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Towards a philosophy of cricket

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Philosopher: Ramachandra Gandhi
Philosopher: Ramachandra Gandhi

RAMACHANDRA GUHA

Ramu Gandhi stopped playing cricket early in life, but his love for the game persisted until his last days.

Cricket is the only game of significance and scale, which can wholly do without an audience.

When the philosopher Ramachandra (Ramu) Gandhi died, a year ago this week, his passing was widely and justly mourned. Like his grandfather Mohandas, Ramu Gandhi was a Hindu who was admired by Muslims, an Indian whose windows were open to the world, and an elder statesmen who found time to listen to and learn from the young. He was as mischievously humorous as the Mahatma, and very much more brilliant.

A group of thinkers at Hyderabad University, where Ramu once taught, are engaged in an admirable effort to keep the philosopher’s intellectual legacy alive. Those inclined to rigorous thought should keep an eye out for the future productions of this collective effort. Meanwhile, this column will focus on a little-known aspect of Ramu Gandhi’s life, which was his deep insight into the mysteries and wonders of the game of cricket.

Off-breaks

As a student at Delhi’s Modern School, Ramu bowled leg-breaks and googlies. Later, in St. Stephen’s College, he switched to off-breaks, a move he later regretted, for (as he once told me) it showed a certain lack of daring, a wholly uncharacteristic preference for convention over experiment. (Wrist-spinners bowl more long hops, but they fool more batsmen, too.) He stopped playing cricket in early manhood, but his love for the game persisted until the last days of his life. He was often to be found by the television at the India International Centre in New Delhi; later, when he had repaired to the bar, his conversation would be peppered with cricketing metaphors and images.

So far as I know, Ramu Gandhi’s sole printed contribution to cricket literature took the form of the prologue to his book I am Thou. The book explored dialogues, real and imaginary, between different philosophical and spiritual traditions. (In an inspired passage, Ramu imagined a conversation between B.R. Ambedkar and Ramana Maharishi.) However, the prologue dealt with the subject through the medium of sport. Ramu had chosen to dedicate the book to his old teacher, Sudhir Kumar Bose. When Bose Saheb had offered his former student a job at St. Stephen’s, Ramu asked how much teaching he would have to do. “Oh about three hours [a week] to begin with,” said the mentor, and then, seeing the look on his disciple’s face, amended it thus: “All right, two hours then, and if you have time hanging on your conscience, come and watch cricket with me!”

Privilege

Ramu recalled that “it was during those lazy hours of cricket-watching, sunshine winter hours the very quintessence of Delhi’s delusion of centrality and civilisation in that remote age of 20 years ago (i.e., the early 1960s), that I was privileged to be instructed in such subjects as the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love, and also of course cricket capable of embodying and travestying both, by that philosopher-gentleman, Sudhir Kumar Bose… I should hasten to add that under the influence of Bose Saheb’s cricketfield coaching, time-tabled lectures of three hours a week quickly became joyous unscheduled teaching and learning of unquantifiable duration. A Gita of Eighteen Cricketfield Discourses awaits discovery, a Sri Sudhira Upanisad, knowledge of Brahman, a way of the Vast, not the way of littleness of much of today’s egoistic and vindictive cricket and politics and civilization, all I for an I.”

Ramu continued: “Revealing the essence of democracy, undegenerate cricket at its heart is a many-voiced dialogue between bowlers and batsmen, supported and surrounded by fielders who draw out the dialogue without dominating it, an environing society which nourishes but does not queer the pitch of personal relationships. Cricket is the only game of significance and scale, I think, which can wholly do without an audience, because it has participants, the fielders, who are also witnesses, audience, delight and ideal of anthropology and logic, an intense factor of self-consciousness. And all batsmen, souls, enjoy a second innings, reincarnate! And double-angled double-umpiring brings to the ideal logic and metaphysics of cricket a realistic penal philosophy. Nor surprisingly was Bose Saheb drawn to cricket, for he loved democracy and logic and metaphysics and the rule of law in a shrewd combined creative way, not isolatedly and dangerously divisively.”

Tribute

At the time of the publication of I am Thou, S.K. Bose had recently died. Ramu saw the passing of his teacher also in cricketing terms.

So he wrote: “Put in the idiom of cricket, my faith is that God is at least a cricketer and that Bose Saheb will certainly have a second innings, perhaps even the superior immortality of videhamukti. For the other side may have suffered an innings defeat in an occult match between the teams of light and darkness, Bose Saheb a distinguished member of the former team.”

This was a dedication at once whimsical and wise, like the man himself. The pedant in me is obliged, however, to point out an error — namely, that if his side had won by an innings, Bose Saheb would not have had a second turn at the crease! That said, in this post-Packer, post-IPL, intensely nationalist and crassly commercial age, Ramu’s brief meditation on cricket speaks to us directly and poignantly. For there is one form of cricket that is democratic, dialogic, and plural; and there is also now another form of cricket that is shot through with voyeurism and vindictiveness, all I for an I.

ramguha@vsnl.com


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