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Saturday, March 1, 2008

The man who never played a western shot

Batting for the Empire: A Political Biography of Ranjitsinhji

Mario Rodrigues | Penguin | Rs 299

The dark sides of legends always make for interesting reads, as do the shattering of well-known myths.

For long now, the cricketing world has known, loved and revered Ranjitsinhji, the myth of the graceful leg glance overshadowing the cricketer and the person.

Mario Rodrigues in his new book explores Ranjitsinhji as a political figure with a looming presence in cricket, and in the process uncovers a man who fought on the side of imperialism and took his royalty for granted. The book opens with a chapter profiling Ranjitsinhji's cricketing abilities as a man 'who never played a Western shot' in his life. But its in the chapters that follow that the real essence of the book lies.

Rodrigues draws on solid historical sources to bring to light a new picture. The man who was popularly credited for being India's first magician on a cricket field was in fact a despot.

The Jam Saheb of Nawanagar took over the kingdom thanks to a friendship with the British. His lavish lifestyle was to prove too costly for his people, though, as nearly all of the tax payers money was spent on entertaining British guests at his durbar. As Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, Ranjitsinhji advocated imperialism in the face of the growing nationalist movement, and did little for the people of his kingdom, even as he stayed away in London for most of his life.

The book is easy to read, and the language flowing, though the pace dips slightly. Rodrigues also succeeds in presenting the period where the book is set, the English-dependant princes and their excesses and their refusal to see a united India are facts we already know, but it still makes for an entertaining read.

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