Sport the difference

Oct 08, 2011, 08:05 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Hallelujah! Cricket isn't the Holy Grail for sports writing in India, after all. A new anthology of nine short stories introduces the young reader to diverse sporting adventures, ranging from angling to deep-sea diving and unique Frisbee

Hallelujah! Cricket isn't the Holy Grail for sports writing in India, after all. A new anthology of nine short stories introduces the young reader to diverse sporting adventures, ranging from angling to deep-sea diving and unique Frisbee

Sachin Tendulkar might want to buy this title for his kids, Arjun and Sara. After all, it's a delightful pick for any kid who loves books and sport, and we'd like to believe that Tendulkar's kids might have developed a leaning for both keeping in mind their envious lineage.

Sports Stories is a set of nine short stories by contemporary writers including kids, sports journalists, bloggers and videogame designers. Karate, tennis, cricket, ultimate Frisbee, boxing, racing, deep-sea diving and angling all find their way into this anthology.

Believable plots with Indian characters and a less-than-alien landscape mark a refreshing departure for young Indian readers fed on a diet of stories about English county cricket, home runs in Minnesota and soccer mania in Rio's ghettos.

Sports Stories, Nine Short Stories by Contemporary Writers, Scholastic India,
Rs 150. Available at leading bookstores

"We come up with theme-based anthologies every year dealing with topical ideas that might appeal to children. Last year, we thought sports would be fun for the next anthology since the Commonwealth Games were on and cricket is always in the news," reasons Himanjali Sankar, editor, Scholastic India on the idea behind the anthology.

No child's play, this
What is refreshing is the diverse spread of disciplines that make their way into the anthology, "We wanted to cover a range of sports so that we could pack in as many perspectives, ideas and thoughts as possible. The idea was not as much about information on the game, as about choosing a sport that the writer could use in any way they wanted," says Sankar, adding, "We were initially a little unsure about some of the choices that the writers made like wheelchair marathon, angling and ultimate Frisbee, but the stories were good and finally that is what makes us choose a story."

Adding to the uniqueness is the interesting mix of writers on board. Sankar explains that the selection had more to do with the people who could write good stories than sports specialists -- "Though in the case of Anand Ramachandran and Shamya Dasgupta we approached them, as they are sports journalists."

If the author list impressed, so did the cover design. Designer Garima Gupta has created a storyboard that merges the ancient with the contemporary: "The brief from the editor was to keep in mind that these were short stories on different sports. It would work only if there was an influence of each discipline."

While she isn't a self-confessed sports freak, Garima admits that her observation skills helped create an engaging jacket that is bound to stand out on bookshelves -- "I do not detest or rubbish the idea of watching different things. Also, when I design I don't access it from the viewpoint of subject comfort. It's the best part of doing new things and taking up projects that one doesn't know too much about -- if nothing else, one is sure to learn about lesser-known things.

Garima, who has also worked on the Karadi Tales series, is excited when talk veers to the radical treatment of visuals featuring sporting action from boxing, tennis and athletics: "There's a story there -- One day, my father was watching a cricket match when there was a rain interruption. In the interim, the channel telecasted a very old recording of another match.

The sports gear took me by surprise: Crisp, white-collared shirts, blue cardigans and helmets -- it was amusing. That was a good enough spark to set things on fire and it grew from cricket to tennis to angling and the rest. Soon, it became a very interesting cover to work on."

Authors from the anthology talk sport
Shamya Dasgupta, Sports Editor, NewsX
Author: Eddie Had To Dive

Where did Eddie the pugilist emerge from? Why was Calcutta chosen as the setting?
I am from Calcutta. It's the city I am most familiar with, even though I have been based in Delhi for 13 to 14 years now. I spent many wonderful hours with friends in the Anglo-Indian areas of Calcutta as a youngster in the '80s and '90s. While Eddie is a fictitious character, I did know people like Eddie; I knew young Anglos who were boxed in warehouses and led tough lives. So it's a mix of fact and fiction as far as the character is concerned. The events, however, are imagined.
Being a sports journalist, did you use bits and pieces from your reportage days to fuel the plot?
Though cricket is my bread and butter, as a sports editor boxing remains my favourite sport. I did try to write on boxing as much as I could once upon a time. But as far as this story is concerned, I didn't think I needed to draw on any of my experiences as a reporter, unless it was subconscious. It's all imagined, with bits of what I saw as a youngster in Calcutta, well before becoming a journalist.

What is easier: writing for kids or for adults?
Difficult to say. It's quite a bad world out there. Writing for kids forces you to self-censor a fair bit. Sometimes, you do need to watch what you are writing, which isn't a bad thing. In much the same way, as in TV or cinema, writing for adults gives you more freedom. The censorship factor goes out. I am not necessarily talking about sex and violence here, but the language, and the imagery. You need to keep in mind what a youngster within an age group can understand and comprehend. Having said that, youngsters these days comprehend and understand a lot more than we did at the same age.

Antara Ganguli, Development Consultant, Writer
Author: The Diver

Why a short story on diving?
I began diving recently and have fallen in love with it. It's very freeing -- you're in a different world with different rules. It's beautiful and yet alien. That sense of being outside your world, is refreshing and changes the way I see my own above-water, terrestrial world. I wanted to share some of this excitement with readers and to make people curious.

Is it a sport that is yet to find its feet in India?
Diving is not a competitive sport, which is another reason I love it. It's a leisure activity. India has a few good diving pads, near Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but from what I understand, the Arabian Sea has too much sediment. As far as I know, there aren't any reefs on our west and east coasts either, so there wouldn't be much to explore.

Do you think sports-themed stories are a practical way to introduce a sporting mindset among our kids, particularly since they are starved of outdoors activity?
I'd like to think that reading these stories (I enjoyed my co-authors' stories!) will help Indian readers start to think of sports or sporting activities as a way of life rather than something you do in PE period or in a national uniform on TV. Kids in India don't get much time outdoors, and as a nation, we don't seem to have the same spirit of adventure despite our incredible landscapes. We have beautiful rivers, rapids, mountains, forests, lakes and seas, but we don't kayak, hike, trek, surf, dive or sail as much as we could. So yes, it would be nice if reading these stories made kids think differently about physical activity. The most important goal, however, is the same as for any book: for the reader to enjoy it!

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