The Great Tamasha
Author: James Astill
Publisher: Wisden Sports Writing
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Archie Mac
14 Sep 2013
Because of the subject matter of The Great Tamasha, the IPL, it is not a book I would normally purchase. However sometimes as a reviewer you have moments of serendipity. This book was such a moment.
Beautifully written, The Great Tamasha
, which means Show, sets out to describe the many machinations of the IPL, but to fully understand the IPL and its role in Indian society the author goes into many areas.
From the poverty of the slums to the IPL owners, which include many of the Bollywood stars, and a history of Indian cricket, Astill covers every facet with meticulous research and a humanising touch. It is this capacity to put flesh on his subjects that lifts this book to great heights. The author possesses the rare ability to not only notice the subtleties that make up a person's character but the ability to describe it to the reader.
Many of the great cricket characters of Indian cricket that Astill would not have seen are brought to life, including the "untouchable" Palwankar Baloo, who was previously so lovingly covered by Ramchandra Guha in A Corner of a Foreign Field
and C.K. Nayudu. and later Sachin Tendulkar.
The "untouchable" tag in relation to the Indian caste system is confrontingly but delicately covered by the author. It is surprising just how much the caste system still permeates throughout India with Astill interviewing children whose answers to his questions show that bigotry in the country is set to continue for at least another generation.
However the main subject of the book is the IPL and nothing is more synonymous with that than its founder, Lalit Modi, the chain smoking vegetarian who for awhile was perhaps the most powerful man in cricket. Astill's descriptive writing of Modi is perhaps the highlight of the book, his description of him when they have dinner together in England whilst Modi's world was crashing down around him, is superb writing.
Modi's influence in the IPL helped to attract many famous people to the business, with a number of movie stars being involved with some of the IPL franchises. Although the actors featured in the book are anything but cricket fans, and one has to wonder how long they will stay involved before moving on to the next "cool" thing.
One of the most interesting characters featured was Vijay Mallya, India's "king of good times" who owned the IPL team the Royal Challengers Bangalore. A billionaire who when we meet him is leading the high life, but later in the book his business empire is in financial trouble and he attempts to change his image.
The possible similarities with Mallya and the IPL are alluded to in the book, with omnipresent rumours that the IPL will eventually lose its appeal and therefore like Mallya its fortune. Although personally I am not a fan, if the IPL is going to inspire books of this quality then let's hope it lasts a few more seasons at least.