Book excerpt December 7, 2009

Eden on an impulse

India v Pakistan in Kolkata, Laxman and Ganguly at the crease. Fly into town for the day?

In the summer of 2006, I published my first book, a memoir about being an Indian cricket fan. I put myself on the line to do this, to explore the troubling hold that cricket has over me, and more than a billion other of my countrymen. I worried at the time about something Nick Hornby - who was a big influence - had written about towards the end of Fever Pitch, his memoir about being an Arsenal fan.

"There was a part of me that was afraid to write all this down in a book," Hornby writes, "just as a part of me was afraid to explain to a therapist precisely what it had all come to mean: I was worried that by doing so it would all go, and I'd be left with this great big hole where football used to be."

I was deeply concerned about whether the writing of my book would take the edge off this great love, and worried about that continually during the writing. That hasn't happened, and, by now, I am reasonably sure that it won't. (That is one of the reasons why I agreed to write this sort-of sequel.)

Something else has happened, though. Having a growing child to whom I am devoted and attentive, living in a city in which we have no support structure in terms of the extended family, and having a day job that is terribly demanding and consuming, the time I have for cricket has been cut down. I yearn for it as much; I long for the time when I could spare all my time for the five days of a Test; but I really need to make time to watch, uninterrupted, the game that has for so long and in so many ways defined my life - and the lives of so many Indians.

It's like this. As an impoverished student in London in the early 1990s, I made, on a whim, a trip back to Kolkata to simply yield to the desire that had suddenly usurped my life: to watch a game at the Eden Gardens. In December 2007, at the end of the first day's play of the India-Pakistan Test at the Eden, I found that India had racked up 352 for the loss of three wickets. Wasim Jaffer was not out on 192, and Sourav Ganguly on 17. VVS Laxman, a man with a soft spot for the Eden, and a man for whom the spectators there had a very soft spot, was to follow the next day. Driving back home from work, I suddenly began to feel the keen, slightly unsettling urge of wanting to be at the stadium the following morning.

Ganguly scored 102; VVS made 112 not out. And watching it on TV, nursing a beer and having my breath being taken away by their strokeplay, I felt like a wimp

What if they both score hundreds? What a moment that would be! Shouldn't I be there? Why shouldn't I? By the time I was turning into the lane on which we live, I had more or less made up my mind. Take a late-night flight. Or an early-morning one. The following day was a Saturday. Take the day off from work. Be back on Sunday. God knew I could afford it now, unlike when I travelled thousands of miles from London.

A couple of hours later, I had abandoned the idea. There was a parent-teacher meeting at our daughter's school. We had invited people over for dinner (I'd forgotten). Somebody was bunking at work, and I really needed to go in. And so on. Just as important: what if Ganguly went in the first over of play, and VVS failed to get into double figures. No point. I didn't go.

In the event, Ganguly scored 102; VVS made 112 not out. And watching it on TV, nursing a beer and having my breath being taken away by their strokeplay, I felt like a wimp. It was a bit like letting your love down. If something like this had happened 15 years ago, I would have mooched around for days, for weeks, and would have taken years to contemplate forgiving either myself or the other people responsible for depriving me of this experience.

This time around, I felt deprived; but then I shrugged to myself and got on with things. (However, under a cloud of resentment, against I wasn't sure exactly what, my Sunday was ruined.)

How things change.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Books India, from All That You Can't Leave Behind: Why We Can Never Do Without Cricket by Soumya Bhattacharya, Rs 199, in stores now.
Soumya Bhattacharya is editor of Hindustan Times in Mumbai