Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Taliban Cricket Club

The improbable plot of The Taliban Cricket Club is based on the Afghan government's decision to seek entrance into the international cricket community to demonstrate their liberalism.  They invite an international observer to a tournament to be held in a couple of weeks and advertise for people to form teams to compete.  The prize is an all-expenses-paid trip to Pakistan for professional coaching.

Rukhsana, a courageous journalist who played university cricket ends up coaching a team.  They are desperate to win because they want out of the country and they see that trip to Pakistan as their ticket.

What makes the book enjoyable despite the thin plot is the portrayal of life inside Afghanistan in the year 2000 under Taliban rule.  The book's epigraph quotes from the laws of cricket:
"There is no place for any act of violence on the field of play."
Preamble No. 6 in the Laws of Cricket
So we have the juxtaposition of a savagely repressive society rife with brutality and violence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the ideal of a violence-free game.  It's a society where families build secret rooms to view banned movies, where women cannot walk with streets without their male mahram escort, where they cannot speak to men and where they must be covered head to foot with a burka.

Rukhsana rebels against these strictures, even to the point of risking her life.  The arrival of cricket in Afghanistan reignites her love of the game that "promotes individual excellence and depends on the actions and the confidence of each player":
"Cricket is theater, it's dance, it's an opera.  It's dramatic.  It's about individual conflict that takes place on a huge stage. But the two warriors also represent the ten other players; it's a relationship between the one and the many.  The individual and the social, the leader and the follower, the individual and the universal."
Cricket epitomizes the individual struggle against the regime.  The regime is trying to control not only behaviour, but everyone's very thoughts.  Rukhsana recalls the sense of freedom out on the cricket field, a "huge space with only the sky watching us", a place where your thoughts can roam free.  A curious choice for the Taliban's only approved sport.

Timeri Murari, the author, is a male Indian and his depiction of the life of a woman under the Taliban is based on extensive research, yet it rings very true.  His depiction of cricket is based on personal experience and he clearly loves the game.

No comments: