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June 6, 2014

The generous lender of cricket magazines

Samir Chopra
Before television and the internet made access to cricket easier, magazines helped fans expand their horizons  © PA Photos
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During the many years that my family lived in New Delhi, my mother worked a variety of jobs: first as an English teacher, and then as a principal at one of the many vocational colleges that had started to appear in urban spaces in India as an increasing number of women made their way into the workplace. Her teaching and administrative duties brought her into contact with a considerable number of young women, many of whom visited our home and considerably enlivened my time thanks to the good-natured attention and affection they sent my way.

A couple of these young ladies even arranged for my mother to improve their written and spoken English via private lessons. (Among them was an Afghan refugee, who sadly never returned to India after making a desperate dash back home to check on the whereabouts of her family.) One such young woman, after her evening lesson, invited my mother and I back to her house nearby for a meal. We ate dinner in the company of our host family, which included my mother's student's brother. Apparently, he was a serious cricket fan.

Shortly after dinner, he asked me if I was interested in perusing his collection of cricket magazines. I agreed with alacrity, and on walking over to his bedroom, he pointed to a shelf on the wall: "That's all I have."

All I have indeed. His collection was an enormous stack of old cricket magazines, including many issues of Sportsweek and its World of Cricket, then acknowledged as the preeminent cricket omnibus in India. (It was published as a quarterly.) And that wasn't all. He had somehow managed to purchase - presumably at premium prices - books and magazines published in England. There were copies of Tony Greig's illustrated books, Cricket: The Men and the Game and Test Match Cricket: A Personal View and several issues of - I think - the Cricketer and perhaps even a Wisden Almanack or two. Outside of the British Council Library, it was the largest collection of cricket books I had seen. (An uncle of mine reportedly owned dozens of Wisdens, but we had not visited him since I had been informed of this fact by my father.)

As I stood there, gazing at this cornucopia of cricketing riches, my mother and her student walked in. My mother commented on how utterly unsurprising it was that I had sniffed out cricket in the household, but in any case, it was time to go. But before I left, my newfound friend threw out an expansive invitation: "Stop by any time you want to check these out. If you want something, go ahead and borrow it." Perhaps he was being kind; perhaps he was shoring up his sister's standing in my mother's eyes; perhaps he wanted to spread the joy.

Poor lad. I took him up on his perhaps overly generous invitation. Not only did I pick up a couple of World of Cricket issues, I made sure to return - again and again - to replenish my reading resources. And I understood "any time" literally; sometimes I would walk over to my friend's place in the morning, sometimes in the evening, and sometimes, most aggravatingly of all, now that I think of it, in the late afternoon, when his household was still partaking of their siesta. In the midst of this seemingly indiscriminate exploitation of his bookish wealth, I made sure to not cross some lines: I did not ask to borrow his "imported" books; I understood those were sacrosanct, only to be read in the safety of his home. I returned my borrowings promptly and punctually (though this was less a matter of morality than sheer impatience to move on to the next unread treasure); and lastly, most easily of all, I handled his magazines with care.

I had come of cricketing consciousness in 1976-77, when Tony Greig's team toured India. Most of my cricketing education had emanated from>the collections of New Delhi's British Council Library. The times before Greig's tour, in the Indian context, were only dimly sensed by me. These magazines provided an alternative cricketing education and filled out an often incomplete landscape.

I lost contact with my benefactor soon enough. His family moved to another part of New Delhi, and despite promises to stay in touch, we didn't. I was well aware that my book borrowing and my frequent trips to his home might have made me a bit of a pest, and that subconsciously I might have been exploiting my mother's exalted status in his household. Be that as it may, he never ceased to indulge me, and continued to shower me with magazine manna. Along with many other influences, he made me the cricket fan I am today.

This post is a very belated thank you. And an apology too, for disturbing that most precious of Indian experiences: the summer afternoon's nap.

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

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Keywords: Cricket books, Nostalgia

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (June 8, 2014, 5:47 GMT)

Wonderful article, Samir. I used to buy Pakistani urdu "Cricketer". I did that for about 10-12 yrs religiously. This was before the internet. Sharing magazines and novels were very common in my childhood. Now, when I tell my daughter to share novels and magazines, she laughs at the idea. How the world has changed?!

Posted by   on (June 8, 2014, 4:51 GMT)

Those magazines! O lord! I remember how I read and re-read in a packed train compartment on our way to North Bengal from Kolkata the now defunct Sportsworld issue celebrating 10 years of Kapil's international career. Live cricket was in monotone for a long time (till we got out color TV), but these journals revealed the colors of cricket. The center poster of cricketers in the these journals adorned my walls and more often than not, these days, I recall Sachin as the chubby boy with crazy hair smiling from my wall. Samir, thank you for sharing your memories. For those of us defined quite a bit by cricket, these magazines were (and are) our scriptures. They are part of us as much as we were part of them.

Posted by   on (June 6, 2014, 21:05 GMT)

this article is so touching. If u remember your neighbors name u should search for him on facebook or something and try to get back in touch

Posted by ganeshram78 on (June 6, 2014, 7:55 GMT)

The Hindu used to publish a big fat book annually called Indian Cricket gifted every year by my printer uncle... remember spending many a hot summer in chennai in the 80s reading every page of that bible... somehow lost that collection and just not available in any store thesedays

Posted by Emadthegreat on (June 6, 2014, 7:50 GMT)

it would be so good if 'that' friend of yours posts here your welcome :)

Posted by nvngupta on (June 6, 2014, 6:41 GMT)

ah .... old childhood memories....

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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