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When I didn’t interview Sourav Ganguly

Has it ever been easy to pin down a 'god'? Notes from the Kolkata Literary Meet 2018

(from left) Malavika Banerjee, Sourav Ganguly, Vinod Rai and Boria Majumdar at the Kolkata Literary Meet 2018.
(from left) Malavika Banerjee, Sourav Ganguly, Vinod Rai and Boria Majumdar at the Kolkata Literary Meet 2018.

Even people on holiday in Kolkata watch Dadagiri on weekend prime time. The reality show on Zee Bangla—the most popular show of its kind—is anchored by Sourav Ganguly. And almost every other commercial that airs in between features him too.

Mumbai has Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar. Delhi has Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. In terms of icons, Kolkata only has Sourav Ganguly (on being asked, any Bengali is likely to tell you “Tagore, Ray and Bose". But let’s focus on the living).

Given this, I should probably have been prepared to be told that Ganguly is “difficult to pin down" and “always flying in or out" when I assumed I had procured a somewhat last-minute interview after his session at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet (22-27 January). When I made my way backstage—during the session, he was frequently referred to as a god—I was told by one of the organizers: “He? He doesn’t stay. He’s very busy, you know." There was such reverence in the statement that my displeasure about this miscommunication had to give way.

Now in its seventh edition, the Kolkata Literary Meet is a cosy, tightly curated festival directed by Malavika Banerjee, who also runs the sports management agency Gameplan Sports Pvt. Ltd and a prized sari shop, Byloom. Banerjee moderated the session with Ganguly on a panel that also included sports historian Boria Majumdar and Vinod Rai, chairman of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s committee of administrators.

The session was a soft launch for Majumdar’s book on cricket history, Eleven Gods And a Billion Indians, which is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in April. It was Republic Day, which meant the picturesque Victoria Memorial campus was swarming with crowds. Though I feared the passion and persistence with which fans pushed against the barriers of the festival shamiana, the crowds maintained an orderly silence when Ganguly spoke. There was even a patient lot listening in from behind the shamiana, a phenomenon I had never witnessed.

Ganguly didn’t disappoint. Apart from the weekly practice he must get from Dadagiri (which loosely translates to being bossy), his post-retirement gigs as a commentator and sports administrator have only added to his public-speaking charms. The real reason he took his shirt off at the NatWest series final in 2002? “Every time before a big tour my mother would snatch my chain two days before I left and put it back on the morning I was to leave. I would see another stone, blue or green or something else, added to my chain. I asked her one day, ‘Ma are all my stars bad? Do I need so much fixing?’ So the real reason I took that shirt off was because my mother had said that when you win you must show all you have. So that’s exactly what I did. I did it for my mother," he shared, to loud applause.

As to why he’s left-handed? “My brother was a left-hander. When I was young, my father would say take your brother’s gloves and pads and play, so I picked up the bat left-handed."

At the festival, Majumdar released a key chapter from the book, Challenging The Chappell Shenanigans. “It was all going well for Sourav Ganguly and Indian cricket until the arrival of Greg Chappell," it begins. Majumdar, who also co-wrote Tendulkar’s autobiography, describes his magnum opus as “4 parts , 25 chapters, 500-plus pages". It starts with Indian cricket’s infamous match-fixing episode and comes right up to the South Africa series. On stage, Majumdar repeatedly called out NatWest as a turning point for Indian cricket, both symbolically and historically. So then, is Ganguly one of the most important characters in his book on the history of Indian cricket? I asked him. “Because of what he has done. Not because of my fondness for Sourav, or because he was my senior at St Xavier’s (college), or because I know him for 23 years. Or because of this crowd here. But because he redefined Indian cricket in ways that we started winning overseas. That’s why," he said. “The gods in the title of the book? He’s one of them."

She tweets at @aninditaghose

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