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When I discovered that there was a movie based on David Foster Wallace’s life, I had to watch it! This is that movie – ‘The End of the Tour‘. It is based on a road trip that another writer David Lipsky took with David Foster Wallace and the few days they spend together before and after the road trip. David Lipsky is working with the Rolling Stone magazine at that time. David Foster Wallace’s mammoth novel ‘Infinite Jest‘ has just come out and it is making waves. Critics are saying that it will win all the awards. Lipsky is skeptical about the book. His girlfriend asks him to read it. They both do. And after reading, Lipsky knows that it is a profound work. He is inspired by it and wants to write an article about Wallace for his magazine. And he arrives at Wallace’s home in the middle of nowhere. What happens in the next few days is some of the most beautiful, profound, weird and mundane things that Lipsky will experience. You should watch the movie to find out what that is.

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There are a few characters in the movie and they are interesting, but the major part of the movie is a conversation between Lipsky and Wallace. So, there are no major plot twists and turns or cool scenes or stylish dialogue. While watching the movie, I felt like I was reading a book. The bookish atmosphere, the bookish spirit pervades throughout the movie. The conversation between the two characters is fascinating.

In one scene Wallace speaks these dark, bleak, profound, beautiful lines –

“There’s a thing in the book, about how when somebody leaps from a burning skyscraper it’s not that they’re not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And so, then you’re invited to consider what could be so awful that leaping to your death would seem like an escape from it. And I don’t know if you have any experience with this kind of thing but it’s worse than any kind of physical injury. It may be in the old days what was known as a spiritual crisis. Feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false and there is actually nothing. And that you are nothing and it’s all a delusion. And you’re so much better than everybody because you can see that this is just a delusion and you’re so much worse because you can’t function. It’s really horrible.”

Hearing those lines being spoken, I realized that this is no regular movie, this is no ordinary movie. It is beautiful, deep and profound. It is one of the great movies ever made.

Jesse Eisenberg plays the role of David Lipsky. He has patented that nerdy character these days and he has nailed it here as well. Jason Segel plays the role of David Foster Wallace and he is brilliant. He is unrecognizable from the man who played the adorable Marshall in ‘How I Met Your Mother‘. Clearly he can do things which are more than romantic comedy. Such a wonderful, brilliant talent. How these two guys missed winning the Oscar for their roles here, I will never know. Joan Cusack plays a charming character who appears for a brief while. Anna Chlumsky makes a brief appearance as David Lipsky’s girlfriend. There are two dogs which are adorable and which do adorable things.

I loved ‘The End of the Tour’. It is one of my favourite movies from this year. I still can’t believe that someone made a movie about a nerdy author like David Foster Wallace. This kind of stuff doesn’t do well in the box office. This fact doesn’t seem to have deterred them. This warms my heart because it means that some people still value art over money. May their tribe survive and thrive. If you are like me and read long contemplative books and watch movies which make you feel like you are reading those books, this movie is for you. If you are a David Foster Wallace fan, this is a must see. Now, I want to go and read ‘Infinite Jest‘ and come back and watch this movie again.

Have you seen ‘The End of the Tour‘? Have you read ‘Infinite Jest‘? Do you like David Foster Wallace?

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I watched the BBC adaptation (2016) of Leo Tolstoy’sWar and Peace‘  a few days back. If you don’t know the story of ‘War and Peace‘, here is the brief outline. The story is set during the time when Napoleon invades Russia and it follows the fortunes of three families, the Bezukhovs, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. Of particular interest to us are the adorable Pierre Bezukhov, everyone’s favourite Natasha Rostova and my favourite Marya Bolkonskaya.

(In the picture below, from left to right, it is Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good poster of the show  with Marya Bolkonskaya.)

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I loved the BBC adaptation. I haven’t seen other TV or film adaptations of Tolstoy’s novel, but being the person who always brings uninformed, subjective opinions to the table, I will say that this might be the finest ‘War and Peace‘ adaptation yet. (I haven’t seen the classic film adaptation yet. Audrey Hepburn plays Natasha Rostova in that ❀ Can’t wait to watch!) The casting is perfect –  Lily James as Natasha Rostova is brilliant (from ‘Downton Abbey‘ to ‘War and Peace‘ to her upcoming new roles, she is going from strength to strength), Jessie Buckley as my favourite character Marya Bolkonskaya is brilliant, Paul Dano as the adorable Pierre Bezukhov is perfect and James Norton as the wavering, indecisive Andrei Bolkonsky is wonderful. That ballet scene in the third episode is gorgeous, that spontaneous dance which Natasha does in the countryside home – the dance that Orlando Figes raves about in his brilliant cultural history of Russia called ‘Natasha’s Dance‘ – that dance is beautiful. The scenes in which Marya and Natasha appear together were some of my favourites – when two of our favourite characters come together as soul sisters and love each other so much – what more can one ask? The scenes in which Pierre is a prisoner of war and makes friends with a fellow prisoner who has a dog and a later scene in which Pierre talks about this fellow prisoner-friend and his philosophy – they are beautiful. Even the supposed bad characters like Dolokhov and Kuragin are charming. The relationship between Kuragin and his sister HΓ©lΓ¨ne is beautifully portrayed too – they are one badass brother-sister duo! The war scenes are done well too.

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I was happy that most of my favourite characters had a happy ending – my most favourite character got married to the man she loved and two of my favourite characters declared their love for each other and got married. Unfortunately, one of my favourite characters ended up having to give up her love. One of them died. One of the minor characters, whom I loved, also died.

The last scene was perfect – the main characters all happily married with beautiful children, everyone sitting outside a countryside house enveloped by the beauty of the garden, the trees and the forest and ready to have lunch, the children playing, and the birds chirping, the sunlight beautiful and warm and we can hear the lapping of the waves at the nearby lake – that beautiful ending which warms the Russian heart and soul, was perfect.

I have a couple of complaints too. I was never convinced why Napoleon turned back from Russia. I don’t know whether Tolstoy’s novel provides better justification. I also don’t know when Natasha fell in love with Pierre. Pierre was always her platonic friend. Pierre was the one who loved her. When Natasha’s heart changed is not properly revealed. It felt like the sudden happy ending of an old Bollywood / Tamil movie. Need to find out whether the novel does a better job here.

I have tried reading ‘War and Peace‘ a few times, but got distracted everytime and had to give up each time. Now that I have watched the TV adaptation, I am inspired to give it a try again. Hoping that I can ignore distractions and avoid temptations and read till the end.

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Have you watched this BBC adaptation of ‘War and Peace‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen the classic film adaptation? Which do you think is better?

I discovered ‘Crescendo‘ by Amy Weiss accidentally in the bookshop while I was browsing there a few weeks back. I tried putting it back but the description on the back cover pulled me and I couldn’t resist it. Did a long readathon yesterday and finished reading it.

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Crescendo‘ is a story of love, loss, grief and love regained. The main character is an unnamed woman who is married and she and her husband love each other very much. She is also pregnant, which adds to their happiness. Of course, this kind of idyllic beginning always portends something dark. And disaster arrives soon and the woman’s husband and unborn baby are taken away. The woman grieves for them. She has a mare to keep her company. Then one day she leaves her place with her mare, and goes on a long journey. On her journey she meets interesting and wise people who share their wisdom with her, as she tries to understand life, love, loss, death and whether there is meaning to all this.

‘Crescendo’ is a beautiful book. It is like a fairytale for grownups or like a spiritual fable The first three chapters which are about love, loss and grief were incredibly beautiful. There were beautiful descriptions and images in every page and Amy Weiss’ soft prose was an absolute delight to read. It is not a book that you read fast like a mystery or a thriller, but it is a book that you read slowly and linger on every sentence, paragraph and page. After three chapters, the book changes a little bit. An old man makes his appearance, as he normally does in a fable like this, and shares his spiritual wisdom. It is still beautiful and there are many beautiful passages, but it has a prescriptive quality and depending on one’s world view, one might agree with it or not. If you are a spiritual person, you will love it. The quest that the main character goes through resembles the Orpheus-Eurydice myth, though in this case, it is the reverse of that, because the Eurydice of this book goes in search of Orpheus. There are also references in the book to String theory, Many worlds theory, Big Bang theory, Theory of Evolution and other such interesting things. Some of them are easy to spot while others are subtly and deeply embedded in the story. Amy Weiss follows the golden rule, ‘show-don’t-tell’, pretty well. There is even an origin-of-the-universe myth which bears an oriental Hinduism flavour to it. The ending of the story is interesting – it touches on the non-linear, circular aspect of time and has a James Joycean flavour to it.

One of the beautiful things I loved about the book was the structure of the book. Each chapter is titled after a musical concept related to musical theory, technique and form. There is something in that chapter (or sometimes even the whole chapter) related to that particular musical concept. And as our heroine goes through her quest in life, we see it through musical eyes, and the whole book feels like the story of a symphony – how a symphony is born and takes shape with beautiful notes which after some interesting experiments fall into the right places to form beautiful melodies and how this symphony evolves and becomes the complex musical being it is meant to be and how it is unfurled, in the end, in all its musical glory. It is incredibly beautiful to read and experience.

I loved ‘Crescendo‘. Amy Weiss follows in the long hallowed tradition of authors like Kahlil Gibran, Richard Bach, Robert Pirsig, Paulo Coelho and Mitch Albom, and has written a beautiful spiritual fable, a fairytale for grownups, which addresses all the big questions in it – love, loss, longing, grief, the meaning of life, the true nature of time, the deep bond between humans and animals. Amy Weiss’ soft prose is beautiful and lyrical and luminous and a delight to read. The book can be read for that alone. One of the reviewers said this about the book, a passage which I absolutely loved – “Crescendo is a lyrical travel tale, a myth, a map, a parable – all of these and more. Amy Weiss has the skill of a poet, the dramatic flair of a storyteller, and the heart of a mystic. This little book is lit from within – lit with intelligence, spirit, hope, and mystery. Weiss weaves a spell that caught me in its luminous threads from the first word to the last. I feel expanded having gone on the journey of Crescendo.” If you like spiritual fables and fairytales for grownups, you will like this.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

      “That’s much too sad,” he says. “Sing me a love song instead.”
      As if every word she speaks is not a love song. As if there is not a love song in the way she looks at him, in his hands creating curls in her hair, in the touch of her cheek against his. A love song that has begun to form in her belly and that will, in due time, swell inside it. As if, each time he gazes at her, he is not sight-reading the music of her face. It is how they communicate, in that language of silence and sound. In the evenings they play together in the barn, where her harp tells of the quiet, naked things that hide within her heart, and his guitar shares secrets he did not know he had. They talk late into the night, their conversations becoming lullabies that send the mare, sleeping nearby, into dreams filled with desire and stallions and God.

      Without stopping, she leans against an oak, unaware that it is listening. Though the oak is a strong, stoic type, it is deeply moved by the woman and the gentleness with which she cradles the harp. It is mesmerized by the strange spell her hands cast over the wood : transforming a tree into melody, making it sing. It yearns to feel her fingers brush against its own body, to hear the sound she could coax from its silence. Leaves fall from its branches, flutter around her, surround her in a sea of longing. The cardinals and starlings perched in its hollows cock their heads and stare. They have never known the oak to cry; who has seen their house shed tears? Their songs are also made of light – a different one, a gilded one, which erupts from their little bird bodies when they can no longer contain it’s force – yet they are unfamiliar with sorrow. Only the mourning dove knows it’s dreary refrain.

A book belongs inside and beyond time and space. A reader can dip into its pages and swim in its words, put it down, walk away, come back to it years later, come back to it even after its author has died. It alters the consciousness and the heart, yet its effects do not varnish when its cover is closed, when it is returned to the shelf, when its events are purely fictional and never physical. The book itself may be destroyed, its words erased or struck from the page – but not from the reader. The material world is the same. Reality can disperse with the wave of the old man’s hand, the illumination of the woman’s mind. The medium comes and goes. The insight remains.

      “To become louder, to become quieter, to discover the strength in the softness : these are means of expression in music, and they are what move the listener. Beauty is born from the dynamics. Power has its own dynamics, and it too can be played both ‘forte‘ and ‘pianissimo possibile‘, as soft as possible.”
      “Soft power?”
      “Yes, like a butterfly. No one expects it to be a firecracker. It wouldn’t be a butterfly if it were, and it would devastate the flowers upon which it lands. Nevertheless, the power inherent inside it – to accept the dark days, knowing that they are when transformation occurs; to honor the time it takes for one’s wings to dry; to slough off the weight of its past and fly, when all its life it has known only to crawl – is far more explosive than any firecracker. Soft can be so much stronger than hard.”

Have you read Amy Weiss‘ ‘Crescendo‘? What do you think about it?

I have wanted to read Moupia Basu‘s book ‘Khoka‘ for a while, ever since I discovered it. Yesterday, I took it and finished reading it in one sitting.

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Khoka‘ is the story of two boys who lived in two different times. One boy is from today’s contemporary times. He is intelligent and smart but sometimes he is upset and it shows in his behaviour. To make him happy, his mother takes out an old diary and reads stories from it to him. Sometimes she gives the diary to him and he reads the stories to her. The diary contains stories about a boy called Khoka who lived more than seventy years back. The book then goes back and forth from the present to the past, but mostly it stays in the past as we learn more about Khoka and his life and times.

I loved Khoka’s story. It takes one to the small town India of a different era, when people lived in joint families, when children went out and played in the streets, went to the nearby fields and mountains and forests, plucked fruit from the trees and had fun and enjoyed life in a very different way, how strangers helped each other, how life wasn’t the meticulously planned thing that it is today. If you have lived that life or seen that life in close quarters, this book will make your heart delight with pleasure, it will make you nostalgic. I loved reading about Khoka’s life and the adventures he had. The book read like a collection of anecdotes rather than as one continuous narrative. This gives a realistic feel to the book – it makes us think that these events actually happened. Reading the book makes us feel like we are talking to our parents or uncle or aunt or a relative about old times. It is like a beautiful conversation on a summer evening. In addition to describing small-town India of the time, the books also weaves in stories about the independence movement – about how ordinary people felt about it, reacted to it, participated in it. I loved reading that part of the book. The book has beautiful descriptions of the forest, trees and wildlife. The book also has beautiful mentions of food – when I read about how Khoka and his friends were sitting in a hut and eating rice with fish curry and brinjal fry, it made me want to go back in time to that hut to try that delicious food. There are also beautiful line drawings throughout the book which illustrate all the major scenes and stories.

I loved ‘Khoka‘. If you are a child like me and are nostalgic about the bygone era, you will like it too. It is a great gift for children at home or for your young nephews and nieces.

Have you read ‘Khoka‘? What do you think about it?

When I was at the bookshop last weekend, I saw this gorgeous edition of Kalidasa’sMeghadutam‘. I couldn’t resist it. I picked it up to read a couple of days back and finished reading it yesterday.

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The story told in ‘Meghadutam‘ is famous and familiar to most of us. A yaksha, who serves under Kubera, the god of wealth, is banished from his home for a year, for failing in his duty. He misses his wife and yearns for her company and pines for her. Then one day he sees a dark cloud, a rain-bearing cloud, hovering nearby. He talks to the cloud and asks it to be his messenger and take his message to his beloved. Then he proceeds to describe the potential journey that this cloud will have to make, the distractions it will have on the way, and the message that it has to give his beloved, when it reaches the destination.

The book has two parts. The first part describes the potential journey the cloud has to make – through forests, over mountains and rivers, across cities and villages, passing by people who are rich and poor. While describing every scene, the yaksha tells the cloud what it can and cannot do, what it should and shouldn’t do, the distractions it will have and how to avoid them and the beautiful scenes and pleasures that it will encounter and how to enjoy them. There are beautiful descriptions of flowers and mountains and rivers and lakes throughout this part of the book. I loved the names of all these, especially the exotic flowers and what was special about each of them. And there are also beautiful, vivid descriptions of legendary cities of eras gone by. There are also beautiful insights strewn throughout the poem like beautiful pearls, and sometimes a verse ends with a beautiful question which makes us stop and think. Like this one :

Is it not better that a request be rejected by the virtuous
      than fulfilled by the weak?

And this one :

Don’t those who set out on futile ventures end up as
      targets of others’ disdain?

The book is filled with beautiful descriptions, lush imagery and brilliant metaphors. And it was beautifully sensual in many places. Which was totally unexpected. I remember many years back when someone asked the Tamil historical writer Sandilyan why he used too much of ‘Shringar Ras’ in his story, he replied that he didn’t write even  one hundredth of what Valmiki or Kalidasa or Kamban or Shakespeare or Keats did. I thought he was just trying to give a good reply to the question, but after reading this book, I know he was telling the truth. Kalidasa deploys Shringar Ras extensively and it is beautiful and sensual and luscious and rich and a pleasure to read. But it is definitely not for children.

In the second part of the book, the yaksha tells the cloud what it should do after it finds his beloved. The second part of the book is a big contrast to the first part, because while the first part is about the journey and the beautiful scenes and the excitement associated with them – it is about the outer world and its breadth – the second part of the book is about the heart and its yearning and its longing – it is about the inner world and its depth. In this second part, the yaksha describes how his wife will be pining for him and how she will be heartbroken in his absence. It is beautiful and moving and filled with love, yearning and longing. I loved both the parts of the book, but I loved the second part more – the desires and the longings of the heart have always appealed to me more. When the yaksha says in his message :

And then, my true one, as the wind
      drifts south, I run to
Embrace it, believing that it caressed your body
      before coming to me.

our heart pines alongwith his. It also made me think of Chiang Che-kin’s classic Chinese poem ‘Watching the Moon‘.

My beloved knows
That I watch thee, O moon,
And when thy beams caress her,
Our separation is less cruel.

When the yaksha says :

Can the long hours of the night collapse
      into a single second?
Can the pleasures of a mild summer day
      last all season?
Listen, my love, for my mind entertains
      such impossibilities
Without solace, just as I burn and ache
      over our disunion.

our heart aches alongwith his. It also made me remember William Blake’s famous lines :

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

I loved ‘Meghadutam‘. It is a beautiful poem of love, loss, longing and hopefully of regaining. There have been many famous cloud messenger poems since, (including one of my favourites by the Tamil poet Kannadasan, in which a young man asks the cloud to tell his beloved that though he might be the hero of the princess’ epic poem, he is actually one of the thousands of slaves in the country), Kalidasa’s original is the first and probably the best. The edition I read has a beautiful introduction by the translator in which he talks about the pleasures and challenges of the art of translation, and a wonderful glossary which describes all the important words and names in the poem, including the exotic flowers, mountains, rivers and lakes. And isn’t that cover gorgeous?

I am glad that I finally read my first Kalidasa poem. I can’t wait to read more.

Have you read Kalidasa’sMeghadutam‘? What do you think about it?

Ghachar Ghochar‘ tells the story of a  middle class joint family. They live in Bangalore. The story starts with the narrator spending his day at a place called Coffee House, drinking a cup of coffee. The narrator describes Coffee House, the customers there, the random things that happen to strangers and also his favourite waiter Vincent. It is all beautiful and calm and serene till the narrator starts talking about his family – his parents, his uncle (his dad’s younger brother), his elder sister who is separated from her husband, and his wife. The narrator describes the verbal sparring which goes on at home every morning, which sounds innocent to an outsider but which is filled with hurt and emotional violence for the family members. From there the narrator talks about his past during which his family lived a lower middle class life and describes how things changed across time to take them to where they are today. Well, that is all I can tell you about the story πŸ™‚ You should read the book to find out more.

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I loved the descriptions in the book about the middle class life. It brought back that era of the ’80s and before India so vividly – a time when it was hard to get a job, resources were scarce, all houses looked the same and had minimal furniture, individual possessions were few, when it was hard to keep secrets from your family, when family members counted every paisa, when middle class people rarely ate out, when families ate together everyday, when treats like akki-rotti (I so love that!) were rare and celebrated, when the only kind of marriage was of the arranged variety, when falling in love happened only in movies, when doing unconventional stuff (believing in a religion different from that of your parents, defying your elders, trying to become a writer or a social worker or a sportsperson etc.) was regarded with suspicion and frowned upon, when people treasured the small things in life, when buying a new TV or a gas stove or a refrigerator for the first time at home was a major newsworthy event, when women mostly cooked and took care of the home – these and more are described beautifully in the book. I also loved the description of the two types of ants – it was humorous πŸ™‚ I have seen a third type of ant too – bigger but not really dangerous. Anyone who has lived in the South India of the ’80s or before will identify with all this. I also found the verbal sparring of the family members and the barbs thrown at each other, especially between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, quite interesting – I wouldn’t say I loved it, because it brought back lots of bad memories,  but those parts of the book were well written. The description of how a traditional South Indian marriage is held and why it works were insightfully written. I also loved the way the story describes what happens to a family when they move away from a situation where they have count every paisa to a situation where they don’t have to worry about money – how this sudden freedom from poverty does more harm than good. There is one passage which beautifully describes that – “It’s true what they say – it’s not we who control money, it’s the money that controls us. When there’s only a little, it behaves meekly; when it grows, it becomes brash and has its way with us. Money had swept us up and flung us in the midst of a whirlwind.

The book talks about the everyday present and past but at some point there is a subtle change – an undertone of menace sneaks in, which keeps getting louder and louder like a war drum. It made me think of the menacing undercurrents in Harold Pinter‘s plays, especially ‘The Homecoming‘. It turned me off Pinter’s plays for life. The last page of the book is open-ended and I was left pondering the fate of one of my favourite characters. I hope this character is alive and kicking in the story which happens after the last page.

I loved ‘Ghachar Ghochar‘. It brought back lots of old memories, some fond some not. I have read Tamil novels which have covered similar themes brilliantly, but I don’t remember any of them having an undercurrent of menace. I am happy that ‘Ghachar Ghochar‘ has got accolades across the world. It is nice to see Indian literature of the non-English variety getting accolades. I hope more beautiful books like this from Indian languages get translated into English.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

Had Vincent taken on a grand name and grown a long shimmering beard, he’d have had lakhs of people falling at his feet. How different are the words of those exalted beings from his? Words after all are nothing by themselves. They burst into meaning only in the minds they’ve entered. If you think about it, even those held to be gods incarnate seldom speak of profound things. It’s their day-to-day utterances that are imbued with sublime meanings. And who’s to say the gods cannot take the form of a restaurant waiter when they choose to visit us?

I leaned into one of the shelves, amidst the clothes, and breathed deep. It was a smell I could not identify, but I had come to know it so well. I took a sari and sniffed it. The scent seemed to diminish rather than intensify. It was the same with any garment I picked out of the wardrobe. Whatever fragrance the whole wardrobe had was missing in the individual clothes it held. The more keenly I sought it, the farther it receded. A strange mixture of feelings I could not quite grasp – love, fear, entitlement, desire, frustration – flooded through me until it seemed like I would break.

Have you read ‘Ghachar Ghochar‘? What do you think about it?

I have known about the documentary, ‘Fire in Babylon‘, for a while now. I have always wanted to watch it, but couldn’t get it. When I discovered that a book version of the documentary, by Simon Lister, has come out, I couldn’t wait to get it and read it.

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Fire in Babylon‘ is about the West Indies cricket team, which was the unofficial world test champion from the middle ’70s to the middle ’90s. The book starts from just after the 1975 World Cup which the West Indies won. Their tour of Australia followed. The West Indies team, though they played attractively, lost the series 5-1. Subsequent to that the West Indies played the Indian cricket team at home. And the Indians won an impossible match. That is when the West Indies captain Clive Lloyd decided to jettison spinners and go with a full on pace attack, which sometimes bowled intimidatingly and continued winning for the next twenty years. This book describes how that glorious era in West Indies cricket started and covers most of the important matches, major feats of batting and bowling, paints portraits of important players (one of my favourites was the one of Gordon Greenidge – that he was shy and introverted as a teenager – I always thought he looked like a nerd and I fell in love with him more when I read this), talks about the controversies and the politics including Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, the rebel West Indian tour to Australia, the relationship between the players and the board, inter-island rivalry among the players, how cricket was much more than cricket for the normal, everyday West Indian and other fascinating cricketing topics.

There is a beautiful chapter in the book which gives insightful portraits of all the great West Indian fast bowlers – Roberts, Holding, Garner, Croft, Marshall – and features interviews with them in which they talk about the art and technique of fast bowling and this chapter also shares their peers’ thoughts about them. It was one of my favourite chapters in the book. There is also a whole chapter dedicated exclusively to Vivian Richards, whom I love and admire so much, like every schoolboy of that era. The book also goes back into West Indian cricket history and talks about Charles Olivierre, Learie Constantine, the three Ws, especially Frank Worrell, Garry Sobers and their place in the scheme of things and how their life and cricket influenced this particular West Indies team. I loved this peek back into history. In more than a few places there were sentences in the book which said something like this – “The West Indian team had won series against Australia, England and India and so were the undisputed champions”. As an Indian cricket fan (of those times), I was happy to read those sentences πŸ™‚ But I didn’t agree with them. I was surprised that the Pakistani cricket team was barely mentioned (there were some stray mentions here and there of players and matches), because during this time when the West Indies team was dominant, the only team which challenged its dominance was the Pakistani team – while other teams were getting walloped 3-0, 4-0 and 5-0, the Pakistani team drew three consecutive series against the West Indies team. And one of them was at home with neutral umpires, the first ever time that had happened in the history of cricket. That was one huge gap in the book, which was perfect otherwise. The book also had a beautiful introduction by Clive Lloyd in which Lloyd shares his thoughts on the book and on this glorious era of West Indies cricket. The book also has interviews of normal West Indians embedded into the book in which they talk about why a particular match or player was important and significant to them and what the success of the team meant to them as West Indians. I loved this part of the book.

Some of the other things that I wish the author had talked about in more detail, which I felt were gaps in the book, were these :

(1) There is not much coverage of England’s 1981 tour to the West Indies, though there is a description of the ‘fastest ever over’ by Holding. Geoffrey Boycott wrote a whole book about that series called ‘In the Fast Lane‘.

(2) There is not much mention of the players from other teams who resisted the West Indian dominance during that era. Sunil Gavaskar is mentioned in just one place (I was hoping that his innings in Delhi in 1983, when he shed his defensive cloak and played more like Vivian Richards than like Sunil Gavaskar would find a mention) and there is no mention of Allan Lamb (Lamb made three hundreds in that ‘blackwash’ series of 1984, and then a few years later came back to haunt the West Indies in the 1987 World Cup when he made 18 runs in the last over to win the match for England – Lamb was a thorn in the West Indian flesh).

(3) The coverage of the post Clive Lloyd era is very brief. Lloyd captained for ten years. His successor Vivian Richards captained for six. Lots of wonderful things happened during Viv’s reign. They have all been compressed into one chapter. I wish there was more space given to that.

There were some interesting things that I learnt from the book. Some of them were these :

(1) ‘Dependant‘ is the noun form of the adjective ‘dependent‘. I didn’t know that! I have always spelt it as ‘dependent‘! The Oxford dictionary says that both are correct, but the former is the traditional spelling, while the latter is more common today. Love learning new things about the English language everyday!

(2) Guyana is in South America. I thought that the writer had got it wrong! Because I always thought that Guyana was an island! Then I went and checked the map and discovered that the book was right and I was wrong. So that is Simon Lister 1 – Vishy 0! I can’t believe that I got this wrong all my life till now! I thought I was good in geography!

(3) The book talks about a 1981 series between West Indies and Australia which West Indies won. The series I knew, which happened at around that time, was drawn 1-1. So I thought – “Yes! I have got the cricket writer on cricket history!” Well, it turns out that both of us were right! There was a series in 1979-80, which was drawn and another in 1981-82 which was won by the West Indies team. I don’t know why that 1979-80 series was not mentioned because it was one of the great ones. Ian Chappell wrote a beautiful essay about it. Well, one more new thing learnt πŸ™‚

(4) David Murray is the son of Everton Weekes – I didn’t know that!

If you, like me, were a huge fan of the West Indies team while growing up and loved Richards and Marshall and Holding and Roberts and Greenidge and Haynes and Lloyd and others, you will love this book. It is a beautiful depiction of West Indies cricket history of that glorious era and if we ignore a few of the omissions, it is perfect. I have only one regret. I wish C.L.R.James was alive today. And I wish he had written this book. Because this was his book to write. Unfortunately, he is not around, and in his absence, Simon Lister has done a magnificent job.

Have you read ‘Fire in Babylon‘? What do you think about it?