Musings on Soumya Bhattacharya's 'You Must Like Cricket'


One of my many grouses about the mainstream media (and, to a lesser extent, Indian literature) is that it is devoid of quality memoir writing; particularly essays on personal experiences about cricket. Thanks to the advent and spread of TV and the internet, my guess is that cricket buffs would watch a riveting game of cricket rather than read stimulating and enjoyable memoirs about the game. Not only has that lead to the near-death of cricket writing, but, I reckon, made the experience of being a cricket buff distant and sterile. I am no exception; the first and last time I saw a game of cricket was in 1998 when India played Pakistan in Delhi and Kumble took 10 wickets in an innings. 

So on a balmy Saturday morning, I was delighted to find in the mail, Soumya Bhattacharya’s excellent cricket book You Must Like Cricket? Memoirs of an Indian Cricket Fan. It’s a book I’ve been keen on reading since I’ve read it’s (sort-of) sequel All That You Must Leave Behind and interviewed Soumya about it.

Essentially, You Must Like Cricket is about Soumya’s 30-year obsession with the gentleman’s game; nearly everything he does, experiences, thinks or observes has to do with the game of cricket. And, sometimes, this obsession makes him do slightly strange things. For instance, the book informs us, that after a getting sloshed during a junkette in Mauritius, Soumya went up to Kapil Dev and asked whether he could “touch the hand that had bowled the best outswinger in the history of Indian cricket”. On another occasion, he bought an air ticket from London to Calcutta just so that he could watch the final match of a tournament at the Eden Gardens. And, when asked by friends about the year of his daughter’s birth, Soumya nonchalantly replied ‘the same in which Laxman scored a historic double ton against the Aussies in Calcutta’.

These humorous vignettes aside, You Must Like Cricket is a quirky, irreverent and poignant account of the evolution of cricket as seen through the eyes of an enthusiastic cricket fan. Most importantly it gives words to those thoughts and emotions which get drowned under victorious cries of “Indi-yaaaaaahhhhh” and cuss-filled rants which evoke the misery of defeat. You Must Like Cricket, therefore, is a book which wants you to enjoy a fan’s experiences of the game as much as you enjoy the game itself.

Hence, what you’ll come across in this vivid, conversational memoir are not gushing accounts of historic victories but about how strong the memory of that victory is. Nor are there long winding essays on the shabbiness of some of our cricket grounds; instead, there’s poignant account about food and the importance of sharing it with fellow members of the audience. Most importantly, even though this a book of memories, cricket never seems to be on the periphery in this book, nor, I suspect, in Soumya’s life (possible, to the chagrin of his wife). Such is the writer’s craft that he places the sport as the skeleton and his memories of it as the flesh and blood of this book.

Since this is a collection of essays, I’m sure some of you are bound to ask about a favorite (or two). But, to be honest, I have none. After all, how can you say that one memory is better than another? That you enjoyed watching Sachin score a match-winning blistering century in Sharjah than a century at, say, Wankhede. Just like the sport which it reminisces about, You Must Like Cricket is best enjoyed as a whole and not in parts.

To be frank, You Must Like Cricket, has left me, well, stumped. For, as I wrote earlier, Soumya Bhattacharya has managed to give drowned emotions and thoughts words, sentences and paragraphs. He has written about India’s (and his) beloved sport with sparse prose and without being voluble or verbose (can any of you describe an innings or a memorable cricket win without using an adverb or an adjective? I bet not). Most importantly, he’s made the experience of cricket loving writable in an era which has seen the decline of cricket writing. That alone is reason enough to read this book.

Hence, I’m going back to re-read it and I suggest you do the same. At least once.

Hack Digest: Edition 1


Starting today, I'll be posting links to the best journalistic writing that I've read in the recent past. I'll try and be as regular with this as possible but in case I can't do it on a monthly basis, I'll put up a bi-monthly or even quarterly digest depending upon my workload. In the meantime, enjoy this and if you think you've read an equally good or a better piece of journalistic writing than what I've posted here, feel free to email and I'll upload it.

Rahul Bhatia's account of the three days he spent with LSD director Dibakar Banerjee (Open magazine)

Siddharth Varadarajan's powerful piece on the double standards of Indian politics when it comes to riots (The Hindu)

Chandrahas Choudhury's wonderfully written account of the BJP's 30 year journey and how it tries to strike a balance between the old and the new (The Caravan)

Shreevats Nevatia's cover story on how New Delhi is getting newer and better for the Commonwealth Games (Outlook) 

Priya Ramani on why Shyam Benegal is the Indian villager's Last Action Hero  (Mint Lounge)

Jai Arjun Singh talks to movie director Anup Kurian about the 'smallness' of his movie 'The Hunt' (Business Standard)

Gaurav Kalra on why Prince Yuvraj will never be King (

Samar Halarnkar wonders what Twitter is all about  (Hindustan Times)

Manu Joseph's superb piece on the most foolish things said about Sachin Tendulkar (Open Magazine)

Vir Sanghvi on why the Hindu loony fringe was obsessed with Sania Mirza's wedding and the origins of Dal Makhani (Hindustan Times)

And finally, Salil Tripathi on the humility of the Indian journalist (Mint)

Also check out the anniversary issue of TimeOut Delhi which is an exhaustive compilation of the best eateries in the capital

In Conversation with Fatima Bhutto


A brief chat with Fatima Bhutto on her new book Songs of Blood and Sword.

It’s coincidental that we meet on a day which also happens to be your grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 31st death anniversary. How has Pakistani politics evolved over the last three decades?

Well I wasn’t alive for all those 31 years but with his death – his murder actually – a very dangerous precedent was set. The first democratically elected leader of the country, who was truly committed to socialist principles put to death which sends the message that when we disagree with our political leaders, we don’t entrust the people to vote them out.

Any country, over a 31 year period, goes through tremendous shifts and changes but in Pakistan what we see is that problems like corruption are allowed to continue; the people are not given an agency that they deserve in a participatory system

In the book you write very glowingly of your grandfather but a lot of people in India and elsewhere would like to believe that he was more dictatorial than his predecessors. How would you react to that?

First of all, I didn’t write glowingly about him. I wrote very critically of Balochistan and of the powers he increased for himself towards the end. But I think the assumption that he was more dictatorial than his predecessors was totally unfounded because his predecessors did not come into power on a one-man-one-vote ballot. They didn’t even abide by the Constitution let alone pen a Constitution. His predecessors followed the dictates of America and the Soviet Union rather than engage in foreign relations with Asian and African countries. Certainly, he made mistakes like we saw Mujib in Bangladesh and Indira Gandhi did.
Also, if one looks at Pakistani history, certainly there hasn’t been that sort of freedom in terms of the right to vote, right to a constitution etc. All these things are now identified with the repression in Pakistan like the Hudood laws, the blasphemy laws etc which came after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

In recent interviews you’ve been called ‘the other Bhutto’, ‘the lonely Bhutto and ‘Benazir’s niece’. Have you ever felt that your individual identity as a writer has been overshadowed by your surname?

No. It’s a very South Asian thing to bio-data everybody; even on the book cover you see it written. And I have to say, this phrase ‘the other Bhutto’, I’ve only heard it in India. This book, obviously, is a very big book and a book on an important family..

But even when your previous book, 8.50 a.m. 8 October 2005, came out you were referred to as Benazir Bhutto’s niece…

And it’s very strange; it’s way for people to connect something which I completely understand. In countries like ours, which are so dominated by life figures, it’s easier for people to say ‘oh this person comes from so and so family’ when in fact, neither my family nor I had anything to do with the earthquake relief work. It is a very strange thing because for two years I wrote very critically of the Musharraf regime; at that point it wasn’t Benazir Bhutto’s niece. It was only when my aunt returned to Pakistan and I spoke about her it became ‘oh look, the criticism is coming from inside’. I was in Hong Kong for a literary festival and I remember being introduced as being the granddaughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, niece of Benazir Bhutto etc… And I said, you know these things have their place but when it is referred to as a profession, then we’re losing sight of things slightly because as South Asians we do have multiple identities. Yes, I am all of these things but it feels very restrictive to be told ‘you are only this’. I for a woman in a South Asian country, you are always someone’s something. It takes a while to break out on your own. But I’m not worried about it; it (being labelled as Benazir’s niece etc.) doesn’t affect me.

You spoke about South Asian countries, which have a long history with dynasties. Is there a problem with our political systems that we throw up dynasties? Do you think these systems need to be re-examined?

Well I think if we look at this region, we also have to remember that for hundreds of years we ruled by foreign powers and when they left, they didn’t do so willingly; they left begrudgingly and left incredible cleavages in our country. I don’t think there’s any mistake that in all the countries the British left – Greece and Turkey, Palestine, the Irish – they left us with really fractured senses of self. And not just that but the way they ruled when they were here was really vile; by pitting people against each other, by strengthening education systems in one part and neglecting the other. For me, the main issue with dynasty is that it negates participation. And the British, if nothing else, were famous for not encouraging participation.

I think it’s one of the tremors they left us with. I think it was their refusal to deal with the country as a whole; it was their tendency to create factions that leaves not only Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, but Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma and Bhutan all with these ridiculous dynastic systems that otherwise we wouldn’t have had. I think, unfortunately – and this is probably an unpleasant thing to say – we still have this complex when it comes to Britain and America and our countries. We still have these ridiculous sort of histories told through foreigners’ eyes. The best sort of writing on Pakistan is by Tariq Ali and on India by Khushwant Singh. It’s not people who parachute themselves and explain our countries to us. Certainly, we don’t go to England and write their histories for them; I think colonialism has a lot to answer for and dynasty is one of them

Most reviews in the Indian press say that your book is a partisan account. In fact, one reviewer went to the extent of saying that you’re being ‘vengeful’. How do you react to such statements?

There’s not a drop of vengeance; this is a search for justice. There is no calling for violence; there is no calling for revenge. My father’s murder is reconstructed through the eyes of survivors, witnesses, police officers and judges. So anybody with the faculties to read can open up the footnote section and see it. And I would ask those critics what is vengeful? And I would ask them to find me a part that is vengeful. I don’t believe in vengeance as a human being. And in terms of partisan, I am a Bhutto and I’m writing about the Bhuttos so I will be partisan.  What does objective mean? There is no such thing as objective history because we are writing about countries we know, we live in, we’ve experienced. So the idea that it is partisan is not pretended – it is very clear here on the cover. There are the people who killed and I’m writing about them, I love them. As objective as I can be, I am. In fact, the opposite is said of me in Pakistan; ‘you’re too critical of your family, why are you being disloyal’. So I hope that at the end of the day, critics who read the book, read it and see that there are sources and they can double check. This is ultimately a labour of love and there is no call for blood in this book.

After the death of your grandfather, your father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto moved to Kabul and travelled frequently to Damascus and Libya. Do you think that if he remained in Pakistan, he could’ve been the political heir to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rather than Benazir?

I don’t think it was possible because the two sons (Mir and Shahnawaz Bhutto) were sent out because Zulfikar believed there was a threat against them and he turned out to be correct; Shahnawaz was killed six years later. But I think my father was on a quest for justice, not for power. So before Afghanistan, Libya and Damascus, he spent two years travelling the globe meeting human rights activists, presidents, publishing newspapers, books and organising law conferences. So his quest was really very different from Benazir’s; his quest was to get justice in the murder of his father, to get clemency in the case of his father. Not to sort of take hostage a political legacy. So had he stayed, his quest would’ve been different from his sister’s.

But don’t you think that had he stayed in Pakistan, his task would’ve been made easier?

Not under Zia because, as you know, the patriarchal societies that we live in, the son would’ve been assumed to be the political heir of his father. So would Shahnawaz have lived had he stayed back in Pakistan? I don’t know because this was an environment where you had journalists flogged in public. And not only that, the family of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto never saw his dead body. The Army claims that he was hanged but there is no proof of that. So I think that Murtaza and Shahnawaz’s fate wouldn’t have been very different from their father’s.

You call this book a search for justice; what is the next step in this search? How do you see this search going forward?

This is not the first attempt; we’ve been fighting for justice for 14 years and it has consistently been denied to us in the courts. Of course, we understand the courts in Pakistan are not always free especially in these last few years. They’ve been heavily influenced and heavily hijacked. For me, justice is not revenge because that means violence and that I’m not interested in. Justice is about memory. To be here and talking to you, it took 14 years to reach this point. For me, justice means that there is a remembering of these men who were killed and not just in my family, but the 3000 people who were killed. That this never happens again; that we are never faced with a government that kills 3000 people in a period of one year. So it’s a long road ahead.

Is there any hope for justice?

There is always hope for justice

Even with President Zardari at the helm of affairs?

President Zardari will come and go but the truth and justice are much stronger than his corruption of his government, of any government. If people say that they believe in truth and justice, then there is no force stronger than this belief.

Fatima Bhutto image courtesy: The Daily Beast

Songs of Blood and Sword image courtesy: Amazon

Sneak Peek: Quarantine by Rahul Mehta


The good folks at Random House India recently sent me a sample copy of their forthcoming book, Quarantine, by Rahul Mehta. It's a collection of short stories about gay relationships and the manner in which Indian families deal with them.  What struck me the most about Rahul's stories is the simplicity of his prose; crisp sentences, simple words and well-constructed paragraphs which make his stories beautiful and tender. Just to give you a brief insight, in Quarantine we see Bapuji, a typical grandfather who cribs about his daughter-in-law Asha's cooking and is unable to come to terms with his grandson being gay while in  Ten Thousand Years, we read about a couple whose relationship is on the rocks because one of the partners, Thomas, has been unfaithful.  There's a third story, Citizen, which I'm yet to read but I'm sure it'll be as enjoyable as the previous two.

I don't want to say too much right now because I've just read two stories but it's suffice to say that I really enjoyed whatever I read and am looking forward to reading the full book once it's out at the end of April. 

Will post a review/author interview if, as and when it happens.