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Sunday, February 22, 2009

One writer, many hats: Ramachandra Guha is a polymath who happens to write superbly on cricket

The challenge here is to write about Guha without dwelling on how he has been picked as one of the Top 100 public intellectuals in the world, or that he is the recipient of India's third-highest civilian award, or that he is a historian, biographer, sociologist, environmentalist, anthropologist with profound, seminal works on each of these subjects. He is among the finest essayists and columnists around, with a range of interests that goes beyond even that list, and takes in music, science, literature, fiction, travel.

But this is about Guha the cricket writer, and - after acknowledging that his work in other fields must inform his writings on cricket, placing them in context and taking them into avenues others leave unexplored - we must descend from the general to the particular.

Provoked by the sociologist Ashish Nandy's procrustean approach to cricket history in his book The Tao of Cricket, Guha wrote Wickets in the East; thrown into depression over the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he sought solace in cricket, and dashed off Spin and Other Turns in a week's furious writing. With these books Guha liberated cricket writing in India from the two poles it had been tethered to - the cynical-journalistic and the statistical-dogmatic. Cricket, he underlined in these anecdotal histories, is about the human stories, not just of the players but of the fans too; its humour is rich, its culture varied.


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