|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Fantasy||Mobile|
Dread, romance and cricket come together in this novel set in the time of the Taliban
June 16, 2012
The Afghanistan cricket team - yippee, we will be seeing them again in the World T20 in Sri Lanka - brings to a somewhat tired global community the fresh, bracing air of the mountains. The names Stanikzai, Mangal, Zadran, Hotak represent an unfamiliar part of the cricket world. Every man has a careering life story - taking to the game in refugee camps, learning from tolerant mates, teachers, coaches.
The Taliban Cricket Club is not that kind of an Afghan cricket story. Its dominant mood is dread and gloom - which press down on the reader through to its final chapter. Its characters are trapped in a Kabul living under the heavy fist of the Taliban, from 1996 to 2000.
Well before its story begins, two factors draw the reader into the book. The title, of course: cricket was the only sport approved of by the Taliban. In the book, Zorak Wahidi, the minister for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (aka Mr Bad Guy) explains that it occupies wads of time and "is modest in its clothing". The real Taliban's religious police did actually operate under the title of the Ministry for the Propogation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. Afghanistan applied for ICC membership in 2000, which was granted in 2001, after the Talibs had been driven out of Kabul.
The second lure of the book has to be its beautiful cover photograph, of two women in the famous billowing blue "shuttlecock" burqas striding away from the camera, with them a girl of no more than ten, head uncovered, glancing over her shoulder. Taliban CC's story is driven by its female protagonist Rukhsana, enduring a regime that believes women belong to "the home and the grave".
Rukhsana learnt to play cricket when living in Delhi. If she can teach her brothers and cousins the rudiments of the game in less than a month, they will have tickets to freedom: the team that wins Afghanistan's first cricket competition will go to Pakistan with the Taliban's blessings. A proposal of marriage from fifty-something Wahidi and Rukhsana knows she will have to make a run for it herself. In order to step outside and teach cricket, she disguises herself with a false beard (and some useful protective gear).
Timeri Murari, a Chennai-based writer, spent some time in Kabul talking to those who lived under the Taliban, and through Rukhsana he details the wounded, up-ended lives of women and men. In an atmosphere of fear, cricket becomes a bastion of utter fairness, a standpoint for democracy and a romantic idyll.
The threat of Wahidi and his cronies, particularly his menacing brother Droon, is on every page. Rukhsana's lingering love interest from her years in Delhi makes a sudden, mawkish appearance to play in the life-or-death cricket match. (No more spoilers here.)
Much of the cricket is all Victorian nobility, with an ICC observer called Markwick turning up in his MCC hat and tie. When Droon threatens to pulp Rukhsana's brother, Markwick acts in character. "We're playing cricket," he said, in the stern voice of a schoolmaster…" we are told. "We must start the game. It's half-past two."
The Taliban Cricket Club is more about the Taliban than cricket. Its main characters are not layered, and the language can turn clunky, with "searing love" and "simple meals", but Talib-ruled Kabul is sketched in careful and terrifying detail and the story moves along quickly. You find yourself willing the Taliban CC on to escape en masse. Besides, it will make a hell of a movie.
The Taliban Cricket Club
by Timeri N Murari
Aleph Book Company
pp336, Rs 595
|Comments have now been closed for this article
Former Australian PM Bob Hawke loved cricket. And he once left the Don speechless with the force of his political convictions
Chris Read talks about how unprepared he was for Tests, and that slower ball from Chris Cairns
Switch Hit: Mark Butcher joins our team to discuss the new England coaches, KP, and a potential England XI
Martin Crowe: Not getting rid of Kevin Pietersen after the texting saga in 2012 cost them greatly
V Ramnarayan: Erapalli Prasanna was a masterful conjurer and perhaps the shrewdest of India's great spin quartet
The controversy surrounding the IPL has done little to deter fans in UAE from flocking the stadiums, as they gear up to watch the Indian stars in action for the first time since 2006
Plays of the day from the IPL match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi
Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it
Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara go over their World T20 win, and feel grateful to have fans whose support remains unwavering in victory and defeat
The former Indian openers haven't been shining lately, but the IPL presents an opportunity for them to show their class
Having the top Associate team play the lowest-ranked Test side without the threat of relegation shows how votes mean more to the ICC than results
They were making good progress in building a world-class side, but not getting rid of Kevin Pietersen after the texting saga in 2012 cost them greatly
Brian Lara's 375 had a sense of inevitability to it, while the 400 came amid a backdrop of strikes and the threat of a whitewash
If they are to live up to their potential in next year's World Cup at home, they need to look within and search for inspiration pronto