"If only our minds expanded at the same rate that the universe does"
"If only our minds expanded at the same rate that the universe does"
In the fantastical novel Centurion, the Indian sporting icon goes on a quest to understand reality itself
Professor Ramesh Tendulkar is the hero of an unusual work of fiction, Centurion by Pramesh Ratnakar. Sachin, the professor's son, is the protagonist-narrator of the work.
There are few figures in modern cricket so ripe for literary exploitation. Sachin Tendulkar is the most distinguished player of these past 30 years and hero-worshipped above all cricketers. His greatness coinciding with Indian economic liberalisation, Sachin became the most marketable icon of the prospering nation (associated with many strange and wonderful advertising campaigns), and Team India's totem when it assumed economic and political supremacy in international cricket. But Centurion is concerned not with Sachin the cricketer or Sachin the icon of India. Rather, Sachin is stimulus for a transcendent adventure.
Ramesh Tendulkar - an academic and writer - is part of the lesser known, learned hinterland of the cricketer. Sachin's father was a poet, and his other son, Nitin, practises the same art. Centurion revels in this erudite sphere, and in it, Sachin is removed from the cricket field and returned to the Sahitya Sahawas residential colony of literary scholars where he was raised. Here, Professor Tendulkar is granted profound recognition for his work as a teacher, and honoured as a father for cultivating his son's character and encouraging an expansive young mind to follow a vocation different from his own. Ramesh Tendulkar is granted his own eloquence on the topic with one of his English-language poems worked into Centurion's narrative:
Perhaps, maybe because of you,
but cricket to me,
dear Sachin, is no more a game, but a poem
a lyrical poem!
Intensity, concentration, spontaneity,
moods and tensions and form,
rhythm and movement and composition…
and flashes of imagination and genius
when the strokes go across the boundaries… And running through all that string of uncertainty hanging all the time
making moment of every movement
a creative moment and a challenge…
what else can all this be if not a lyric on the playground? Hence, this vocabulary
rushing unto me
as I sit down, dear Sachin,
to describe your game!
As well as bringing focus to Sachin's professor father, Centurion extends its embellishment of familiar figures to the cricketer's contemporaries. When, in the narrative, "A Lyric" is raised as a topic of discussion at a Team India meeting, the Indian camp is revealed as a hive of complex abstraction:
Soon Kumble and Dravid also got going, and made quite a few intelligent points. Kumble, the engineer who became a spinner, was fascinated by the image of the string of uncertainty running through all things, hanging, shaking, and making moments out of movements. He said movements exist in space, and moments exist in time, and only when the two came together you have what can be termed reality. The irony of ironies, said Dravid, the Wall of Certitude, that what actually brings them together is the String of Uncertainty.
They would have probably continued, but Sehwag got into the act, and as always, had the last word. 'I wonder what there is for lunch?' he asked abruptly, putting an end to the discussion.
Whether one understands Kumble and Dravid's suppositions, they announce that Centurion is concerned with much beside cricket. It's a work of fiction that straddles the subjects of spirituality, philosophy, India, education, child-rearing, love and cricket. Concept and thought dominate. The reader is invited to become a God of Right Cognition.
Sachin Tendulkar has even more supernal powers than usual, and after spending much of the book invisible, he ends up sat in his Ferrari outside Mumbai's Shivaji Park, pondering utopianism. As the cricketer grapples with thought, the Nation of India holds a Vedic-styled discourse with Harsha Bhogle upon Sachin's inner-reality:
1. Why is the cricket ball round?
For the same reason that all the planets in the Milky Way are round.
2. What is the reason?
To enable us all to play the game.
1. Where is the game being played?
In Time and in Space
2. What is Time? What is Space?
Horizontal/vertical axes that frame reality.
Yes, strange, heady stuff, yet, obscure as all this may seem, Centurion is fun and not all high-brow abstraction. Just as Sachin himself, born into an intellectual family, was named after the music director Sachin Dev Burman (do you feel the cricketer's recent song, "Cricket Wali Beat", justifies the namesake?) and his autobiography, Playing It My Way, is filled with anecdotes of watching movies with Harbhajan Singh, so Centurion abounds with references to film and popular culture. Ratnakar writes with agreeable style and enthusiasm, engaging his reader with wit and conviviality.
Earlier in this series on cricket in fiction, the visionary New Zealand novel Out of It pushed the bounds of fantastical cricket narrative, and the comprehension of cricket's readers with it. Centurion, another burst into the unconsidered, charts a similarly improbable course of abstract speculation. It's the least expected response to Tendulkar that might have been imagined. Should you seek it out, prepare for a curious and confounding, yet inspiriting and enjoyable read.
Something has really changed deep in me. I think it is because of the Chennai innings after the bombing of Mumbai on 26/11. I will try and give you a sense of what's actually going on. Even today I drove past Shivaji Park, and I saw all these guys playing there. I stopped and watched. I could, you know, because I was invisible.
They were all involved with their game, and I sort of just looked at them, and suddenly there was such a surge, such a welling up, such a huge outpouring of sheer love within me for all of them. I am certain that these guys would drop everything and would be there watching me, and every little gesture of mine, when I am on the field. And later they would try and copy the way I stand, the way I hit the ball. And here they were, bouncing along, running in, swinging away with the bat, chasing the ball, shouting and screaming at each other. And I loved them all for their love of cricket and their love of me, and soon there was in me such a tsunami of love - now not just for them but for all the others who play cricket, and all the others who watch cricket, and for the grounds where cricket is played and for the birds that fly around those grounds, and for all the ants, and for all the grasshoppers and for each particle of dust on the pitch, and for each blade of grass on the outfield, for the blue sky above, and then for everybody and everything under that blue sky, for everyone that was ever born and everyone that will ever be born … and I ended up with tears in my eyes, as I turned away.
The spirit of cricket had descended, and it had taken possession of my entire being. I felt blessed.
Centurion: The Father, The Son and The Spirit of Cricket
By Pramesh Ratnakar
The Cricket Monthly is changing. After 35 issues, beginning August 2014, it is going to become a more regular part of your life. Instead of a fully formed issue appearing at the start of every month, one feature will be published every day or so. In its more dynamic form, TCM will be more topical and urgent, while staying true to its founding ambition of scale and depth, and combining quality of writing with rigour of reportage and the spirit of narrative storytelling. It's going from monthly to month-long.
Benjamin Golby is a pre-school music teacher and roulette croupier
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