One of the benefits of attending graduate school in the United States is experiencing the wonders of their collegiate sport system. Going for a swim after class at the University of Tennessee, one is reminded of former student athletes that have gone on to win medal at past editions of the Olympic Games. Twenty four Olympians have represented the school’s swimming and diving program since the 1970s. During this time they have won 11 medals. Their names are up on the walls and engraved on park benches outside the aquatic centre. Walking in through the large doors one sees pictures of the most recent winners before being greeted by coach Matt Kredich and his staff preparing the Tennessee Vols Swim Team for collegiate and international competitions. It reminded me of home and our Indian Olympians.
I grew up listening to stories of Dhyan Chand amongst other medal winners and participants from the subcontinent. The three-time Olympic Gold medallist’s birthday is celebrated as National Sports Day in India. To honour the day, August 29, we put together some reading recommendations at the bookshop.
One guiding thought — sporting narratives tend to be ageless. Just as my parents did, you can introduce your young ones to these stories. Who knows? One of those kids could go on to either win competitions or become a sportswriter sometime down the line. More importantly, an introduction to sport can help instil a life-long love of the art and craft.
Nearly a decade ago, a publisher reached out to Kolkata-based cartoonist and illustrator Harsho Mohan Chattoraj with the idea for a comic on Dhyan Chand’s life and time as part of their Legendary Personalities series. Thus, first on our list is DHYAN CHAND (1905-1979). It was quite an adventure in adjustment for Harsho whose style was different from the brief that was given to him. This comic tells the tale of how Chand went from joining the Army to becoming an international sportstar.
Speaking from his south Kolkata home, Harsho opened up his own copy to go back to what is now a timeless tale with multiple reprints. He said, “With some comics you feel your intention. What was nice was that the editorial guideline asked to start the story from the character’s infancy. It helps children relate to what Chand was doing at their age and connect to his life first as a son, later a soldier, and finally a globetrotting athlete.”
It was an interesting conversation to set the tone for sport books. It certainly proved that it takes a village to plan and build a narrative. Harsho’s inspiration included growing up in the city — a bedrock of so much Indian sport history and comics from the United Kingdom such as Roy of the Rovers.
Speaking of Indian sport history, THE FIRE BURNS BLUE: A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S CRICKET IN INDIA takes a deep dive into the oft-forgotten history of women’s cricket in India. The authors Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik had the best seats in the house when it came to covering the women’s game — front row centre. With the clarion calls for a woman’s IPL growing and the BCCI projecting March 2023 for its first full-fledged edition, this book is essential reading.
In the evergreen section we revisit A SHOT AT HISTORY — the gripping story of Abhinav Bindra’s journey to India’s first individual gold medal at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. If you are familiar with writer Rohit Brijnath’s regular columns, this book is poetry in motion. The combination of the latter’s attention to detail coupled with the former’s single-minded focus should serve as a cautionary tale to those attempting to devote a lifetime to international sport competition.
Bindra speaks about the post-Olympic blues, a syndrome cited by medal winners after returning from competition with a lack of routine and the adjustments to adulation wherever he went. Essential reading to satiate every school child’s dreams.
I certainly felt like a schoolboy again when reading MIND MASTER, the story of five-time World Chess Champion and grandmaster Viswanathan Anand’s autobiography. Writer Susan Ninan does a brilliant job working side by side with Anand. The book almost has the makings of a spy novel that promises to leave the reader wanting more. Just hear it from the horse’s mouth himself narrating one of his most famous World Championship wins — “I had survived the aftereffects of a volcanic ash cloud, embarked on a 40-hour road trip across Europe, battled threats of a supercomputer, lived with a spy, and brought home a world championship title.”
A recently published title that caught our eye was THE GAMES INDIA PLAYS: INDIAN SPORTS SIMPLIFIED. Authors Amitabh Satyam and Sangeeta Goswami have a simple but imperative premise — bring back desi sport culture!
A majority of kids, for example, are now familiar with the Kabbadi League. This book, however, introduces one to atya-patya, lagori, nondi and yubi lakpi amongst others in a list of 15 sports dating back thousands of years. The aim is to be able to practice and have fun playing sport without the need for expensive equipment or facilities, often a deterrent to a child’s development.
Consider picking up a copy of WOMEN IN SPORTS: FEARLESS ATHLETES WHO PLAYED TO WIN. Part of the much famed “Women in Series”, this book tells us the stories of 50 notable women athletes from the 1800s to today. These include Olympians and record-breakers in over 40 sports. More importantly, what stand out are the infographics — muscle anatomy, timelines on women’s participation in sport, pay and media statistics, apart from influential women’s teams that have left a mark in the annals of sport history. Learn about women in sports such as roller derby (Ann Calvello), archery (Kim Soo-Nyung), bodybuilding (Bev Francis), and refereeing (Violet Palmer).
Another wildly successful series of books is by the bestselling Jason Reynolds. In his TRACK SERIES meet Ghost, Patina, Sunny and Lu. Four kids from different backgrounds who have chosen to compete on an elite track team. The way Reynolds has written the story is each kid has a lot to prove not just to each other but also to themselves.
Ghost has been running his entire life, away from problems at home until he meets his coach, an ex-Olympic medallist who sees in him raw talent. Can he help him stay on track? Patina is the newbie on the team who runs to escape taunts at the new school she’s been sent to. Not living with her mother who lost her legs after a bad bout of disease adds fuel to her ambitions. The pressure is building, can she handle it?
Sunny, as his name suggests, always has a goofy smile on his face and something nice to say. After losing his mother when he was born, his worsening relationship with his father hasn’t helped. Sunny doesn’t like running, so he stops in the middle of a race. You can’t run track that way can you? Sunny wants to dance and discovers a track event that brings together the hip-hop, ballet and the showmanship of dance — the discus throw. Can he let go of what’s been eating him up inside?
Finally, meet Lu — he knows he can carry his three team members to victory at the championships. He’s got swagger — gold chains and diamond earrings to back up his confidence and talent. Things suddenly go south in ways only Reynolds can conceive in script and suddenly our protagonist needs to figure out what winning, sport, and life all mean to him — and fast. This National Sports Day let that thought guide your reading recommendations.
The author is a doctoral candidate in Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and grew up at the independently owned Storyteller Bookstore in Kolkata. Get your book recommendations @storytellerkol on Instagram and Twitter