Flick of the wrist: cricket, politics and a journalist’s life less ordinary
In Pradeep Magazine’s Not Just Cricket, his life story is squarely distilled through the prism of circumstances.
Memoirs (usually) transcend personalities and (self-created) egoistical perceptions and become more about the dialectical ethos of a life lived thus far. In Pradeep Magazine’s Not Just Cricket, published by HarperCollins, his life story is squarely distilled through the prism of circumstances: geographical relocations, cultural contexts and the turning pitch of gamesmanship.
First disclaimer. I know Pradeep Magazine: we worked in the same newspaper in New Delhi, in the early 2000s, over several years. But I never knew him very well because our paths rarely crossed (he helmed Sports, I was in the Sunday edition of the Hindustan Times) in a media landscape that didn’t require us to be “convergent” — as is the requirement these days.
Back then, most of us existed in our own silos. But I was good friends with his deputy, who maintained an old-fashioned sense of awe for her senior, always referring to him either as “Pradeep sir” or “Mr Magazine”.
Second disclaimer. I’m not really a cricket fan (though I did have my moments of thraldom in my growing up years — for totally non-‘technical’ reasons)… even less a political one. So, when I heard Not Just Cricket is also a dip into the morass of politics, I was slightly apprehensive whether — or not — I would have a connect.
But when it is revealed that Magazine assumed he had chanced upon constancy in cricket against a backdrop of uprootedness and disruption, it was alright to say “Okay, let the game — or the games — begin.”
In what was to become the showcase of a gigantic exodus in the form of Kashmiri Pandits being forced to leave the Valley, Magazine, a Pandit, admits he was fortunate enough to have not experienced the turbulence first-hand: his family moved to “India”, a land considered “alien” by all Kashmiris — irrespective of denominations — much before the simmering crisis erupted, when his father was transferred. Feeling like an outsider, he chanced upon cricket that, for him, became a great leveller.
“At school, we were told that cricket was a way of life, that it taught the value of discipline and fair play… almost as a spiritual experience,” he writes.
There’s no looking back after that as the game becomes a touchstone of sorts for Magazine who, after trying to play cricket as a student, realises he’s probably better off writing about it.
His career trajectory is impressive: the chronology of his assignments goes from the time when cricket was lowly-paid yet “middle class” to the time it morphed into a crass multi-billion “industry”. And all through, politics serves as a catalyst to the mood of a nation obsessed with cricket — and cricketers.
Not Just Cricket is not just a bird’s eye view from the press gallery. There are accounts of friendships forged with several gods of cricket (Pataudi, Kapil, Sourav, Bedi — to name a few ‘close’ ones). There are quirky anecdotes. There are startling revelations (for me, the most startling one was probably the fact that it was sometime as far back in 1979-80 that “match-fixing” had started — albeit on an entirely different scale).
There are politics within the gaming system that can give “real” political agendas a run for their money — literally. There are immersive dives into nostalgia (like when a commentator broke down at the moment of India’s win in Trinidad, the country’s first-ever Test victory in the West Indies, in 1971, and “the moment was compared to the greatest events in Indian history ‘even comparing it to gaining Independence from the British’”).
Magazine writes with a straight
bat, and doesn’t get sensationalist, however compelling the temptations are, and allows the facts to speak for themselves, with an almost journalling-like approach.
“The real world, as we all get to discover, is very different from the one we visualise while reading textbooks and getting lessons on morality and ethics from our parents and teachers”: if there’s an underlying tone that runs through the 350-odd pages of Not Just Cricket, it’s possibly this realisation — whether it’s in life, its ambient politicisation and our misplaced sense of fair play.