Friday, May 10, 2013
Are we dreaming? No, just paying a tribute to the poet on his 139th birth anniversary - Boria Majumdar
Are we dreaming? No, just paying a tribute to the poet on his 139th birth anniversary.
A British friend of mine, more passionate about Rabindranath Tagore than most of us Indians here at Oxford, asked me recently, "Is there any sphere in India where this legend has not left his mark?"
"I am sure Tagore had nothing to do with cricket", another one piped up, seeing me (a cricket historian and a Bengali to boot) around.
Cricket, he assumed, may well be that 'outcaste', one left untouched by Tagore.
Reminded me of a story I'd read many years back, a story in an unpublished essay on the genesis of sports journalism which I'd like to narrate here, as a humble tribute to the legend, in commemoration of his 139th birth anniversary today.
Brajaranjan Ray, the pioneer of sports journalism in Bengali, recounts his experience after having met the proprietors of the Ananda Bazar Patrika and having convinced them of the necessity of sports journalism (without pay, however) in this unpublished essay I had the fortune of having read. Apparently, he was at a loss for Bengali equivalents of English terms in describing/reporting cricket matches. And who else to turn to but Tagore?
Tagore, of course, was encouraging as ever and asked him to go ahead without fear, inventing terminology. He guessed it right that whatever Ray coined and persisted with, would, with the passage of time, become standard usage. Roy of course was free to turn to him for advice and corrections.
It is not for nothing that we Bengalis think that there ain't no sphere the legend left untouched.
Not just that. Apart from this Ray-Tagore encounter of the 30s, there is also an imaginary match apparently played sometime in the 30s (fascinatingly described in a piece -- loosely translated as Rabindranath and Cricket -- sometime in the 50s in Dainik Basumati, a Bengali journal, and later reprinted in some collections) that I was and am reminded of..
The setting of the match is Gomoh, a small town near Dhanbad, Bihar, more famous for its railway station from which Subhash Chandra Bose took his train towards Europe. Tagore apparently had gone there for a brief visit and had decided to organise the match is what the writer of the piece wants us to believe.
The players who played against Tagore's team included such luminaries as Vizzy, the Maharjkumar of Vizianagram; The Maharaja of Patiala, Pataudi Senior; The Maharja of Cooch Bihar and Duleep Sinhji. They apparently all come in their private aeroplanes, a point much emphasised in the piece.
That they spent to play the game, rather than playing to earn, does not need to be emphasised, but another interesting sidelight of the described match was the bit about ads. Now in the 30s, advertising was still in its infancy, but not apparently for this match. The leading sports goods dealers from Bengal -- S.Ray and Co., Uberoi et al -- had all seemingly assembled in Gomoh with a range of their products.
The inaugural ceremony of the match was initiated by a shenai recital, though the Maharja of Patiala had also, it seems, arranged for a band to perform on the occasion. Two players from Tagore's side, Professor Kshiti Mohan Sen (father of our Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen) and Acharya Bidhusekhar Shastri recited vedic mantras to start off the proceedings. The stadium, a temporary arrangement for the match (typical of modern one-day internationals) was packed to capacity.
Another key aspect of the match, one typical of modern cricket, was the presence of women spectators. They were all dressed in saris worn the Maharastrian way. (It is worth mentioning in this context that women in the 1930s played cricket in saris and there was a regular tradition of cricket between men vs. women in Kathiawar.)
Also present for this match, were the great dancer Mani Behn, Rajkumari Sharmila, the famous motor racing specialist, the daughters of the Gaekwad family, the Rajkumari of Burdwan and sundry other who's who.
Needless to mention, it had to have nationalist overtones. So Rabindranath, inspired by swadeshi, played with a bat made from local wood, wore a toka (a headdress worn by peasants) made of palm-leaves and was dressed in a dhoti. Now this is not just the anonymous writer's imagination for cricket in dhotis was very much in vogue in the 1930s and may well be perceived as an attempt by the Indians to appropriate cricket for nationalist purposes. (The Mohun Bagan Club did this in 1930 in a match against the Governors XI, and upon being reprimanded by R.B.Lagden for their dress refused to play. The match was eventually abandoned when Lagden refused to tender the apology demanded by Mohun Bagan. Six months later, a similar thing happened in a match between the Vidyasagar College and the Calcutta Cricket Club.)
So you see, whether or not Tagore had much to do with cricket, we Bengalis definitely think -- and have evidence too -- that not only was he involved with the genesis of cricket journalism in Bengali, but that he also was a pioneer in the commercialisation of the game. After all, the various dynamics of commercialisation are very much in evidence in the imagination of the author of the above story, aren't they?
His internationalism in all spheres of public life was based on a strong grasp of and love for local realities, even if we may not want to start playing in dhotis again (but those are the local realities today). A realisation/acceptance of this message will be our best tribute to him on his 139th birth anniversary.
Posted by Venkataramanan Ramasethu