“They banned music, movies, television, computers, picnics, and wedding parties. No New Years’s celebrations, or any kind of mixed-sex gathering; no children’s toys, including dolls and kites, card and board games or chess. No more cameras, or photographs, or paintings of people and animals. No more pet parakeets, cigarettes and alcohol, magazines and newspapers and most books. People were no allowed to be with or talk to foreigners. People could not applaud, not that there was anything to clap for.”
This is the backdrop against which The Taliban Cricket Club is set. The premise is fantastical but based on the fact that in the year 2000, the Taliban regime did actually apply for associate membership to the International Cricket Council, although the request was not accepted until after they were overthrown in 2001. It is unbelievable that a regime that banned clapping would encourage any kind of sport, but strange are the ways of men.
So we have Rukhsana, a 23-yr-old struggling to surviving in this claustrophobic environment, caring for her frail mother battling cancer and her 16-yr-old brother Jahan, whom she loves like a son. The story takes us through their struggles to put together a cricket team from among their trusted family members in the hope that victory in a local Cricket tournament organized by the Taliban, will offer them a chance at freedom and a new life. You’ll just have to read the book to find out whether or not they are successful!
The book is fast-paced and Murari manages to convincingly convey the prevailing dread and fragile hopes of his characters. He also manages to effectively portray the undercurrent of urgency and desperation that rule their lives on a daily basis. Danger lurks everywhere and simple chores like going to the market or posting a letter, that you and I take for granted, become an exercise in strategy and caution. Women are of course inconsequential and easy targets, and usually just the fact that they are ‘not men’ is enough to earn them death. Their fate is all the more chilling because it’s true and because we still live in a time where women are subjugated and oppressed in the name of religion, and because for the most part, we privileged ones do nothing but watch and commiserate, or turn a blind eye in the hopes that things will magically improve. There are many chilling scenes in the book that had me in tears of rage and frustration and yes, joy, because I was spared the torment through an accident of birth. But there were also heartening instances of promises fulfilled, help rendered, and lives risked for friendship and love.
Murari peppers the story with descriptions of Kabul before and during its longstanding conflicts, and little glimpses into Afghan life that I enjoyed – the ritual before a meal, the funeral rites and the idea of honor that Afghan men and women alike, seem to prize higher than life itself. He shows us a once beautiful city, scarred and lamenting in the face of its helplessness, mourning its fate and that of its people. Reading a book based in Afghanistan during the Taliban years, inevitably leads to comparisons with The Kite Runner – but the two are very different in style, pace, and story, although not perhaps in intent. I enjoyed this story, especially the transformation of a motley gang of individuals into a team. It is well-written, fast-paced and ultimately satisfying. I stayed up late into the night to finish it as I reached the nerve-wracking climax! This is another book that could well make for great Bollywood – it has all the essential ingredients – Cricket, a love-story, an exotic location, friendship, loyalty, and the mandatory good versus evil angle! Karan Johar – are you listening?! 😉
- Timeri N. Murari (thehindu.com)