Rajan Bala – Book Launch
‘Days Well Spent’
November 30, 2009, Cooch Behar Hall, CCI, Brabourne Stadium. 5 00 p m
Calling Rajan Bala a cricket writer would be as foolish as calling a warrior king like Bheeshma a sharpshooter. His knowledge, his of understanding and most importantly the application of this understanding to life was effortless.
Personally I am glad he chose to express himself through cricket because it made a difference to me. I will tell you the story of how Rajan Bala made an impact in the life of a young boy from Andhra far removed from these high temples of cricket.
I was born in the late 60s in an ordinary, middle class family and grew up on all kinds of games and stories and literature. As I grew older and I started looking for heroes to emulate, my confused mind noticed the pages in the Hindu filling up with delightful copy of the game of cricket. Exquisitely crafted phrases, heart stopping descriptions of the game, the sheer poetry made me put the paper down and dance away practicing the straight drive or a cover drive. Dreams were stoked, desire fuelled. Purely on the power of the pen, of the print media, I got drawn into this love affair completely that I could never get out of it. I was inspired to play the game to the first class level. More importantly, the thought and scale it could soar to never left me.
What he did was that he set it up beautifully for ordinary people like me to understand the game through words, emotions and feelings that not just described the game but also set it in context. How a strategy could make sense not just in game but war, how a player represents not himself as one isolated incident but as a soul of another warrior of another time from the clutches of history, war, religion, movies, literature, sports and even poetry. Those words, those descriptions made heroes larger than life for people like me, inspired me in days when it was dark...gave me a framework of excellence to aspire to because cricket was something I could relate to as a youngster. If I was to pick one humongous contribution Rajan Bala made, this would be it, that he made a difference to ordinary people like me, by setting up this wonderful game bare in all its complexities and textures and showed it for what it was worth – that it represents life itself. From the hunger on the street to the high life. In my mind today there is no doubt that it is this difference that propelled the game through ahead of the other games and sports – I never remember reading too much of such other sports news in the sports columns.
The second thing about Rajan’s contribution was that he executed his job with great responsibility that he assumed all by himself. To classify his writings as cricket writing would be another great folly. If you notice his body of work he has with great care chronicled the history of Indian cricket in ‘The covers off’, an incredibly racy reading with such definite analysis on how the game grew in India and why. ‘No one need to document Indian cricket till 2004 son,’ he declared to me. ‘I have done it. Now, whoever does it can begin from there. I have documented all my thoughts, notes and interviews in that book.’ He said it with absolute relish.
Then he put his neck on the line by penning a book on technique – Glances of perfection - I cannot imagine what courage someone could have to write about the high technique and challenge and destroy one’s own stature by opening oneself up to the public on such a precise area. In India when everything is questioned about the game, surprisingly little discussion was noticed on that book where he stirred up sufficient thought obviously because it was in the realm of the perfectionists, the experts.
Sanjay, Rahul are thought leaders - responsible and insightful and it is on them that this responsibility also falls to discuss, dissect and throw open what he started. In fact Rahul does not appear in the book and I was shocked when I first read it – now I understand how deliberate a ploy it could have been, how only a Rajan Bala could conceive such a scandalous gap. It is obvious now that that the ball now lies in the court of the exponents to explain why Rajan was right or wrong, and we all know that there is no one better than Rahul to take up the job and explain. Rajan would love to be corrected and the game must benefit.
When technology came in he chose to work from behind the scenes. The current book ‘Days well spent’ is an example of that. I know he wrote it in three months. I am the proud owner of the manuscript of ‘The days well spent’ which he signed for me and wrote ‘perhaps the only copy of the manuscript after I am gone’. It is as racy as a bestselling fiction book to me. Read it and you will know how well he has integrated the game with literature, history, culture, society, people, nations and even the world. Which is why I say, that to call him a cricket writer alone would be a great folly – he was a thought leader of the highest quality.
I see some wonderful cricket writing talent in this country, I urge them to take up what he left unfinished and elevate thought levels higher. Cricket can unify and can make a much lager and more impactful difference to lives in our country in ways we cannot conceive. Today the boy from Andhra is consumed with the idea of using cricket as a metaphor to increase productivity across India by a mere 5%. If I achieve 1% my job is done. Thanks to Rajan and the fantasies he fuelled.
The game will always be bigger and he knew it in his infinite wisdom. We can only express it through ourselves to the extent we can and that is our limitation as mortals. For those who understood it he was gentle. For those who did not, he had no patience. He never suffered fools. The controversies, the mischievous questions, the outrageous comments or statements were required to prod thought and he took that responsibility. It not only requires clarity, it requires great love.
My association with him was brief, in the past two years only. When I launched my cricket novel in 2007, I hesitantly I approached Rajan Bala. He gave me a wonderful review and let me enter his heart and his house.
Two things stay with me. His delight at a discussion on cricket, the intensity with which he spoke about it late into the night to a strange young man with a modest achievement in both cricket and writing frightened me sometime. Is it possible to love something so much I thought, especially when it has given him so little in terms of material benefit. He answered that to me one day, I love talking cricket son, any day. Come.
Another thing was that all thrgouh his dark days with his illness during which I spoke and met him often, he never resented anything, never uttered a word against anyone and marched on sending article after article, week after week, till the last day.
Last I spoke to him in September, he said, we’ll meet at the book launch son and we’ll celebrate. I am here Rajan Bala. Let us celebrate with all these wonderful people who love you. Cheers. And thank you for everything.