Bowling for freedom on a sticky pitch
Aradhika Sharma

The Taliban Cricket Club
By Timeri N. Murari. Aleph. Pages 325. Rs 595.

Timeri N. Murari is a writer, filmmaker and playwright
Timeri N. Murari is a writer, filmmaker and playwright

You first reach out for the book because its cover is so attractively designed and then you learn that The Taliban Cricket Club has been written by the author of the bestseller, Taj and, Voila! You have two excellent reasons to get the book.

Murari is a writer, filmmaker and playwright living in India. Though he has written prolifically, The Taliban Cricket Club is his first novel to be published in the United States. Murari says that he got the idea for the novel in 2000 after reading that the Taliban had decided to make cricket an exception to their "no-sports" rule.

The book is simply written but a frightening mirror of Afghanistan under the regime of the Taliban. One woman, Rukhsana, takes on the Taliban on a battle field alien to them ó the cricket field. Itís a stimulating surmise and interesting and smooth execution.

So we are made familiar with battle-scarred Kabul, where the Taliban has set its terrible, dehumanising rule on a people who were used to song, dance and freedom and who are now, burqa clad and fearful, looking over their shoulders, petrified of being caught and terribly punished by the awful force of the moral police.

However, this force wants to prove to the world that they are not so awful after all ó and they do have a human face ó and so the ill-famed Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice hits upon the idea of having a cricket match. They figure that sports are the one area that all democratic and free countries respect and so, participation in international cricket will give them the respectability in the world that despises them.

Thus, Rukhsana, the undercover reporter, who is also looking after her ill mother and younger brother, Jahan, is summoned by the Minister, Zorak Wahidi. Rukhsana had lived for a while in Delhi, where she had also attended school, and learnt to play cricket. And so it was assumed that she would know the game and be able to instruct the team in its nuances.

And so, Talibanís intention to hold a cricket tournament is made. It is decided that the winner of the match will represent Afghanistan in international cricket. Itís a crazy idea and the feisty girl knows that. The Taliban playing a game that has its basis in fair play and sportsmanship is a laughable idea. But Rukhsana goes ahead with it, not just because sheís the only one in Afghanistan who knows the game, but also because she sees a chance of freedom for her family ó her cousins and her brother, who, once out of Afghanistan, have the option of never returning!

Here begins the tale of one womanís courage and cunning in the face of terror.

Scarier than the fear of failing is another fear that haunts Rukhsana. The terrible Zorak Wahidi who heads the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice wants to marry her. Rukhsana canít imagine a fate worse than being wife to the brutal, murderous man who would have her under his complete control.

We follow the adventures of Rukhsana and her wannabe cricket team. Of course, she must not reveal that sheís a woman and so must be disguised as a man. While all this is going on, sheís dealing with one absentee fianc`E9, dealing with the fact that she may soon have an unwanted husband and longing for a boy she loves in India.

Murari keeps the interest in the fortunes of the motely team of cricketers alive. Thereís a nice twist in the tale in the end. Rukhsana is a likable heroine. And of course, we just love cricket, donít we? So itís likely that the reader will remain glued to his seat till the last ball`85er`85page!