Cricket books September 19, 2011

Long-lost treasures

I managed to carry out my usual quasi-archaeological digs through those old belongings of mine at my brother's residence in Delhi

This past June, thanks to the generosity of a soon-to-be-threatened frequent flyers' program, I managed to indulge in the uncommon luxury of making a second trip in a year's time to India. Besides being fortunate enough to travel through Ladakh's spectacular high-altitude lunar landscapes, I managed to carry out my usual quasi-archaeological digs through those old belongings of mine that still take up space at my brother's residence in Delhi.

I came up trumps, netting a tiny catch, part of a much larger collection of cricket books and magazines: old copies of the World Cricket Digest and Sportsweek's World of Cricket, Dennis Lillee's The Art of Fast Bowling, Conrad Hunte's Playing to Win, and Sunil Gavaskar's Sunny Days. I hadn't laid eyes on them for close to 24 years. They had been buried away at the bottom of an old trunk stored in a garage, waiting patiently for retrieval, for their chance to accompany me on a long flight back to New York. Miraculously, they were all in good shape, their pages slightly yellowing but still readable.

And each one of them carried with it memories of the times I had bought and read them, sometimes with hard-earned allowances, sometimes with a generous dispensation sent my way by my long-suffering mother, condemned to watch her young son whiling away his time memorising cricket statistics and scorecards, dreaming of absent lands and cricketers, rather than trying to improve his school exam scores.

I bought those books and periodicals from a variety of sources, all of whose proprietors had come to be familiar with me: the paan-chewing news-stand owner, who had set up shop next to the florist, who always held on to Sportstar and Sportsweek and their special issues for me because he knew I would eventually pick them up; the gentle old man at the high-end book store who indulged my endless browsing because he knew that one day, I would be back to buy one of those titles when I had saved enough money; the second-hand bookseller who was pleasantly surprised to have his first suggested price accepted by me with great alacrity.

And on each occasion, as I stepped away from the just-concluded purchase, I impatiently set course for home, flicking through the pages of my new precious possession, heading for a couch or an armchair where I could comfortably ensconce myself, perhaps with a cup of tea or snack handy, to devour and digest (I mean the book of course).

Most of my cricket collection from long ago remains lost. I wonder where my copy of the Don's autobiography is, for instance. Perhaps they were 'borrowed' by family; perhaps they were thrown out by mistake. But I'm glad I was able to enact a partial rescue mission, one that enabled some rather shameless nostalgia mongering.

That small and not-classic collection of cricket literature sits now on my bookshelves at home, next to more recent purchases, reflective of my changing interests over the years. They can breathe a little easier now; I won't chuck them in a trunk, or put them out in a garage sale. Each one is a reminder of not just a different cricketing era but of a very different time in my life.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here