I’ve just finished reading Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka, a book about Sri Lanka via cricket.
Via cricket meaning that though the plot has an ageing, alcoholic sportswriter going on a quest to find out all he can about Pradeep Mathew, the greatest cricketer Sri Lanka (and the world) completely forgot about, the book is actually about Sri Lanka – the country.
Now, I don’t like cricket. It bores me silly. And it’s not as though I was never exposed to it. When I was a kid, my father was one of the many hundreds of men who’d head for the Fort William and Victoria Memorial maidans on Sunday mornings in winter, wearing cricket whites and clutching a bat. And I’d be right with him every time, less interested in the cricket than in the wandering chaatwallas and the opportunities to play with other children sent off with their dads by their harried mothers.
I also watched test matches at Eden Gardens with my father, though once again it was less about the cricket than about bunking school and the excitement of being in the Eden Gardens stands. I wasn’t keen on the game, but I knew how important hanging out at Eden Gardens was. I could talk about it at school for weeks. (I could also get bad sunstrokes, which I frequently did.)
Growing up, I watched at least one of my sisters go through a mighty crush on Imran Khan and I remember being too excited to sleep that glorious night in 1983 when India won the World Cup – the Prudential Cup – and Calcutta went crazy. But I wasn’t excited about the cricket. I was just excited that India had won. Even though I was in my early teens, I could sense that something in the world had changed.
And in fact 1983 was the last time I ever got excited about any cricket-related thing. So though I’d heard nothing but nice things about Chinaman when the book released last year, I decided not to buy it because it was about cricket.
But because I just never STOPPED hearing nice things about Chinaman, I eventually bought it.
And now I’m adding my voice – and vociferously at that – to all the others: It’s a GREAT book. I loved it. Buy it.