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Playing a straight bat

Rajender Amarnath draws upon lifelong chats with his father to create a lively narrative.

books Updated: Feb 27, 2004 18:05 IST

An offspring might be eminently qualified to author a biography of a legend. But Rajender Amarnath's emotional and familial bond with the subject could also prove to be an encumbrance if the line between objectivity and overt personal regard is allowed to blur. Mercifully, Rajender Amarnath has a clear sense of the role of a biographer: even as he lets his understandable awe and reverence for his illustrious father filter through the text, he manages to draw himself away from the epicentre of the great cricketer's life just enough to be able to inform the book with the qualities of well-rounded portraiture.

Being Lala Amarnath's youngest son, Rajender had natural access to facts and facets of the legendary sportsman's life and that adds immense value to the book. To his credit, the author turns what could have been a disadvantage - his proximity to the subject could be seen as an impediment to objectivity - into a source of strength. The quality of the prose may not quite sweep you off your feet, but The Making of a Legend: Lala Amarnath, taken in its totality, presents a wonderfully lucid, consistently readable account of life well lived, of a career of extraordinary achievements, of a mind that respected the values of shooting from the hip.

Rajender Amarnath draws upon lifelong conversations with his father to create a lively narrative structure within which he not only fits long descriptive passages devoted to the highs and lows of Lala's life but also detailed and informed analyses of Lala's yeoman contribution to the cause of Indian cricket. At no point does the writer betray the impression that he would rather fight shy of going into the pros and cons of his father's stormy association with the game and its administrators.

Rajender sees his father not just as a cricketer; what draws him far more is the tough human being who made friends with ease but never suffered fools if he could help it. He spoke his mind and often got into trouble but he never flinched from a fight. It is as a vivid portrait of a cricketer as a natural born rebel - Lala's ability to call a spade a spade was passed on in no measure to son Mohinder Amarnath, whose famous potshot at the powers that be, "The selectors are a bunch of jokers", has become a part of Indian cricketing folklore - that the book stands out.

The quality of the prose may not quite sweep you off your feet, but The Making of a Legend: Lala Amarnath, taken in its totality, presents a wonderfully lucid, consistently readable account of life well lived, of a career of extraordinary achievements, of a mind that respected the values of shooting from the hip.

Indeed, nowhere is the lucidity more in evidence than in the passage devoted to Lala's famous clash with Vizzy on a 1936 tour to England that led to the former's trip being cut short unceremoniously. The author recounts the controversies surrounding the case with great clarity and then relates the backlash that the decision of the Indian team manager provoked, going to the extent of placing it in a historical context.

"The reason (for the marching orders given to Lala) was not cricket alone but much more than met the eye. The English used this incident to thwart the efforts of the Congress, which was then agitating against the British rule and demanding Swaraj. They argued if eleven Indian cricketers could not stay together and play in peace and harmony, how would the Congress rule over millions having diverse cultures and religions. Inadvertently, Amarnath became a pawn… in a political conflict," writes Rajender Amarnath.

From Lala's heroic exploits on the field - he burst on the scene with a brilliant century on debut against England in 1933 - to his stint as the chairman of the national selection committee (he was the first first-class cricketer to occupy the important post) to his role as a great ambassador of the country (he made a huge impression on Pakistan and its people as the Indian team's manager on the tour of 1954) to the barely known aspects of his ways as a family man, the book traverses the entire arc of the cricketer's life and times. It negotiates the different strokes of Lala Amarnath's life and career with a persistently straight bat. The shots that emerge are controlled and invariably on target.

Rajender Amarnath can justifiably be as proud of this formal tribute to the achievements of his father as he is of the man himself. Tributes can sometimes degenerate into mush. The Making of a Legend: Lala Amarnath does not. It is as good a read as any cricket book ever has been.

First Published: Feb 27, 2004 18:05 IST