Archive for July, 2021

I read in the news yesterday that Roberto Calasso passed away a few days back. I felt very sad.

I discovered Roberto Calasso during my bookshop browsing days. One Saturday evening, I went to my favourite bookshop, and while I was browsing, I discovered Roberto Calasso’s ‘Ka‘. It seemed to be a retelling or reinterpretation of Indian mythology. It was very appealing to me, because Calasso had put the entirety of Indian mythology into one book and described it in his own way. Indian mythology is sprawling and infinite and refuses all human attempts to put it into one bookish container, but it appeared that somehow Calasso had pushed hard with all his energy and somehow managed to get the genie inside a bottle and put the lid on it. Later, I discovered that Calasso had done the same thing to Greek mythology, and put that sprawling Greek genie into a bottle called ‘The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony‘. During my next visit to the bookshop, I got that too. As I moved cities and countries, I carried these two books with me, as they had a special place in my heart.

These two books made me think that Roberto Calasso mostly wrote reinterpretations of mythology. Though many of the books he wrote were about mythology and its relation to human consciousness and modernity, Calasso also wrote on other topics. His first book ‘The Ruin of Kasch‘ was about the French diplomat Talleyrand. One of his books ‘K‘ is about Franz Kafka. Another book of his is about Italian painter Tiepolo. One more book of his is about the French poet Baudelaire.

Roberto Calasso was fascinating in two ways. The first thing was that he was very odd when compared to today’s writers. He wrote about any topic which intellectually engaged him. He didn’t care whether someone would be interested in his work. Though ‘The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony’ and ‘Ka’ look like retellings of mythology, they are classified as long essays. I am not sure about that. But most of the rest of his books can be classified as long book length essays. He just picked a topic which engaged him intellectually and went and wrote a book length essay about it. This is something which is more or less impossible today for a writer. ‘The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony’ was a big success when it came out, and got rave reviews, and ‘Ka’, I think, got its share of fame too. But I don’t think the rest of his books were famous among a popular audience, though they were deeply admired by his fans.

The second fascinating thing about Roberto Calasso was that he was a publisher all his life. There are many writers who start small publishing outfits to promote their own work or to promote work of lesser known writers, but a publisher writing books is rare. Publishers do write occasionally, of course, but most of the time, it is a memoir about their publishing experience. I don’t know of any publisher who wrote books throughout their career in diverse topics. I am sure a few might be around who did that, but they are rare. Roberto Calasso was an Italian who had a doctorate in English literature, worked as a publisher all his life, and wrote intelligent books on topics that he liked. He was unique and odd and a pure one-off, and he was celebrated by his fans because of that.

Like all Roberto Calasso fans, I have my own favourite Roberto Calasso story. Some years back, ‘Ka’ was translated into Tamil, and Calasso came to my city for the launch of the Tamil edition. The launch was at my favourite bookshop which I visited often. It was rare that an Italian book got translated into Tamil, and it was even more rare that the author turned up for the launch of the new translation. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a case of so-near-yet-so-far for me, as I got to know about it only through the papers the next day. I wish I had known about the event earlier, and I wish I had attended it and got to meet him.

Roberto Calasso lived a long life, a beautiful life. As a publisher, I am sure he encouraged many new writers and put their books in readers’ hands. As a writer he definitely delighted many fans like me. Roberto Calasso was one of the first Italian authors that I discovered (the others were Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino) and with his passing, all my three favourites are gone, and it is the end of an era. It is a sad day for Italian literature, and Italian literature readers and fans. It is sad that all beautiful things have to come to an end.

Farewell my friend, Roberto! Thanks for all the beautiful books and for delighting us readers! We’ll never forget you and we’ll always miss you.


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I read in the news today, that Steven Weinberg, one of the great physicists to walk the earth during our times, is no more. I have a soft corner for great physicists, and I felt very sad.

Steven Weinberg won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979 for making fundamental contributions to the Standard Model of Particle Physics. But for a science enthusiast and physics lover and book reader like me, my introduction to Steven Weinberg was through his book on the Big Bang Theory for the general reader, ‘The First Three Minutes‘. It is one of the great books written about the Big Bang Theory and the origin of the universe. How accessible is it? Can anyone understand it? That is a hard question to answer. I think it is easier than Roger Penrose’s books but harder than George Gamov’s, Simon Singh’s and Christophe Galfard’s. Weinberg himself says this in the preface of his book –

“I had better say for what reader this book is intended. I have written for one who is willing to puzzle through some detailed arguments, but who is not at home in either mathematics or physics. Although I must introduce some fairly complicated scientific ideas, no mathematics is used in the body of the book beyond arithmetic, and little or no knowledge of physics or astronomy is assumed in advance…However, this does not mean that I have tried to write an easy book. When a lawyer writes for the general public, he assumes that they do not know Law French or the Rule Against Perpetuities, but he does not think the worse of them for it, and he does not condescend to them. I want to return the compliment: I picture the reader as a smart old attorney who does not speak my language, but who expects nonetheless to hear some convincing arguments before he makes up his mind.”

I think Weinberg’s words describe the book perfectly. That is, if we put in the effort, while reading the book, we’ll be rewarded. I was.

One of the things I loved about Weinberg was the confidence he had as a scientist when he explained something, or made an analysis or prediction. But he also interwove that confidence with natural scientific scepticism and humility. The perfect combination of these two made his authorial voice pure music to listen to. For example, read this passage –

“In following this account of the first three minutes, the reader may feel that he can detect a note of scientific overconfidence. He might be right. However, I do not believe that scientific progress is always best advanced by keeping an altogether open mind. It is often necessary to forget one’s doubts and to follow the consequences of one’s assumptions wherever they may lead – the great thing is not to be free of theoretical prejudices, but to have the right theoretical prejudices. And always, the test of any theoretical preconception is in where it leads. The standard model of the early universe has scored some successes, and it provides a coherent theoretical framework for future experimental programs. This does not mean that it is true, but it does mean that it deserves to be taken seriously.”

The First Three Minutes‘ ends gloriously with one of the great passages that I’ve ever read in any science book, nearly elevating the book to a work of existentialist philosophy, asking all the big questions that humans have asked since the beginning of time. Here is how it goes –

“However all these problems may be resolved, and which ever cosmological model proves correct, there is not much of comfort in any of this. It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable – fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is atleast some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

When I read the lines – “It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes” – it makes me laugh, it almost feels like dark comedy from a Coen brothers movie 😊

That last passage is one of my all-time favourite passages from any science book.

As you can tell by now, Steven Weinberg’s ‘The First Three Minutes‘ is one of my favourite books on science and physics. Did I understand it completely? Definitely not. Did I understand most of it? Yes, I did.

Steven Weinberg was one of the last great scientists from the 20th century who was around when the great exciting things happened in physics – relativity, quantum physics, particle physics. He had a front row seat when many of these great things happened, and he played an active part and contributed to some of them. Many of the great scientists who made these great advancements were well known to him or were his friends. With his passing, we have nearly reached the end of an era. My favourite Roger Penrose is still around, but I am dreading the day, when he will move on.

Steven Weinberg lived a long life, a beautiful life, extended the frontiers of his field, and enhanced our understanding of the universe. It was a privilege and an honour to be around at the same time as the great Weinberg. I am glad our times overlapped. It is sad that all beautiful things have to come to an end. It is a heartbreaking day for science lovers and physics fans.

Farewell, Professor Weinberg. Thank you for all the beautiful things you did to extend the frontiers of science. We’ll never forget you and we’ll miss you. I can only repeat what Horatio tells Hamlet when he bids him goodbye – “Farewell, sweet prince. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

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After getting all my Everyman Library books together, I was tempted and ordered one more. One thing led to another, as it always happens with these things, and in the space of a week, I had nearly doubled the size of my Everyman collection 😆 Finally, I had to force myself to get off book shopping, before I made more impulsive buys.

These are the books I got.

(1) Julio Cortázar omnibus – It has his most famous novel ‘Hopscotch‘ and two short story collections. I’ve heard Cortázar’s name before, but it was just a name. When I discovered what ‘Hopscotch’ was about, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what it is about Latin American authors – the kind of innovations they have done in storytelling, you read the first page and you know that you are in the presence of greatness. Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar. Such amazing geniuses. I keep wondering where they get their inspiration from. They suddenly come out of nowhere and then produce magic, the likes of which has never been seen before.  I read a couple of short stories from Cortázar’s book and they are wonderful. I can’t wait to read ‘Hopscotch’. I think later literary experimenters like Italo Calvino and the more recent Mark Danielewski can just step aside, because this is the original master, the real master.

(2) Penelope Fitzgerald, two omnibuses – These two omnibuses have three novels each. Penelope Fitzgerald had a fascinating life. Till she turned sixty, she lived like the rest of us – went to work, got married, had kids, took care of her family. Then when she turned sixty, she decided that she had had enough of the normal life and started writing novels. For the next two decades she wrote amazing stuff and won awards and critical acclaim. She is a huge inspiration, especially for those of us who are closet writers, artists, musicians. Maybe we can pursue our calling after we turn sixty. There is still hope. I’m so excited to read her books.

(3) A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – I’ve wanted to read Jane Smiley’s contemporary reimagining of the King Lear story for a long time. Looking forward to getting into it soon.

(4) Lucky Per by Henrik Pontoppidan – Henrik Pontoppidan is mostly forgotten outside his native Denmark today, but he won the Nobel Prize for literature during his prime, and this is his greatest work. Pontoppidan is part of a long line of great Danish writers who created wonderful literary works, from Henrik Ibsen to Tove Ditlevsen to Karen Blixen to Peter Høeg to Dorothe Nors to Linda Skaaret whose recent novel ‘Fugl Og Fisk‘ (‘Bird and Fish‘) is getting great critical acclaim right now. I am glad I discovered Pontoppidan’s most famous book. I can’t wait to read it.

(5) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – Two of my friends said on successive days that they are reading Evelyn Waugh’s most  celebrated novel. I haven’t read it yet, and I couldn’t resist getting it.

(6) The Baburnama by Babur – This memoir by the founder of the Mughal empire has been around for a while, for nearly five centuries. It predates Rousseau’s ‘Confessions’ by more than two centuries. It is hard to believe that something like this exists – a tell-all memoir by a king. This edition has a beautiful introduction by William Dalrymple. I can’t wait to read it.

(7) Praeterita by John Ruskin – The Latin title of the memoir of England’s most famous art critic was beautiful and irresistible. I hope it is great inside too.

(8) The Histories by Herodotus – I debated for a while whether to get this or not. Herodotus’ most famous book is available for free on the internet. It is out of copyright, of course, because it is nearly 2500 years old. But after contemplating on it for a bit, I succumbed to temptation. There is no greater pleasure than holding a thick hardback edition of an ancient classic in your hand, and turning over its pages, and taking in its wise words. I don’t know when I’ll read this properly, but I’m planning to read the introduction soon and dip into the book and see what is there.

I have ordered one more book, The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick. It is published by NYRB and so it is prohibitively expensive, but I managed to order a pre-loved edition from the secondhand bookshop at an affordable price. But I’m not expecting it to arrive, because secondhand bookshops are notorious in my place for not keeping their word – if they find out that a book is valuable after an order has been placed for it, they either surreptitiously send a different book in its stead or cancel the order. So I am expecting either of this. By some miracle if the book arrives, I’ll report back soon.

I am most excited about the Julio Cortázar and Penelope Fitzgerald books and those are the ones I am planning to read first.

So these are the new book arrivals at my place 😊  Did you buy any new books recently?

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In his introduction to Thomas Mann’s epic ‘Joseph and his Brothers‘, translator John E. Woods gives this suggestion on how to read the book.

“And yet the question remains how best should a reader approach a work so monumental and complex – plunge in at page 1 and devil take the hindmost? That is, after all, the way Mann wrote it to be read. With considerable trepidation, I would like to suggest a different strategy for first-time readers of this great novel. I propose you start with “The Story of Dinah,” part 3 of The Stories of Jacob. Based on a Bible story (Genesis 33:17-35:5) never taught in the Sunday schools of my youth, this tale of passion and revenge becomes, in Mann’s hand, a marvelous epitome of the virtues of the novel as a whole. My hope, and my guess, is that you will be irrevocably caught up in this great literary adventure and eager to climb the “pyramid.” But beware : don’t begin at the beginning even yet. For those just getting their climbing legs in shape, “Prelude: Descent into Hell” may well turn out to be literally that. This opening chapter’s larger historical and theological perspectives introduce many of the themes that Mann will weave into his four novels, but without a story to hang them on, you may well feel he has pushed you over the edge and down a well that is indeed bottomless. So, “Dinah” first, then back to part 1, “At the Well” and at some point, halfway up volume 1 or so, you will want to look back, and give the Prelude its due, for it has monumental rewards.”

Being an old-fashioned reader, I didn’t follow his advice. I refused to take the easy way out. I did what Woods has described at the beginning – “plunge in at page 1 and devil take the hindmost” 😆 I started with ‘Prelude : Descent into Hell’. It wasn’t the hell that Woods had said it might be. It wasn’t that bad. It was actually amazing. It was vintage Mann though – complex and challenging prose, long sentences, but if you don’t get intimidated and you persist, you’ll be amply rewarded. Mann doesn’t court you with his first sentence and paragraph, he challenges you, he demands your attention, he makes you put in the hard work and the intellectual effort. It is worth it.

Yesterday, I finished the prelude (yes, the descent into hell as Mann describes it – I’m back now to tell the tale 😆), part 1 and part 2, and I am knocking at the doors of part 3. I can’t wait to get started on ‘The Story of Dinah‘.

After quite a while, I’ve managed to finish 100 straight pages from a book. I think I can say now that my reading slump is officially over 😊 Yay!

Do you follow a specific reading plan while tackling a big book?

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I haven’t read much in a while now, because I got into a reading slump for some reason, and then I started watching tennis, and this time of the year is always busy in the tennis calendar and I couldn’t get back to reading. But today, I looked at the most recent book I’m trying to read and then decided to post something.

I used to collect hardbacks once upon a time. I used to go to my favourite bookshop every Saturday evening and buy books, some of which were hardbacks. One of my favourite hardback editions was Everyman Library Editions. Everyman books were beautiful to look at and hold and a pleasure to read.

I think the first Everyman Library Edition I got was ‘The Tale of Genji‘ by Murasaki Shikibu. That is how I discovered Murasaki Shikibu, through a trip to the bookshop. She wasn’t famous then, but was known only in a small literary circle. These days she is a legend among literary fiction readers. I tried reading it a couple of times and got to the first 100 pages. Hoping to get back to it one day.

Later I got ‘Confessions‘ by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It was recommended to me by one of my first online friends and I got it years back. I just started reading it and it is very interesting. It must have been quite controversial during Rousseau’s time, because it is a confessional memoir, and Rousseau didn’t publish it during his lifetime.

First Love‘ was one of the first Ivan Turgenev books that I’d read, when I was in college. When I saw an Everyman edition of it, I couldn’t resist getting it.

I have read R.K.Narayan’s books as individual editions before, but when I saw an omnibus with his first four novels, how could I resist? I have read three of them before and they are very charming. I haven’t read ‘The Dark Room‘ yet.

I love stories set in the sea with ships and sailors and storms and so I couldn’t resist getting ‘Stories of the Sea‘. It has Ray Bradbury’s famous short story ‘The Foghorn‘, which is a beautiful story about a deep sea being.

I discovered three poetry collections with Chinese, Persian and Russian poetry and they looked so beautiful that I couldn’t resist getting them. I love the poetry of Li Bai, Wang Wei, Rumi and Maria Tsvetaeva and was hoping to read more poetry. I have dipped into these collections and they are nice. The Chinese collection is called ‘300 Tang Dynasty Poems‘ and it features all the greats and it is a classic.

Lolita‘ was gifted to me by one of my favourite friends. It is one of the books in this collection that I’ve actually read. Nabokov’s prose is beautiful but the book was hard to read because of the theme it covers. I discovered one of my favourite lines ever when I read it – “And the rest is rust and stardust.” It gave me goosebumps when I read it the first time. Still does.

I read Edmund Blunden’s First World War memoir ‘Undertones of War‘, and loved it, and so I decided to get Robert Graves‘ more famous memoir of the war, ‘Goodbye to All That‘. Have read the first few pages, and it was very good. Hoping to get back to it soon.

Last Christmas I got into a major Thomas Mann buying spree. ‘Joseph and his brothers‘ was regarded by Mann himself as his greatest work, but it had a complicated publishing history and was not easily available. I discovered that a new translation of this epic has come out recently and one of my friends helped me get it. It is the size of ‘War and Peace‘ and so definitely epic, and I don’t know when I’ll get to it, but I hope to, sometime.

So, that’s my Everyman Library collection 😊 These days I don’t collect books in a conscious way and I just get what I hope to read. Most of the time these days, it is Kindle editions, because there is no space at home.

Do you collect specific editions of books? Which is your favourite edition?

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Pliskova serving for the match with two match points,” chimed the two commentators together, as if they were singing a duet. Pliskova tossed the ball, and then caught it. There was an audible sigh throughout the stadium. Pliskova smiled like a nervous schoolgirl. One of the commentators, the great Martina, laughed gently. The other commentator said softly, “Deep breath, deep breath“, as if he was egging Pliskova on. Pliskova, of course, couldn’t hear all this. She was all alone in the middle of the court. She was serving for the match. On the opposite side of the net, her opponent nicknamed ‘The Tiger’ was waiting to pounce on her serve. There was pindrop silence. It was hard to believe that the stadium was full and there were thousands of people there. Pliskova tossed the ball again. Then she hit her serve. The ball soared into the opposite side of the court and zoomed past the Tiger at the speed of light. It was an ace. Pliskova raised her hands and then she smiled. This was a smile of happiness, of relief. The audience in the stadium stood up and gave her a standing ovation. I don’t think Pliskova has ever received such love from tennis fans before. Her husband screamed in their box with happiness. Her coach cried. I almost expected the other Pliskova, Kristyna, to be there, cheering her. It would have been fun to see one Pliskova in the court raising her arms and an identical Pliskova among the audience cheering.

Pliskova smiling nervously like a schoolgirl just before serving for the match
Pliskova raises her hands after serving an ace at matchpoint

Karolina Pliskova has been around for quite a while. She has been in the top 10 as long as I can remember. She has been one of the most consistent performers in the women’s circuit. She has also been one of the big hitters and she has regularly topped the aces count among women players at the end of the year. But she had never had much luck in grand slams. She reached one US Open final five years back, but outside of that, her grand slam record was quite patchy. It was odd, because she had a great serve, wonderful shots, a powerful game. It was strange that this was the first time she had gone past the fourth round at Wimbledon, because her serve alone was made for Wimbledon. As Pliskova continued playing consistently for a decade, she saw young upstarts coming out of nowhere going on to win a grand slam and then sliding back into obscurity. She must have wondered what it took to win a grand slam, and why these upstarts were doing it while she couldn’t, though she turned up everyday, played consistently, stayed in the top 10, and played the year end tournament every year. Maybe she thought of all this, when she was serving at matchpoint. But that is all in the past now. That serve soared over the net and it was one of the great moments of this year’s Wimbledon and now it is a part of history. Pliskova is on the other side now and today is a new day and it is a new match. Pliskova’s fans are getting a feeling that this time something is different, they are seeing a steely determination in Pliskova’s face and in her demeanor. Pliskova played the best match of her life to get past the game’s biggest powerhitter, Aryna Sabalenka, nicknamed ‘The Tiger’. Sabalenka didn’t play a bad match. She played a brilliant match. But it was not enough. Sabalenka will have her time under the sun. The Tiger will roar again. But this was Pliskova’s day.

Today evening, Pliskova plays the likeable Ash Barty, who is everyone’s darling, for the championship. The Wimbledon crowd is going to be on Barty’s side. I am not going to make any predictions, but my sentimental favourite is going to be Pliskova. I always love the underdog. If Pliskova gets her serve in, like she did in the semifinals, Barty is going to have a tough time. It is going to be a great match.

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When Swiss great Roger Federer was once asked about the essay that David Foster Wallace wrote about him, Federer said that he enjoyed reading it and it was beautiful and he loved David Foster Wallace’s writing. Or he said something like that. Roger Federer’s fans, many of whom were nerds, were ecstatic when they heard what he said. Among tennis players, a significant proportion of Federer’s fans seem to be nerds. When nerd fans heard Federer gushing about David Foster Wallace, they probably fantasized that Federer has read Wallace’s epic book ‘Infinite Jest’, and maybe he has read Jonathan Franzen and William Gaddis too. Being from Switzerland, he probably has thoughts on his fellow countryman Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s memoirs and his philosophy, and maybe he has one or two insights to share on Immanuel Kant’s and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Something similar happened when the great Serena Williams read Maya Angelou’s famous poem, ‘Still I Rise’. (You can find the video here . It is beautiful and inspiring.) Serena’s fans were ecstatic. They fantasized that Serena has probably read the rest of Maya Angelou’s work including her famous memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. Maybe Serena has also read the works of Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler and James Baldwin and she has one or two insights to share on the differences between Paul Laurence Dunbar’s and Langston Hughes’ poetry and the common themes in Jacqueline Woodson’s and Jesmyn Ward’s fiction.

Nerds have this fantasy about their favourite sportspersons – that their favourite sportsperson reads like them, and thinks deeply about intellectual issues like them, and has insights to offer on the finer points of philosophical debates. This is all just pure fantasy, of course. Successful sportspersons don’t have time to read, because reading demands long uninterrupted time. A successful sportsperson’s life is filled with training, keeping their fitness level up, playing matches and lots of travelling. When they are not doing these things, their lives are filled with interrupts, as they have to give interviews, make media appearances, satisfy their sponsors’ requests, go for ad shootings and other such things. There is no time for reading and deep contemplation. They probably have a nerd in their team who tells them in five minutes about David Foster Wallace or Maya Angelou and they probably work this into their conversations or any kind of public speaking they do. The logical part of our mind knows this, but the tennis-fan-plus-nerd part of our mind fantasizes that Federer or Serena or another favourite sportsperson is also a nerd and reads serious books and contemplates on the meaning of life and the fate of history. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. If Federer or Serena spent their time reading, they wouldn’t be legends in their sport. Their sport demands action and that is what they are great at and that is what they do everyday. Reading and contemplating is for mundane people like the rest of us, who have the uninterrupted time and the patience to indulge in it.

Like everything else in life, there are, of course, exceptions to this. For some reason, there used to be nerds in cricket. The English batsman, Chris Tavaré, after retiring from cricket, went back to high school to teach biology. It is hard to imagine something like this happening today, but it did then. Another English batsman, John Crawley, also went back to high school to teach, and became a headmaster. I am not sure which subject he taught.

Mike Brearley, the great English captain, became a psychologist and therapist after he retired from cricket. Brearley was one of those odd cricketers. He mainly played as a batsman throughout his career but he was not great at it. To put it mildly, he was below average. Someone like him should have never made it into an international team. Brearley himself jokes about it in one of his books – “Rodney Hogg recently raised this role with me on air, asking with apparent innocence, “Why did you give up wicket-keeping, Mike?” “I wasn’t very good at it,” I replied. “But you carried on batting?” he said. Point taken!” By a series of extremely unlikely circumstances, Mike Brearley, who was a below-par batsman, became the English team captain. And that is where he realized his potential. He was a great leader, he inspired his team, and led them to great heights. He was still a bad batsman, but he became one of the greatest captains that the cricketing world had ever seen. After he retired, the English team got a new, young captain. But then things started going badly for them. The selectors invited Brearley back into the team. He came back. His hair was prematurely grey, he couldn’t bat or bowl or field, he came low down in the batting order because he couldn’t buy a run, and he stood in the slips, because he didn’t have to run around and field the ball. But he inspired his team with his direction and leadership and his smart decisions on the field and his clear communication, that within a short span of a few weeks, they performed some amazing deeds and went back to being world beaters again. When Brearley retired a second time, he became a psychologist and a therapist. He also wrote a book called ‘The Art of Captaincy’ which is a nerd’s delight. These days Brearley continues coming out with the occasional book and they are unlike most other cricket books – they are intelligent, smart, have beautiful prose and are nerdy. Frequently, Brearley writes about sport and music and art and philosophy in the same breath. He is well read and well informed and clearly looks like the contemplative type – an oddball among sportspersons. He is the one sportsperson with whom you feel you can discuss Kant’s philosophy and Rembrandt’s art and Mozart’s music. Brearley cannot hold a candle to Federer as a sportsperson. But as a nerd, he is in a different league. If you are a Brearley fan and you dreamed that he was a nerd, you got exactly that.

Another nerd from cricket was Ed Smith. Smith was a reasonably successful county cricketer. He even got a couple of opportunities to play test cricket and he didn’t do badly, but he didn’t get picked for the English team again and ended up retiring as a county cricketer. But during his time as a county cricketer, he wrote a diary which he published called ‘On and Off the Field’. It was beautiful, intelligent, smart. It was almost like reading a Brearley book. He backed it up with more books including one comparing cricket and baseball. They were all wonderful, written by someone who was clearly a nerd. Ed Smith went on to become the Chairman of MCC, like Mike Brearley, and even served for sometime as the Chief Selector of the English team. It has been a while since he published his last book. Fans are expecting a new book from him anytime now.

In Indian cricketing circles, Rahul Dravid is regarded as a nerd, as someone who reads a lot and who contemplates on things. There was also an interesting incident which happened sometime back – Indian cricketer Mithali Raj was once caught reading a collection of Rumi’s poetry while she was waiting for her turn to bat in a World Cup match. There was a lot of buzz in social media at that time, as that picture went viral.

But even in cricket, nerds are rare. The above are exceptions.

In tennis, nerds are non-existent. Tennis players start playing by the time they are ten years old, and they continue playing till their middle thirties, that is for nearly twenty-five years. Many of them don’t finish high school, or probably they do homeschooling and most don’t go to college, because of the demands of the game. Tennis is a game of action and there is no time to be a nerd. Atleast that is what I thought. Till I discovered Mihaela Buzarnescu.

Mihaela Buzarnescu is a Romanian tennis player. She is around thirty three years old, so that means she has been around for a while. She is a left hander and she has the leftie’s natural elegance. Her game is so beautiful that I can sit and watch her serve and play her forehand for the whole day. She can also hit all the other beautiful shots, the drop shot and the lob and even the moonshot. She played Serena Williams in the recent French Open and took a set off Serena. There were many beautiful points in that match and at some point Mihaela and Serena were laughing at the way things were going. As luck would have it, Mihaela was drawn to play Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon. She gave a good account of herself and the match went into three sets, and Mihaela brought her beautiful all-round game to the court, and in my opinion, at one point she was in command of the match, but it was still not enough against a legend like Venus, and Venus’ power game prevailed in the end. Mihaela Buzarnescu’s beautiful game is good enough for one to become her fan. But that is not the only beautiful thing about her. There is more to her than meets the eye.

Mihaela Buzarnescu is ranked around 190 in tennis now. There is no connection between her beautiful, competitive game and her low ranking. I wondered why she was ranked so low. I discovered that she had been beset by frequent injuries in the past and sometimes those injuries led to long breaks from the game. But Mihaela was not one to be fazed by that. Once, when she was forced by injuries into one of her long breaks from the game, she told herself – “Okay, I’m going to do something fun. I’m not going to just sit and mope around. Let me go to university and study something. And while I’m at it, let me go all the way.” And she went and did that. When Roger Federer took a long break from tennis because of injury, he told himself – “I’ll get fit again, I’ll practise hard, I’ll get competitive, I want to play Wimbledon again.” And he did just that. When Mihaela Buzarnescu took a long break from tennis because of injury, she went to university and got herself a Ph.D degree. Yes, you are reading it right. She got herself a Ph.D. That is how she became a nerd. It is appropriate to call her Dr. Mihaela Buzarnescu now.

I don’t know any other tennis player who has a Ph.D degree. Forget tennis, I don’t know any sportsperson who has got a Ph.D degree. There are Indian universities which dole out Ph.D degrees to celebrities like candy. I’m not talking about that kind of Ph.D. I’m talking about the real academic kind in which you attend classes and study and build your expertise in a particular field and then research on a particular topic, extend the frontiers of your field, write a dissertation about it, and defend it in front of an evaluating committee – I’m talking about that kind of Ph.D. Mihaela Buzarnescu did exactly that. As a tennis nerd, Mihaela Buzarnescu hit the ball out of the park. I am a certified nerd, and even I don’t have a Ph.D. When I read about Mihaela’s Ph.D, I got goosebumps.

I don’t know how long Mihaela will continue playing tennis. She is thirty three now. And she looks pretty fit. I hope she continues playing for atleast a few more years. She has the game to reach the second week of a grand slam. I would like to see her play in the semifinals or the final of a grand slam one day. She will delight many other tennis fans with her beautiful aesthetic game as she has delighted me. She is waiting to be discovered by mainstream tennis fans. But I am more interested in finding out what she will do after she retires from tennis. Will she become the Fed cup team captain? Will she get into tennis administration? Will she coach kids to play tennis? Or will she nurture her nerdy side and become a professor at university? I hope all these are in the distant future, but I can’t wait to find out!

Mihaela Buzarnescu with the trophy after she won her first title

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When Alja Tomljanovic was playing fellow Australian Ashley Barty in the Wimbledon quarterfinals a few days back, Matteo Berrettini, who himself was playing the quarterfinal the next day, dropped by at Tomljanovic’s box and started cheering for her. This, of course, could mean only one thing. That they were both in a romantic relationship. Close friendships between active male and female tennis players are rare. I know of only one exception – the friendship between Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova. They both became friends during their teens and have stayed friends since. When Maria Sharapova was banned from playing tennis for a year for fake drug allegations, Djokovic was the only leading player, male or female, who stood by her. I am not a big fan of Djokovic as a player, though I am a huge admirer of his game, but I love him off the court and his friendship with Sharapova is one of the reasons for that. I am not a big fan of Sharapova on or off the court, but I love it when she and Djokovic hang out together. These two remind me of the leading characters in ‘Friends‘ and ‘Will and Grace‘. But outside of this one exception, I’ve never seen a close friendship between an active male and female tennis player.

One might conclude from this that romantic relationships between tennis players are quite prevalent. But tennis couples are rare. It is odd. Because tennis players start their careers in their middle or late teens and are travelling and living in a bubble most of the time, meeting mostly only fellow tennis players and tennis-related people till their early or middle thirties, when they call it a day, and retire from their sport. Spending around fifteen to twenty years of their life in this way, we would expect that tennis players would hang out with each other, have a drink, and fall in love. But it happens rarely. Many male tennis players get married to a model or an actress and many female tennis players get married to a rich businessman with a low public profile.

Fortunately, magic happens sometimes. I remember reading that in 1974 when Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert won Wimbledon as teenagers, they both confessed that they were in love and they were together. All tennis fans at that time were ecstatic. But it was too good to be true and it didn’t last long. Before long they had broken up. Many years later Connors wrote in his memoir about the reason they broke up and Chris Evert was upset with it, because she felt that he had revealed information which was private between them. Chris Evert went on to marry British tennis player John Lloyd, but that also didn’t last. I don’t think there were any tennis romances in the ’80s or ’90s. In the late ’90s though, one day Steffi Graf turned up in Andre Agassi’s box and cheered him during a tournament. There was speculation among fans and there was a buzz around. Agassi finally revealed that they were in a relationship. Many fans were excited. I was not. For me, Steffi Graf was a legend who was elegant and graceful, and Andre Agassi was a regular tennis player who behaved badly. Of course, I was wrong – Agassi was a tennis great himself and he had won eight singles grand slams and was the first player to win a career grand slam since Rod Laver did it more than thirty years before him. Not even Pete Sampras or Bjorn Borg had that record. But for us Steffi Graf fans, no one was good enough for our favourite Steffi, not even Agassi. But unlike the Evert-Connors romance, the Steffi-Agassi story had a happy ending. They are both happily married now and have kids and they both seem to be doing well.

Sometime after this, it emerged that the Belgian great Kim Clijsters was dating Lleyton Hewitt and they were a couple. I think Kim Clijsters was the women’s World No.1 at that time and Lleyton Hewitt was the men’s World no.1. Whenever Kim Clijsters went to Australia, Hewitt’s home country, to play the Australian Open, the crowd regarded her as a local Aussie girl and cheered her whenever she stepped on court. The Clijsters-Hewitt romance continued for a few years, but like most tennis romances, it didn’t have a happy ending. Kim Clijsters went on to marry someone else, retired from the sport, became a mom and had a baby, and then came back a few years later. Her second innings as a tennis player was more spectacular than the first, as she went on to win multiple grand slams. One of my favourite moments was when she brought her baby to court after she had won the US Open and posed for pictures with her baby and with her trophy. It gave me goosebumps.

One of the little known tennis romances was between Swiss great Roger Federer and his wife Mirka. They were tennis players who met at the Olympics and they fell in love and they have stayed together since, being happily married now with kids. Mirka is well-known as Federer’s partner and for a time as his manager too, but not many know that she was a tennis player herself. This was a tennis romance with a happy and beautiful ending.

In recent years, tennis fans were excited by new budding romances. When it emerged that one of my favourite doubles players Kristina Mladenovic, and Dominic Thiem, one of the up-and-coming players in the men’s tour who was challenging the big three, were a couple, I was excited. I had never bothered with Dominic Thiem before, but after discovering that he was the partner of one of my favourite players, I started supporting him and following his matches with interest. That is what we tennis fans do, right – support the partners and family of our favourite tennis players? Of course, things didn’t go well after a while. The eventual breaking up happened and fans like me blamed Dominic Thiem for it. Surprisingly, though both the players must have been going through a difficult time emotionally as they were nursing heartbreaks, they seemed to have channelled their grief into their tennis, as Thiem went on to win his first singles grand slam, breaking the hegemony of the big three, while Mladenovic went on to win multiple doubles grand slams with her partner and friend Tímea Babos. Unfortunately for them, the slump happened later, and they are both in a tricky situation in their careers right now.

When I was watching the French Open a few weeks back, after a match which the Ukrainian great Elina Svitolina won, the interviewer Fabrice Santoro asked Svitolina whether she and her fiance Gaël Monfils talked about tennis at home. I screamed, “What!” I didn’t even know that they were together! This was big news! This was also the first interracial romance I have ever seen in the tennis world. Tennis romances are rare. An interracial tennis romance is like sighting a rare bird or a flower which blooms once in fifty years. It was amazing to think about. I don’t know how they got together (she is Ukrainian, he is French), but I think it will be a fascinating story. Svitolina laughed at Santoro’s question and joked that she was the boss at home. Then she said that it was wonderful to have a partner who understands her job and the highs and lows she goes through. It was beautiful to hear.

Alison Van Uytvanck is one of my favourite tennis players. I still don’t know how to pronounce her second name, but that hasn’t prevented me from falling in love with her game. She is big and looks like a power hitter, and she can hit powerful shots as much as the next player, but she is a tennis romantic at heart and she frequently plays soft dropshots and pulls them off. Sometimes she wrongfoots the opponent and gently swipes the ball to the opposite side of the court, a shot which has not been seen on a tennis court since the ’80s. She believes in caressing the ball rather than smashing it. It is like a huge lioness or a bear who treats her cubs gently with love. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she was gay and her partner was also her doubles partner on court, Greet Minnen. Tennis couples are rare, but gay tennis couples, I’ve never seen one. There have been other gay women tennis players before. The legendary Martina Navratilova was one. Another legend, Billie Jean King, the founder of the WTA, was another. But women tennis players who are gay normally keep quiet about their orientation. I was surprised when I discovered that one of my favourite players, Australian legend Sam Stosur was gay, when she and her partner shared a picture with their new baby. I was delighted and got goosebumps when I saw that picture. I’ve never heard of a male gay tennis player till now. I’m sure there are some (or many) but it looks like they don’t want to talk about it. So I was very excited when I heard about Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen.

Now, of course, the Berrettini-Tomljanovic romance is the latest one to bloom in the tennis world. Or the latest that I’m hearing about. These are the three active tennis romances in the tennis world right now. History is against them. The past is against them. I am particularly worried about Elina Svitolina and Gaël Monfils because of the differences in culture – cross-cultural, interracial relationships go through lots of stress and pulls from different sides. Elina and Gaël have already gone through a breakup, but they have survived and have come back with a bang. Hopefully things will become more and more beautiful from here.

For romantics like me, the past is not a guide to the future, and I feel that we break new ground everyday and change life in beautiful ways. So I hope these three romances thrive and these couples have beautiful lives and have exciting stories to tell their children and grandchildren.

For Ajla Tomljanovic, Matteo Berrettini’s support didn’t help much during her match. She lost her quarterfinal to Ashley Barty. But the next day, when Berrettini was playing his own quarterfinal against Felix Auger-Aliassime, who do you think was there in his box to support him – surprise, surprise, it was Ajla Tomljanovic. This time things went the right way, and the support worked and Berrettini went on to win the match. There were even a few laughs at matchpoint which was shared by Berettini, his opponent and best friend Auger-Aliassime, and their partners Ajla Tomljanovic and Nina Ghaibi, who were cousins, and who were sitting in the same box, cheering on their partners. It was a beautiful family moment.

In the pictures :

Matteo supporting his girlfriend Ajla during her match at Wimbledon
Ajla returning the support with compliments while sharing a laugh at matchpoint

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One of my schoolmates shared a vintage Indian ad for a bicycle. It triggered off some nostalgic memories for me.

A vintage Indian ad showing an Indian woman in a sari riding a bicycle

I learnt how to ride a bicycle when I was around ten years old. When I was around twelve, my dad got me my own bicycle. During those days, the bicycles which were popular among pre-teens and teens were the models made by Hero and BSA. These models were cool and stylish and used to come in many colours – red and blue used to be favourites among young people. There were other brands which were popular among older people, like Hercules and Atlas and Philips which were heavy and sturdy. When my dad decided to get a bicycle for me, he took my uncle along. My uncle said that the best bicycle out there was Humber and the second best was Raleigh. Everything else was third. The prices seemed to indicate that – Humber was the most expensive and the second most expensive was Raleigh. I wondered why, because I couldn’t tell the difference between them and other brands. I had never heard of Humber or Raleigh before and none of my friends had them. Later I discovered that my uncle’s bicycle was a Humber. My dad asked me which one I wanted. Those days Indian kids were taught that they shouldn’t choose the best or the most expensive, because they didn’t deserve them, and they also shouldn’t choose the cheapest one because the quality of that wouldn’t be good, and so they should follow Aristotle’s golden mean and choose the one in between. So for me, Humber was out, and most other models were priced low and so they were out too. So Raleigh, it was. This is the kind of weird decision that people like me made those days, never comparing products and their features but using Aristotelean logic. None of my friends had a Raleigh bicycle or seen one, and as long as I had it, I was the only person I knew who had a Raleigh. Recently one of my schoolfriends told me that his grandfather had a Raleigh and he gifted it to my friend later.

I later discovered that Raleigh was a British company which was more than a century old and was a leader in bicycles once upon a time. Even decades after the British had left India, Indians continued loving and admiring British products and that showed in my uncle’s admiration for Humber and Raleigh. I wonder now whether the model I had was the original nineteenth century one and whether this was the bicycle Jerome K. Jerome wrote about in ‘Three Men in a Bummel‘.

Vintage British ads showing a young people riding Raleigh bicycles

The Raleigh bicycle that I got was heavy, but once I got used to it, it was good and I loved it. I started going to school in it and later to college. My first school was probably five kilometres away from my home and my second school was probably around ten kilometres away. Just cycling to school meant that I got a lot of exercise done naturally and it kept me very fit. I also went to the library and read a lot there, visited bookshops, went to movies, and helped my mom in buying groceries or for getting money for her from the bank. I didn’t do anything fancy with my Raleigh bicycle, but I took long rides in it, sometimes to travel from one place to another and sometimes for fun. It opened up new worlds for an introvert like me. I remember once I even took a ride on it to the university which was probably more than twenty kilometres away and another time I took a ride to the Agricultural college which was also of similar distance. My Raleigh almost never broke down when I was riding – it was sturdy and smooth and tough. A BSA bicycle which looked cool and stylish wouldn’t have been able to withstand the stress that I put my Raleigh through. Of course, the occasional issue cropped up. There were always tyre punctures which I had to contend with and once in a while there were major problems for which I had to take it to the bicycle service shop. The bicycle repair guy would tell me to come back after a couple of hours and collect my bicycle, but I would always stay and watch him work. When he removed the wheel and the inner parts of it and a lot of bearing balls came tumbling out, it was fascinating to watch! I didn’t know that a bicycle had so many intricate parts! The bicycle repair guy almost became my friend because of my visits to his repair shop and he taught me a lot of things about bicycles. When my sister got married, I invited him to the wedding. He didn’t come through. He knew what I didn’t know when I was young – that we were on different sides of the social divide and he would feel extremely awkward if he had come. I always felt that socioeconomic divides never mattered in a friendship and this is probably true when we are kids, but unfortunately, between grownups it always comes in the way at times, and makes things awkward, even if someone like me didn’t care about it.

There used to be bicycle races in my locality during festival times, when I was in my teens. These were not regular bicycle races, but were called ‘slow-cycle’ races. The competitors would ride a bicycle, but the winner would be the guy who rides his bicycle so slow that he comes last. The rules were simple – once you are on the bicycle, you can’t come off it or touch the street with your feet, and your bicycle has to be in continuous motion. It was a very tough competition, and most of the participants gave up halfway through, because they broke one of the rules. A guy called John was an expert in slow-cycle racing and he used to win every year. It was amazing to watch him expertly keep the bicycle balanced while at the same time riding it really slowly. We flocked every year to the street which doubled as the racing track to watch him showcase his brilliant skills and cheer him.

I had a few close shaves while riding my Raleigh. Once a bus came in front from the opposite direction and I swerved to one side to avoid it and I fell on the side of the road on top of some stuff which was piled up there. My hand was sprained and I had to get a plastercast which stayed for a month. Another time a bus came very close from behind me and it was speeding and it hit my hand which was holding the bicycle handle and nearly knocked me off. My hand was in pain for days after that. The third time, I nearly got caught between a bus and a lorry – I was trying to overtake a bus which had stopped at a bus stop, but the bus suddenly started and accelerated and a lorry was coming on the opposite side, and I nearly got caught between them. I don’t know how I survived that day. I have to thank my lucky stars.

I also met one of my best friends of that time because of my Raleigh. I was going to college one day and when I turned into the main road, my neighbour was walking. It looked like she had missed her bus to her office. I asked her if I could help and drop her at her office as it was on my way and she was happy to take my help. As our leaving times coincided in the morning, at some point we started leaving together in the morning and I started dropping her off at work everyday. We had many wonderful conversations on the way. She had been working for a few years and so was a grown-up while I was a student and so still a kid from her perspective. She became a big sister and mentor to me. My own sister became jealous of this friendship and tried putting spokes in it and it was funny for me to watch, because my own sister never bothered spending time with me before.

I rode my Raleigh for many years starting from my pre-teens till my middle twenties. Even after I finished college and went to work, though my office was too far to ride by bicycle, I used to ride it in the evenings or during weekends, going here and there. Then I left work and went to college again. That was the last time I rode my Raleigh, though I didn’t know it then. When I finished my second degree and came back home, it was gone. My dad told me that one of our neighbours had asked for it, and as I was away and the bicycle was gathering rust, he had sold it away. I felt sad. I had never had a pet, though I loved cats and dogs, and my Raleigh was the closest to a pet that I had ever had. I had never given it a name, like people do these days to their bicycles. I wish I had. I mourned the passing of my old friend which had served me loyally for many years.

When I was a kid, bicycles were a common sight in India. Most families had one. Sometimes they had more than one. Boys and girls had different kinds of bicycles. Young women wore saris and salwars and rode their bicycles to school or college or work. Women riding a bicycle wearing saris was a sight which was unique to India. But with the passing of time, things changed. Italian mopeds and scooters and Japanese bikes started arriving in India. While in Italy, mopeds were regarded as fun vehicles which one rented and rode during the holidays while going to the beach, in India they became vehicles which people used for regular transportation, for going to school and college and to work. People graduated from bicycles to mopeds to scooters to motorbikes. And later when the small cars of Italian or Japanese design arrived, those who could afford them, got them. Once upon a time Indian roads were filled with bicycles, and every street corner had a bicycle repair shop. But with all these big changes happening, and with more and more people able to afford these bigger faster vehicles, both bicycles and their repair shops disappeared. Bicycle manufacturers closed down or they started making motorbikes. Today, there is a motorcycle repair shop near my home which services fancy bikes like Harley Davidsons and Triumphs and KTMs, but there is no bicycle repair shop.

A bicycle was never a lifestyle thing in India, except maybe among teenagers. People didn’t ride it because they would stay fit. People rode it because it was a medium of transport which was very affordable. It turned out that it also helped them stay fit. But with other modes of transport becoming affordable, the bicycle died a quiet death. I have heard people from my parents’ generation say that things were better during old times. I generally don’t agree with that sentiment – as humans we always have a tendency to be nostalgic about our childhood or our teens and say that it was a golden era. But on one thing, I would say that things were better during old times. There were bicycles around then and most people learnt to ride them. Bicycles provided exercise without us even realizing it. I cycled 20 kilometres to my school and later to my college everyday. I didn’t do any other exercise. I hated doing exercise. But I loved cycling. And it kept me fit, as it did millions of others. I miss that.

In recent years, when the Tour de France became suddenly popular in India, there was a brief revival of cycling in India. But the people who were doing it were different from those who cycled during old times. These new guys were corporate types who admired Lance Armstrong and other Tour de France winners and imagined themselves in their shoes. These were the guys who never rode a bicycle in their lives before and who probably regarded a bicycle and it’s rider with contempt, but who now wanted to do it, because it was regarded as cool. They started posting pictures in social media with captions like ‘Me and my Bike’. So suddenly new types of bicycles started making an appearance on the roads with gears and reflectors and riders who wore helmets and sunglasses. International bicycle companies realized that there might be a market in India and they brought their overpriced racing bicycles here. One of my book club friends had three of them, and the highest priced bicycle he had cost as much as a small car. But like all fads, this one also died after a while. The new bicycle shops which sold fancy bicycles and accessories started closing down.

I never owned a bicycle again. I rode my friend’s bicycle a couple of times, but otherwise I haven’t even ridden one in years. I hope I haven’t forgotten how to ride. Sometime back I thought I’ll revive my bicycling. I don’t think I have the confidence now to ride on main roads or highways, but I thought I’ll take rides in my locality and maybe go to the beach. I went to the bicycle shop and checked out different models. I told the guy there that I’ll think about it and get back soon. But I procrastinated for too long and the shop closed down. Maybe I’ll try again when normalcy resumes. It will be interesting to see how this second innings of bicycling goes.

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Yesterday, late at night, I was watching my favourite Netflix show, when I suddenly remembered A.J.Cronin. It made me smile.

A.J.Cronin was probably the first literary fiction writer that I ever read. I was in my middle teens when I first discovered his books. I still remember how it happened. I was at the bookshop one day, browsing. I used to spend a lot of time in bookshops even then, when people my age were playing cricket or watching TV or gossiping. When I was browsing at the bookshop, I saw Cronin’s ‘The Citadel‘ in one of the shelves. I’ve never heard of him before. Most of the books at the bookshop were not affordable for me, and so I mostly spent time browsing, but this one was priced so low that I was surprised. I’d never seen a full novel at this price and I couldn’t resist getting it. I read it a little later and I loved it. Sometime later, when I went to the library, I saw another Cronin book. I couldn’t resist borrowing that and reading it. This continued happening and Cronin’s books started cropping up everywhere – I saw them at the library or at secondhand bookshops and I continued getting them and I loved most of them. I didn’t know anyone who had read Cronin. None of my friends or acquaintances had heard of him. He was my secret.

I continued reading Cronin’s books till my late twenties, but at some point it was hard to get them, because they went out of print and secondhand copies were hard to come by. I spotted the occasional copy at the library, but otherwise Cronin had just disappeared. When the Kindle arrived, I looked for Cronin’s books but they weren’t there. During the peak of his career, Cronin was a very popular writer, and many of his books were made into movies or TV series, but now it looked like he had disappeared. I was surprised when in one of the online bookclubs I used to be a part of, readers one day started discussing Cronin. I didn’t know anyone else who had read his books. Most of the readers who discussed Cronin’s books were closer in age to my mother, and when I told them that I loved Cronin’s books, they were surprised, because according to them, I was too young to have read Cronin.

Most of Cronin’s stories were about doctors – ‘The Citadel‘, my most favourite book of his, was about a doctor who worked in a mining village and his wife who was a teacher there; ‘The Green Years‘ was about a boy who wanted to become a doctor; ‘Grand Canary‘ was a story set in a ship in which the main character was a drunk doctor. ‘Adventures of a Black Bag‘ was about a doctor called Dr.Finlay and the cases he handles in a small town / village. ‘Adventures in a Black Bag’ was probably based on Cronin’s own experiences as a doctor and it became quite famous when it was first published. It was made into a TV series which was very popular. I think this might have been the forerunner of and the inspiration for most of the TV series which followed in future decades, including two popular Netflix series now, ‘Doc Martin‘ and ‘Virgin River‘, which are about doctors in small towns / villages. The doctor in ‘Virgin River’ looks like a drunk doctor who is perennially annoyed and he almost looks like a character who has stepped out of the pages of one of Cronin’s books.

So yesterday, when I suddenly remembered Cronin, I paused my Netflix show, and searched for Cronin’s books on the Kindle. When I pressed the ‘Search’ button, I was in for a surprise. Page after page of listings turned up with Cronin’s books! I’ve never seen that before! It was like a lost treasure had been found suddenly and Christmas came early. I was so thrilled!

I couldn’t resist buying the Cronin books, of course! I wanted to add every title which was listed, but then had to resist temptation and pick more carefully. I got all my favourites, ‘The Citadel’, ‘The Green Years’, ‘Lady with Carnations’. ‘Lady with Carnations‘ is one of the Cronin books in which the main character is not a doctor. The story is about an aunt and a niece who are very fond of each other, but then surprisingly discover that they are both in love with the same man. What happens after that is very beautiful. I also got ‘Shannon’s Way‘ which was the sequel to ‘The Green Years’. I always wanted to find out what happened to the boy in ‘The Green Years’ who wanted to become a doctor. I am excited to find that out when I read ‘Shannon’s Way’. I also got ‘Adventures of a Black Bag’, ‘The Innkeeper’s Wife‘, Cronin’s alternate Christmas story on the Nativity, ‘Hatter’s Castle‘, Cronin’s first book which I’ve always wanted to read, ‘Adventures in Two Worlds‘, Cronin’s autobiography, in which Cronin describes how he started out as a doctor and ended up also becoming a writer. There were not many doctors who wrote stories in the pre-Second World era (I think Somerset Maugham was trained as a doctor but didn’t practise, while Anton Chekhov was probably one of the few practising doctors who also wrote stories) and so that should make interesting reading.

I’m so excited to get started. I think I’ll probably read ‘The Green Years’ again and then get to ‘Shannon’s Way’. My long dream of reading ‘Shannon’s Way’ is finally going to be realized and I’m so excited!

Have you read A.J.Cronin? Which of his books are your favourites?

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