A coming-of-age tale told in the warming shade of Indian cricket: review of Amrish Kumar’s Gods of Willow

The tale draws an arc from Hyderabad to Mumbai, and through the protagonist, we observe India of the 90s and early 2000s

Published - November 11, 2022 09:31 am IST

Sport like the arts often becomes a memory-marker. Hear an old song and it could remind you of a time at college. Watch a YouTube video of Vivian Richards or Serena Williams and you will remember exactly where you were when these incredible sportspersons dished out a magnificent feat.

Using Indian cricket as the spine, Amrish Kumar tells a coming-of-age story in his book Gods of Willow. The tale draws an arc from Hyderabad to Mumbai with the protagonist Kabir Menon going through a series of life-alterations. Through him, we observe India of the 1990s and early 2000s.

The sweeping gaze takes in all, be it politics, cricket, media, communalism and then juxtaposes it with personal facets like adolescence, first love, childhood friendships and even wretched office politics. The initial part deals with Kabir’s college days with its underpinnings of cricket and a tender romance. A batter fancying his chances of playing for Hyderabad, he realises that life is never easy.

A selection trial goes awry and Kumar’s words define Kabir’s agony: “After all these years, it was difficult to imagine that his life’s greatest desire would be determined by a passing glance and a few minutes inside a cricket net.” As Kabir grapples with matters of the heart and the insidious nature of university politics, the author etches this micro-world well, both the campus and Hyderabad’s bylanes.

Gods of Willow
Amrish Kumar
Roli Books

Once the setting shifts to Mumbai with its shades of corporate boredom and media angst, Kabir’s links with cricket turn sporadic. But throughout all major points in his existence, Kabir’s life mirrors events on the field — from Tendulkar’s ‘desert storm knocks’ to the match-fixing crisis. It is apt that when his redemption song is played, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid are running the Aussies ragged at the Eden Gardens. There are life lessons on the way — Kabir’s interaction with his grandfather especially has shades of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. 

This is a book that will find resonance with those who look back wistfully at an India of the past with cricket being a constant shadow.


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