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  • Published 21.04.06

The Match Romesh Gunesekera, Bloomsbury, Rs 495

One of my professors had once said that the difference between free will and pre-destination could be best understood through the metaphor of a game of cricket. If one watches a cricket match in replay, then he knows the outcome of the game but not how the individual players have fared if he has not watched the game before. So for him, the end is foreknown, but in the space of the game being replayed, the players perform freely according to their personal capability. Romesh Gunesekera?s latest novel, The Match, concludes with Sunny, the central protagonist, going to watch the one-day match at the Oval between Sri Lanka and India where he at last succeeds in doing ?the impossible, capture a sense of things passing?. Sometime before the match, Sunny speculates on the expression that perhaps has determined his life, ? ?Bahala na... Whatever will be, will be?. But should it have been ?Bahala na kayo? It?s up to you??

Throughout the novel, Sunny wants to write and rewrite his life and then finds his son, Mickey, repeating the pattern of his own life. Sunny moved away from his father, Lester, once he started believing that Lester?s inability to give his talented mother enough space caused her death. And then, as Sunny goes through the experience of conjugal life, he realizes that no matter how different he believes himself to be from his father, he also cannot quite tolerate his partner having an independent life of her own. By so stepping in his father?s shoes, however reluctantly, Sunny realizes that perhaps his father?s failure did not preclude love for his mother and that his mother?s suicide was an accident for which both his parents were equally responsible. Then Mickey starts drifting away from his father, in the inevitable process of growing up. In the sadness that Sunny feels for his son, he can get a taste of the pain that his father must have felt when he forcibly severed all connections with him on the basis of a misunderstanding.

The Match is a novel of missed chances. Given the opportunity, Sunny and Lester would have opted for a life quite different from the one they found themselves in. The germ of their unhappiness lies in their tendency to drift while life takes its own course. The characters who actively take control of their lives suffer from less disenchantment and frustration. Yet the lesson that Sunny learns as he travels through life is that what he has ultimately achieved is not so much a compromise as the best that could have happened to him. The clinching experience of Sunny?s life at the Oval makes him see ?how each frame in his life was stitched to another. How he couldn?t be what he was...without what had been.? He has reached the autumn of his spiritual growth and ?ripeness is all?.

It is in this context that the novel?s title as well as Sunny?s obsession with the game of cricket gather meaning. Which side wins becomes unimportant in the players? zest to fight till the last. And in so fighting, they are truly free and contribute actively to the outcome of the match. The reason why the game of cricket has such a unique appeal is because it crystallizes within it such implications, and more, but all within a context of play. Lester becomes interested in the game simply because he feels that it would serve as a pan-Asian alternative to American baseball. Lester?s enthusiasm offers Sunny the chance to taste the thrill of first love in Tina. And even if he loses Tina then, much later he would find the meaning of his life in the cricket grounds.