, not a player but the administrator responsible for Test cricket coming to Bangalore. Those writers are Kodkani, and journalists Manuja Veerappa and Ravi Sharma respectively.
As I came to the end of Sharma’s piece on Chinnaswamy it was, knowing it was the last of the cricket pieces, with a sense of slight disappointment that Playback was due to go back on the shelf. Then I noticed that Gulu Ezekiel had contributed a chapter to the book. I probably should have realised earlier as Gulu had kindly sent me the book, so it would have been rude not to read that one at least.
As I have grown older my interest in reading about sports other than cricket has waned, but like all cricket tragics my mind is not closed. Gulu’s man in Playback is Henry Rebello. As I read the story of India’s triple jumper who appeared in the 1948 Olympics I was given cause to remember my only other experience of a collection of Indian sporting essays, Gulu’s own Cricket and Beyond.
Holding that thought I didn’t stop with Gulu’s chapter, and in the space of a weekend had read all of the others.
Editor and native of Banglaore Stanley Carvalho contributes six chapters. He is a Reuters journalist now based in the UAE, although not on sporting subjects, which is a great shame based on his writing here. His subjects are another 1948 Olympian, sprinter Eric Prabhakar. He also looks at two female sprinters. The first is Nirmala Ponnappa who, at aged 16 in 1969, was the fastest woman in India. Irene Mascarenhas was a 100 metre runner as well, but competed to a high standard in other disciplines, and indeed played handball and hockey as well.
Other athletes looked at by Carvalho are the (married to Nirmala) 400 metre runner PC Ponnappa and 1950s decathlete Codanda Muthiah. He also demonstrates sporting interests beyond the athletics track with pieces on billiards and snooker player Arvind Savur, hockey sisters Priscilla, Elvira, Rita and Mae Britto and (jointly with brother Leslie) tennis player Dechu Moola, India’s women’s number one back in the early 1960s.
Brother Leslie is involved in the film industry and is a former writer. He also contributes essays on Marjorie Suares (an all round sportswoman), athlete Kenny Powell (again with Stanley), nonagenerian athletics coach N. Lingappa and women’s tennis star from the era just before Moola, Laura Woodbridge.
Outside of cricket just about the only thing about Indian sport I knew when growing up was that Indian hockey players were amongst the best in the world. Naturally some of them feature in Playback. From the 1950s male teams there is Muniswamy Rajgopal, and a decade on Mullera Ganesh and Victor Peter. The writer charged with the contributions on those three is experienced journalist and broadcaster SS Shreekumar.
According to the brief biographies of the writers at the rear of the book Shreekumar is a soccer specialist, not a sport I ever realised had a great deal of traction in India. For that reason alone his other three contributions, on Ahmed Khan, Kenchappa Varadaraj, and Mariappa Kempaiah were particularly interesting.
Which leaves just three more chapters, two by contributors whose names do not appear elsewhere, and one more by Veerappa who looks at the life and times of Deanna Tewari, an athlete in her prime the 1960s, who subsequently became a respected coach. The two one time contributors are veteran sportswriter Kalyan Ashok, who contributes a chapter on Usha Sunderraj, five times Indian table tennis champion in the 1960s and Mark Suares, a librarian currently living in Australia, on the subject of his namesake, Arthur Suares, who was a highly successful middleweight boxer in the inter war years.
So who should buy Playback? For those from Karnataka with an interest in sporting history I would suggest it is required reading, and not far short of that for those from the rest of India. And further afield? Not in that case essential I don’t suppose, but I have no connection with Bangalore, Karnataka or India, and whilst I have a degree of interest in a number of sports neither hockey or athletics are passions of mine. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed each and every chapter in Playback, something which can mean only one thing – it’s a bloody good read!