Cricket Syed Mujtaba Ali

Published on November 14th, 2018 | by Arunabha Sengupta

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Syed Mujtaba Ali and the use of cricketing metaphors in Bengali literature

🕓 Reading time: 3 minutes

“Use of cricket, in social analysis, is thus not restricted to the English speaking world. Neither is it restricted to the English language”

Caught on a sticky wicket. Padding up. Playing for time.

Examples of cricketing phrases are aplenty in English literature. From ‘right off the bat’ and ‘playing it straight’ to the irritatingly misused and obnoxiously historically inaccurate ‘not quite cricket’ and ‘gentleman’s game’.

The use of the game as a metaphor is not limited to pages of prose. It is abundant in the field of political debates as well.

As far back as in 1864, when the Conservative opposition moved a motion criticising the government’s response to the Schleswig-Holstein question, Lord Elcho, who believed the motion was politically motivated, argued that the Conservatives ‘think they have been fielding long enough, and that it is now their turn to have an innings’.

Since then, a difficult discussion has often put eminent cabinet ministers on ‘sticky wicket’. A difficult poser that has varied from the initial tone has been described as a ‘googly’.

In warfare, General Bernard Montgomery promised to hit Rommel for six out of Africa. When the news of Mussolini’s death reached the joyous ears of the Allied Forces, messages hinting at Hitler’s continued resistance reached the British Ministry in the coded form: “McCabe is out, but Bradman is still batting.”

And then, even in peacetime, politicians in power have had to face ‘bouncers’, ‘beamers’ and even ‘body-line’ from the vocal members of the opposition.

However, is cricket in the domains of literature, political and social commentary limited only to the lands of England and Australia, or perhaps South Africa, where English is the first language? Or in the literature that is penned in English?

Of course, erudite Members of the Parliament in other countries, India perhaps, and the modern day Pakistan with Imran Khan as the head of state, can throw in cricketing metaphors by the bushel.

But, leafing through literature in other languages, one comes across surprising finds.

In the immortal lines scribbled by the flourishing pen of the incomparable Syed Mujtaba Ali, we find cricketing parlance used plentifully in political and social analysis.

But then, he does more than that.

The peach of his cricket writings is this mouth-watering ride into the intricacies of Hindi and Urdu commentary, analysing the clichés and connotations in Bengali. And thereby he does some incisive analysis of society as well.

When the Pakistan cricket team visited India in 1952-53, Mujtaba Ali listened to the radio commentary of the proceedings, that took place mainly in Hindi and Urdu. And it evidently left a deep impression on him.

While much of the nuances and intricacies of his brilliant dissection will be lost in translation, it makes sense to dwell on a couple of facets.

For example, one commentator from a ‘respectable’ (খানদানি) background was supposedly too respectful of the venerable (মুরুব্বি) Pakistan cricketer Amir Elahi, and hence called him Sahib. Given that Elahi was 44 when he toured India with the Pakistan team in 1952-53, it does add up. (Remember, Elahi did start his Test career for India, playing in Australia in 1947-48)

But the commentator did not stop at that. His use of the honorific title set in motion, he extended it to other cricketers as well, even to 18-year-old Hanif Mohammad.

Mujtaba Ali found it disconcerting. He wrote: “Cricket is a democratic sport. Even the King of cricketing Gods (ক্রিকেটের দেবেন্দ্র) Don Bradman, is not referred to as Mr Bradman or respected Bradman by any English commentator. But India is a country of genteel manners. Therefore whether we play cricket or not, father-figures or father-aged figures, like Elahi and the venerable Lala Amarnath have to be addressed as Sahib in our prattle about the game.”

Mujtaba Ali goes on to poke fun at how the commentator catered to both the Indian listeners in Bombay and Delhi as well as the Pakistani adherents in Karachi and Lahore by using epithets which mixed Hindi and Urdu in generous proportions. That, however, is a tad too complicated to translate.

Use of cricket, in social analysis, is thus not restricted to the English speaking world. Neither is it restricted to the English language.

The game transcends borders, languages and every domain of life.

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About the Author

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Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.



3 Responses to Syed Mujtaba Ali and the use of cricketing metaphors in Bengali literature

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