You don’t have to be cricket crazy, or to even recognize the business end of a cricket bat, in order to enjoy Harimohan Paruvu’s Indian bestseller The Men Within: A Cricketing Tale. Engagingly written, the book draws on the cricketing experience of the author from his Ranji Trophy days.
The book, incidentally, comes just after the release Shah Rukh Khan’s hit filmChak De! India. Both deal with the underdogs in a team sport. Paruvu believes, however, that there are significant differences between the two. For one, there is the issue of control. “Chak De’s hockey coach,” Paruvu says, “doesn’t let his team in on what he has planned for them until the very end; he makes all their decisions for them. In contrast, Sampath (the coach in the book) respects the players enough to let them make their own choices and be responsible for their wins or losses. Because the players have taken ownership of their dream, they learn from their mistakes.”
Paruvu himself believes strongly in dreams. “Everyone has a dream. Whether they go after it or not really depends on whether they are willing to take responsibility for it,” he says. “Whether it comes true or not, you are a better person for having had the courage to follow your dream.” Without his own dream of being a full-time writer, Paruvu might have continued working as an investment banker.
Paruvu believes there is a lot to be learned from cricket. He is appalled at the current trend in India where parents are pulling their kids out of sports, arts, and other “distractions” so the children can focus exclusively on academics. He firmly believes this is counter-productive for youth. “Cricket,” he says, “or any other team sport, can help teach children about self-esteem, introduce them to the concept of working together for the benefit of the team, and help hone their social skills.” Then there is the physical exercise component.
Paruvu also makes other points. For example, his characters demonstrate that fighting is really not about violence, but about standing up for what you believe in. In addition, Paruvu’s main protagonist, the coach, is not afraid to learn from his students, from their parents, or from his fellow teachers. “And that is as it should be,” Paruvu says. “When you think you’ve learned it all, that is the time you stop growing as a person.”
The book draws on Paruvu’s own experiences growing up. For example, he admits with a laugh, girl watching was a favorite activity amongst his classmates in their all-boys school. The loving description of the fictional school in the book is also based on his own.
When asked why a book about cricket is doing so well in India, Paruvu says, “It could be because the book isn’t as much about the mechanics of the game, as it is a human interest story.” An enjoyable read, regardless.