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Born on May 2, 1921, Satyajit Ray is almost unanimously accepted as the greatest film director India has ever produced. A versatile genius, Ray was, among other things, also an accomplished composer, lyricist, and artist. He continues to remain the bestselling author after well over two decades of his death. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the cricket connections of the legend.
Satyajit Ray, no less than a legend himself, was born in the family that has possibly contributed more towards the cultural heritage of Kolkata and Bengal than any other. His father Sukumar, who had passed away at 36 close to a century back, remains one of the most popular authors in the history of the language; Sukumar’s father Upendrakishore, on the other hand, was the pioneer of halftone block printing in the country and one of the earliest authors for children’s books.
But that is just about the direct lineage. Sukumar’s cousin Leela Majumdar was, for example, another champion author who still continues to remain one of the favourites, while Sukumar’s sister Sukhalata Rao was yet another favourite for children. The cricket connection, however, had started much earlier.
WG Grace of Bengal
Saradaranjan Ray, brother of Upendrakishore and a WG Grace doppelganger (complete with the beard), was as versatile as they make them: along with being an outstanding author, Saradaranjan, along with his brothers, had founded the Dacca College Cricket Club, and later the Town Club in Calcutta. Saradaranjan, the most accomplished of them all, led both sides; he also compiled the first book on the laws of the sport in Bengali. One must realise the significance of the incident with respect to the era: all this had happened roughly at the same time as the initiation of the Ashes in the early 1880s.
The other brothers, though accomplished cricketers, never attained the same levels, but cricket came appearing in their works. Sukumar, for example, had made the aunt of a king play cricket with a pumpkin in one of his more famous poems Bombagorer Raja (the king of Bombagarh).
Ray’s uncle Nripendra Mohan “Kartick” Bose (misspelled as Nrirendra in Wisden) was one of the pioneers of the Bengal Ranji Trophy side. He played 44 First-Class matches and was a member of the first Bengal team to win the Ranji Trophy in 1938-39. His brothers Hirendra Mohan (Ganesh) and Sailendra Mohan (Bapi) had also represented Bengal in Ranji Trophy, but Kartick was the icon of the family. Another brother Nitin was an accomplished movie director who won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1977.
Kartick later became the most famous coach of Bengal, coaching several cricketers of the next generation. Commonly known as Babuji, Bose captained and coached at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) from 1946 to 1952. “Old-timers in Mumbai still swear by Babuji,” wrote Rith Basu and Anindya Shankar Ray in The Telegraph. One of his protégés, Sambaran Banerjee, led Bengal to their second (and till date, last) Ranji title in 1989-90.
The man himself
Satyajit himself was a slow spinner (?) who played for Calcutta University; he later instilled the same attribute in Feluda, whose tales have been possibly the most popular and most translated among all detectives in the history of Bengali literature. Feluda mentioned his skills in his first full-length novel Badshahi Angti (The Emperor’s Ring); he also searched for Neville Cardus’s Centuries at a Lucknow bookshop to make an acquaintance with Mahavir Singh, and the two ended up discussing Don Bradman and KS Ranjitsinhji.
[Note: Cardus never wrote a book called Centuries. This may have been a Ray goof-up.]
In Khelowar Tarinikhuro (Tarini Uncle the Player), Tarinikhuro managed to acquire an old bat of Ranji, which took his batting skills to unreal levels as he played an outrageously impossible innings for Martandapur Cricket Club (the “other” MCC) against Planters’ Club. After the Britons had scored 332, Tarinikhuro, walking out at 92 for five, went on to score an unbeaten 243 as “MCC” reached 436 and won by an innings.
The more famous references are, of course, in the movies. In the widely acclaimed Kanchenjunga, Indranath Roy (portrayed by Chhabi Biswas) tells Ashok (Arun Mukherjee) of his 96 against Ballygunge once before he was being challenged by a British leg-spinner (in an era when the googly was not a common occurrence) called Griggs, who turned out to be a difficult customer.
After being stuck on 96 for 20 minutes, Griggs challenged him before the third or fourth ball of the over: “I will now bowl you an easy one. Let’s see you send it to the ropes.” The ball was a straight one, and Roy’s nerves and stumps were both shattered.
Of course, Roy had added the magical words before describing his 96: “I never liked football, it hurts my aesthetic sense. But look at cricket: it has polish, it has elegance.”
And of course, nobody can forget the iconic memory game scene from Aranyer Dinratri (Days and Nights in the Forest) where Ray’s magic establishes the characters by the names they mention. When her turn comes, Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) mentions Bradman.
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