Bombay Showcase

Between page and field

A yellowing piece of paper, along with a black-and-white photograph of Sir Donald Bradman on the field — batting gear in place — sits framed on a shelf crammed with books at Dadar’s Marine Sports bookshop. It is a letter, dated 18th February, 1965, typed and signed by the Australian cricketing legend, congratulating S.R. Gokhale, a Bombay-based cricket friend, when the latter successfully solved a puzzle from one of Bradman’s books. The missive is up for auction this month on the bookshop’s website. “The auction closes on May 30; serious buyers will start bidding only on the 29th,”says Theodore Braganza [fondly called Theo], the amiable proprietor of the hole-in-the-wall bookshop.

Located on a relatively busy road, a stone’s throw from Dadar’s Portuguese Church, Marine Sports is the only bookshop in India dedicated exclusively to books on sport, and one of only three in the world, the other two being the Illinois-based Human Kinetics established in the 1970s, and Sports Pages, set up in Surrey in 1988.

The four-part door of the atypical bookstore leads to an alcove-like space, teeming with stack after stack of books on almost every sport, encompassing autobiographies, memoirs, player profiles, photo books, instruction manuals and encyclopaedias. We spot guidebooks on mountaineering, tomes on sports marketing and chess puzzles, the Wisden almanacs and even books on dog-breeding and bird-watching.

Forage further, and one comes across unique finds: Shapoorji Sokajee , India’s first English play on cricket, by Pradeep Vijayakar, revolving around Mumbai’s home-grown cricket tournament, the Dr. H.D. Kanga League, and a dusty tome about Japanese samurais, Bushi the Warrior by Sensei Farokh Dinshaw.

When asked whether books on cricket constitute a chunk of the collection, pat comes Theo’s wry reply, “You tell me, out of three pages of the sports section in a newspaper in this country, how much coverage does cricket receive?”

Second innings

The name of the shop stems from the time it was originally located at Marine Lines. Established in 1944 as Marine Sports by Theo’s father Bruno Braganza, the shop primarily dealt in sports paraphernalia. “Just like today, back then, there were several shops in the locality selling sports goods, and my father soon realised the competition was too intense. He lacked the business sense to run the shop,” Theo recalls . An ardent reader, Bruno began importing rulebooks for various games. The first book he imported was the Athletic Official Guide from England : 11 copies in all. He approached Y.A. Gole, an illustrious athletics coach and the president of the Athletics Federation of Bombay. Says Theo, “Gole bought all 11 copies; my father was thrilled!” Thereafter, Bruno began importing rulebooks and referee charts for cricket and football, and unfailingly attended several athletics, bridge and chess tournaments in order to develop his networking skills.

After relocating to Dadar in 1956, Marine Sports graduated swiftly to stock only books. “For cricket umpires, we had the Marylebone Cricket Club’s The Laws of Cricket . Titles from the Know the Game series — rule-cum-coaching books published in England — were useful to understand the basics of a game as there was no television back then.”

He speaks with reverence about the distinguished cricket historian Vasant Raiji, statistician Anandji Dossa, and cricket correspondent and music critic Neville Cardus, all of whose authored books form the repository at Marine Sports.

The shop also stocked magazines; enthusiasts would queue up every Thursday morning for their copy of the now-discontinued Sportsweek , only to be turned away once copies were sold out, which was usually the case. The British publication Playfair Cricket Monthly was also imported; a copy priced at the then princely sum of twenty rupees.

Track changes

An engineer by qualification, Theo eschewed sport, and had no predilection towards playing any game, but was a voracious reader.

In 1972, owing to his father’s ill-health, he finally took over the managing of the bookshop. Over the years — Theo is now in his late sixties — he has kept pace with the changing technologies to announce the arrival of the latest titles to his customers across India, segueing from handwritten postcards to cyclostyled sheets to now simply dispatching lists of new books via electronic mail.

“Sunil Gavaskar was a frequent visitor,” he says, with a hint of pride. “When the Kanga League matches were washed out due to unforeseen downpours, he spent hours at the shop and would at times bring his fellow players Dilip Vengsarkar and Gundappa Viswanath along.”

Marine Sports was Gavaskar’s first port of call before he left for tournaments overseas. “There was an occasion when he urgently required a difficult-to-source edition of the Australian Cricket Annual , and the shipment of a single publication would entail several weeks via sea mail,” recalls Theo. A slew of Theo’s resourceful associations in Australia engendered the arrangement of the book well before Gavaskar left for his trip.

Barring cricket, experts and enthusiasts with a penchant for various games would throng the shop to get their hands on rulebooks and manuals.

“I realised I was doing something right, and decided I must keep up with the changing times.”

In the 1980s, in the quest to hone his skills, he enrolled for a course in book-selling at the British Council in Bombay, and thereafter went to the United Kingdom for a short course in publishing. He also authored chapters in a book about Mumbai’s inter-school Harris Shield Cricket Tournament, the second oldest in the world.

In 1987, Marine Sports began publishing books, both by local authors as well as reprints of publications from abroad, some translated into Hindi and Marathi too. When the trend of producing video cassettes began gaining momentum in the 1980s, Theo started a video library on the premises of the bookshop, stocking ball-by-ball recordings of cricket matches, the demand for which proliferated as soon as a tournament or the World Cup drew closer.

“Sanjay Manjarekar would regularly borrow videos to study the batting and bowling patterns of the team’s prospective opponents,” he recalls.

Marine Sports has also been supplying books to 388 libraries across India, including the one at Mumbai’s University Sports Pavilion, and takes up projects involving the curation of independent sports libraries as well. “As publisher and editor, I have had to work very closely with authors.”

Sporting legends

Through the years, Marine Sports became a pivotal pit stop for cricketers, sports writers and journalists alike. “Writer Boria Majumdar would drop by, armed with a long list of books he needed for his research,” says Theo. “I remember K.N. Prabhu and Rajan Bala, and currently, Ayaz Memon — all prolific sports journalists — were ardent readers first, reporters second. They were thorough with their research, and with their razor-sharp memories, cricket scores were in their heads.”

Today, however, the paucity of noteworthy sports writing is perhaps a phenomenon that permeates all games. “For instance, we are definitely producing cricketers, but what about historians, researchers and statisticians? They are an equally important part of the game,” he laments.

The invisible face

Theo has been the invisible face behind moulding the careers of many cricketers who went on to become accomplished players. On gaining recognition, Gavaskar had to hide each time he visited the bookshop, lest his fans mobbed him.

He writes in a note about Marine Sports, “Over the years the shop has expanded and there is a veritable feast that awaits the hungry sports reader. I just hope that many a budding sportsperson will avail of the great opportunity to expand their sporting frontiers and whether they then make success in sports or not, will not matter because they will certainly be wiser for trying.”

Marine Sports, Gokhale Road N, Dadar West; 2432 1047

The author is a Mumbai-based freelance writer

Marine Sports is the only bookshop in India dedicated exclusively to books on sport, and one of three in the world

‘We are definitely producing cricketers,

but what about historians, researchers and statisticians?’

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 4:46:30 PM |

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