14 May / The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N. Murari
What I know about cricket is not so much about how the game is actually played, but that it’s a cultural phenomenon that can actually save lives. Two favorite Indian films come immediately to mind: Lagaan, which was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002, and Iqbal, whose director Nagesh Kukunoor U.S.-premiered his follow-up Dor at the Smithsonian APA Center’s 2006 SALTAF (South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival). [BTW: both films are unhesitatingly, highly recommended.]
As made obvious by the title and cover here, cricket is a pivotal focal point in Indian writer/journalist/playwright Timeri N. Murari’s penultimate (thus far) novel. Although the drawn-out passages about the rules and logistics of the revered game are, ironically, the weakest, eye-glazing portions, the narrative hinges on the potential life-saving qualities of the colonial sport.
In a city being crushed by the Taliban, Rukshana’s irrepressible spirit is what gets her punished, but also what makes men fall blindly in love with her. As a journalist who risks her life to expose the horrors Kabul citizens must constantly face – especially its women – Rukshana is both reckless and brave. Her father is dead, her mother is gravely ill, and she must protect her younger, still-teenaged brother at any cost. She is separated from her betrothed by thousands of miles, she longs for her beloved, and she must somehow escape the marriage demands of a supremely powerful, destructive man.
When the Taliban’s incongruously named Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice announces that Afghanistan will enter the world’s cricket fields to prove their honor and dignity – guaranteed by the watchful eyes of an invited international official – the promises seem far too good to be true. The winning local cricket team – and anyone can put together a team, except, of course, women – will be sent to Pakistan to train with the best. Rukshana and her extended family recognize the nearly impossible opportunity for escape. With the threat of marriage looming ever closer, Rukshana reveals a surprising expertise … and sure enough, the game is on: fair and square, winners will take all … right?
Mellifluously read by Sneha Mathan, Murari’s novel provides 11 hours (or over 300 pages if you’re going with print) of intrigue and anticipation, terror and caution, choking burkas and cross-dressing freedom, true love and family obligations. Regardless of the occasional yawns over wickets, pitches, and bowlers, the tracks (and pages) pass quickly, with memorable characters you’ll be cheering on all the way through – sometimes through terror, occasionally through shock, and thankfully through a rare smile or two of utter relief.