Not a Book Review. A book memory, rather.
You see this picture? This is one of the early covers of Sunil Gavaskar’s – one of India’s finest Test batsmen – autobiography, ‘Sunny Days’. This cover is special to me. Very special.
Let me tell you why.
I began actively watching cricket at the age of 9-10. But long before I had actually begun doting on the game, I had developed the habit of reading. So, I remember we had a chapter in our 5th standard English course book titled, ‘First Step’. Narrated in first person, it presented a brief account of Sunil Gavaskar’s growth in cricket and his childhood days of playing the sport. Two particular anecdotes from that chapter really fascinated me. One was on how Gavaskar was almost exchanged with the baby of a fisherwoman accidentally the day he was born and the other was on how he broke his mother’s nose once while playing cricket with her inside their house.
I remember really loving this particular passage:
“My most vivid recollection of my childhood cricket-playing days is the time I almost broke my mother's nose. She used to bowl to me in the small gallery of our house where we played our 'daily match' with a tennis ball. Since the area was small, she would kneel to bowl, or rather lob the ball to me. I hit one straight back and caught her bang on the nose which started bleeding. Although it was a tennis ball, the distance between the two of us was very short, which accounted for the force with which the ball hit her. I was frightened but she shrugged it off, washed her face and, as the bleeding stopped, we continued the game. But for the rest of the day it was only forward defence for me. I restrained myself and played no attacking shot.”
Although I hadn’t ever watched Gavaskar play, I knew him well as he was a household name back then. This chapter got me so captivated that I would read it out aloud several times over. A part of this habit was also deliberate. I wanted my brother – who would usually be studying at a few feet’s distance from me – to read about this as well. Being the awkward and diffident boy I was, instead of sharing this chapter directly with him, I would read it aloud in the hope that my brother would listen to me and enjoy the content. This trick finally worked one day, when I caught him smiling at the end of my narration.
Then, one morning, when I was re-reading a passage from this chapter aloud in my room, my uncle – a humongous cricket fan – who was passing by, stepped inside. He asked me, “What are you reading? Isn’t this from Sunny Days?”
“What is Sunny Days?” I asked him.
He informed me then that this was the first chapter from Sunil Gavaskar’s autobiography. I was surprised and on looking closer, I found that there was a note at the end of the chapter which mentioned the very same.
My uncle then told me that he had the book. “Would you like to read it?” he asked me.
“Yes, please,” I answered instantly.
That evening, my uncle took me to his room, and from his dusty old bookshelf, he took out the book titled ‘Sunny Days’. It had the same cover that you see here. And I was immediately hooked. Although my knowledge on cricket was limited back then, I had known about Gavaskar’s famous exploits in his debut series against the West Indies on countless occasions from my uncle.
“Do you know Gavaskar faced those fast bowlers without wearing any helmet?” he would often tell me.
With those little anecdotes about Gavaskar already ingrained in my mind, and having read that first chapter in my school text book, I dove into Sunny Days excitedly. In the next two days flat, I finished the book and was absolutely blown over. The book was written in 1976 – when Gavaskar was in the 6th year of his international career – and missed out on covering a lot of famous incidents that followed; especially the 1983 World Cup triumph. However, I did not care. I had thoroughly enjoyed reading about Gavaskar's growth as one of the world's greatest batsmen and primarily his memoirs of the 1970-71 Caribbean tour which was his debut tour as the member of the Indian team. I also loved the ‘calypso’ that Gavaskar shares in the 9th chapter – a little poem that was prepared lovingly on his name by the boisterous West Indian public for the batsman’s heroics in the islands.
"It was Gavaskar
The real master
Just like a wall
We couldn't out Gavaskar at all
Not at all
You know the West Indies couldn't out Gavaskar at all."
I remember discussing various aspects of the book with my uncle while he would be seated at his usual place at the extreme end of our house’s verandah. He would quietly munch on biscuits and sip tea while I would excitedly narrate portions of the book that I really loved.
Thus, Sunny Days became the first ever cricket book I read. It played a small yet significant part in kindling my love for cricket and has always had a special place in my heart.
Much later in life, I and my uncle parted and moved to different locations in the city. Since my uncle had taken Sunny Days along with him, I went on to purchase a ‘Sunil Gavaskar Omnibus’ a few years back that had all his books including Sunny Days. I have stayed in touch with my uncle and meet him often, discussing cricket over a host of other things.
Last evening, I visited him at his new place where he has just moved in. As we were having tea, my eyes fell on the bookshelf behind him. I noticed the title ‘Sunny Days’ protruding out among the other books and immediately picked it up. I hadn't seen it in years. Just looking at the cover invoked a flutter of emotions inside.
My uncle, who was eyeing me, said, “This is Sunil Gavaskar’s autobiography.”
Apparently, he had forgotten all about lending the very same book to me 20 years back.
“I see,” I mumbled quietly. I was too overwhelmed at having found a little piece of my childhood out of the blue.
“Would you like to read it?” he asked me.
I suppressed a smile, and said instantly, “Yes, please.”
As I was leafing through the book and letting the memories of reading it for the first time wash me over, my uncle went on rambling.
“Do you know Gavaskar played without any helmet even as an opener?”
I nodded, my eyes still fixed on the book.
“Do you know he scored over 700 runs against the lethal West Indian pace attack in his debut series?”
“774 runs, yes…” I replied.
I didn't look at him (there was something in my eyes, you see) but I could feel my uncle was impressed.
I brought the book back home and have accorded it a prized position on my bookshelf.
You know, we all seek a time machine at times, don’t we? But we fail to realize that the time machine is right there around us; sometimes in the form of a piece of clothing, a toy, a game, a photograph or sometimes a book that you had read as a child. I keep searching for my time machines from time to time and happened to find one last evening. And although it makes me sad and yearn for those days gone by, it makes me smile as well.
I will read this Sunny Days now. It feels good to reunite with the book after such a long time. I wish, though, that I could detach the sports writer in me for a bit as I re-read this and just experience it like a wide-eyed 10-year-old again. A part of me also wishes to read the first chapter, ‘First Steps’ aloud; hoping that perhaps I would see my brother smiling at my narration, sitting just a few feet away from me, or perhaps see my uncle strolling into my room once again, his eyes sparkling in curiosity at the name of Gavaskar...