Title: The Taliban Cricket Club
Authors: Timeri N. Murari
Publisher: Aleph Book Comapny
Price: Rs. 295
Snapshot: This story is a work of fiction around the fact that the Taliban did apply to ICC for Afghanistan to have a cricket team and to be included in international cricket. A family which includes a female reporter and her cousins form a team, as it becomes their only passport to get out of the Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.
The Review: With a cover page as eye catching as one the best pictures by National Geographic, in the region we have loved to read about "Afghanistan", the combination of Taliban and Cricket on top of that is just too much to resist. When I was gifted a hard copy of this book by my senior Swati who is a greater bookworm that I am, I was sure it was special. I couldn't resist but begin reading this book and gave it my complete holiday, just unable to put it down.
The story begins with Rukhsana, a free spirited under cover (being a female) journalist being summoned by Zorak Wahidi - Minister of Propogation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Taliban Goverment in Afghanistan.
Her only surviving parent is a mother suffering from cancer which has relapsed. She was a journalist with Kabul Daily, but the day Taliban came to power, the very man Zorak Wahidi, used physical violence to get women in her office understand that Taliban law "Women should be seen only in homes of graves", which ofcourse the meant the end of her career and many more like her. However, she was a bit of a rebel and continues writing about the miserable life of people, especially women as an alias via contacts for Hindustan Times in Delhi.
Upon reaching there, with her male companion (mahram) which was a must for women when they travel during the Taliban rule; she is happy to find her old editor in chief Yasir,and other journalists. They were summoned to publish an announcement that Afghanistan believes it should have a Cricket team, it being the only sport where sportsmen are covered. Civillians were invited to form teams and the team that won would get to go to Pakistan for a formal training. This is the best news men in Rukhsana, her brother Jahan and their cousins have heard. Most family business have been blown in the war, or shut down by Taliban. they also stopped all education, hence youngsters just waited endlessly with this nightmare rule to end. Many people were trying to escape, through any means possible, this opportunity presented as a bright ray in the darkest tunnel of their lives, luckily for them Rukhsana is the one who knows the game, has played for the college team when she studied in Delhi, India.
The author intelligently introduces the reader to Rukhsanas beautiful past in Delhi, Veer, her love in bits and pieces as she discovers the batting equipment. It is the story of immense attaraction, companionship, love and loss; as her family is an orthodox and she returns to Afghanistan post her studies. she doesn't rebel against her who had fixed her alliance with a distant cousin Shaheen, as is the ritual there. She dares to love in full knowledge of the fact but doesn't dare to stand up to her own father for Veer. The aches of love continue in bits and pieces as we know more about their story, Veers communication post their separation and his inability to get over her and vice versa. Shaheen on the other hand flees Afghanistan suddenly one night, leaving a meager that he would send money to her to join him in the USA and marry him, as promised. She waits endlessly for Shaheen, though in her heart loves Veer.
At this point the story gets a 180 degree twist when Wahidi sends his elder brother Droon, to fix a marriage alliance with Rukhsana. Her mother though sick and waiting for her end, her brother though younger and weighed by greater responsibilities, her cousins though distant just want her to escape, but under no circumstances marry a Talib. They get a momentart relief in the lie that Rukhsana had been attending a wedding in another town but his men continue to patrol the house to find her or the lie. But will the endeavour be fruitful? Will their team win against the state team of Afghanistan? Will she be able to save her only brother Jahan? To know all of this grab a copy.
Positives: Apart from a simple language and a steady flow the author plans Rukhsana's past to be revealed to the reader in bits, creating great curiosity in the beginning and satiating the same at the right moment. This also helps keep the note of the story lighter, giving the reader a hope that keeps him glued to the end. The best part however was the way he described the game of Cricket as the game that brings out the collective outcome of team work and individual excellence and traits at the same time. I was really skeptical the Cricket part, the detailing would bore me but no, it didn't not even for a minute. The fresh concept of Taliban and Cricket provides one the read, one was looking for, for a long time.
Negatives: The last part could have been made more dramatic, the escape seemed simpler after the entire euphoria of going through the entire story.
The Verdict: Highly recommended read. 3.5 stars on 5.
About the Author
Timeri N. Murari is an award-winning writer, filmmaker and playwright. Time magazine chose his film, The Square Circle, as one of its top ten films of 1997. His works include the bestselling novel Taj, which has been translated into 21 languages. He lives with his wife in his ancestral home in Chennai.