Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Triumph in Bombay - Vaibhav Vats

India won the World Cup in 2011. Vaibhav Vats travelled to most of the venues and matches as a journalist and covered the same travelling to 12 of the 14 venues on his own time. This book is about his travels and impressions of the World Cup and its his first book at that. A hard cover contract with Penguin Books is something one cannot take lightly, more so when it is a sport one likes, and even more so when it is gifted by someone who chose this book carefully. Thanks Chitra and Krishna for the book.
Penguin, 240 p, Rs.399

Vaibhav Vats starts his travels in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he witnesses the Cup opener and traverses India, Sri Lanka over the period of the Cup. His impressions of the places, the people he interacts with, the life of a travelling sports journalist, the people he met on the tour are described. The matches are described as well and parts of the interactions with the players. The most interesting character I found was Sami Hasan the ICC PR man. Others like C in Sri Lanka as well as the cricketer who turned coach crop us. Vaibhav did spend time meeting some interesting people like Jagmohan Dalmiya, former first class cricketer and now writer V. Ramnarayan, Ramchandra Guha, writer Aditya Sudarshan and others.

But despite the huge stage and the wonderful canvas there's nothing much to take away in terms of travel writing or cricket writing from the book. Vaibhav should have stuck to one perhaps cricket or travel, but having straddled both, ends up somewhere in the middle. On cricket writing there's little to analyse now since its 2013 now and the Cup was done and dusted in 2011, analysed a million times over. Even there, it might have worked if he chose the view point well - I'd have chosen the one of a cricket fan - which is more relatable to the audience. Now that's something Harsha Bhogle did very well in his initial years and even now sometimes as a commentator and writer - sticks to his limitations and plays within them like any good batsman.

To write convincingly, confidently and credibly about the game would need far more experience and exposure to the game and its practitioners and even today I find that several senior journalists struggle to express themselves confidently. The more mature and sensible ones stick to what they know and express what they feel. But many younger ones, and I am not referring to young Vats here, get too technical about a game that they do not understand, and in doing so, showcase their need to find approval for their insights. The transfer of weight, the stillness of the head, the position of the right leg and this shoulder, how the ball gripped the surface, is all fine and subjective - it means nothing at all because ten guys write about it, there will be ten opinions on that. But what the best writers did was in describing the effect of all what happened. What happened when the ball hit the bat, how the batsman was set up, what magic transpired on the arena when the best practitioners played is what they wrote about best. It was wonderful watching it through their eyes, watching the magic being enhanced. It cannot be enhanced by writing about technique - for the simple reason that it's highly subjective and more importantly not what the reader wants to read.

A debut book is always something that deserves a pat on the back so Vaibhav, well done. But one cannot ignore the fact that there's room for improvement especially when someone has both the gift and the opportunity. Somehow the book sailed through without touching me in any way - I was only fleetingly drawn into it - which indicates that the content could have been richer, explored deeper and the basic premise of the book, the why this book was written, held on stronger. There's promise, but there are also many questions left at the end. Why did they release this book in 2013 is one? 


Chitra said...

Hey, Hari, how disappointing! But I did like your analysis of what good cricket writing/sports writing should be done. Hoping that the next C L R James, writing about cricket in India, is you... Cheers!

Harimohan said...

Hey Chitra,
Thanks. I just wrote what I felt. Glad it made some sense.

CLR James experienced much and explored much and I for one cannot ever hope to get near those experiences or achievements. But I can and hope, within my limited experiences and thought processes, get inspired by such. And little nudges from people like you and Krishna will always help.

I did like the idea though of Vaibhav's book. He has all the makings of a good writer and is certainly one to watch for.

Thanks Chitra, for the thoughtful gift. The breed of those who can pick a thoughtful gift is a vanishing one - and the moment you gave me the book and told me why you wanted me to read it, I got that nice feeling one gets when one receives thoughtful gifts. Rare feeling. I do get your tap on the shoulder and I think I have an idea brewing too!