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Beyond the Boundary

G Rajaraman | Updated on: Jan 12, 2022
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Sports writer Suresh Menon journeys into the literary world to share passages and interludes that enrich a reader’s life

What did you do during the Covid-19 pandemic? Sports writer Suresh Menon made sound use of the time carved out of daily life and put together – or rather sculpted – a book that articulates his passion for literature. And, as coincidence goes, it releases just as India battles the third wave, with Delhi enforcing curfews through the nights and weekends.

‘Why don’t you write something I might read?’ is an eclectic collection of reviews, thoughts and memories of encounters with writers. It gives the reader an insight into the literary world that Suresh Menon has happily traversed even as he pursued his passion for sport in general and cricket, in particular.

 

Like some good readers who profit by what they read and enable others also to profit by it, he has shared his gains. As he rewinds his way into books and writers across many decades, you can sense the unbridled joy with which he chose his subjects, taking care not to leave out some amazing influences in his life, including family members, librarians, and book-sellers.

In another era, he may have written more about a few books and authors, but these are the times of T20 game. And, more important, the pandemic has brought everyone’s attention span down significantly. The book, therefore, makes a conscious attempt to respect that. Small wonder, it brings home a wide variety of books and authors in one place.

The good thing is that you do not have to be a student of literature, let alone be hooked to it, to read the book. Come to think of it, it may set you off on a voyage of discovery. Even if you have often visited the world frequented by giants of the English language, Suresh Menon’s perspective and interpretations will engage you.

Some chapters compel me to borrow his line: “The best writers on sport combine childlike fandom with professional maturity.” His recollections of meeting Ved Mehta in New York, hosting VS Naipaul at his Madras home and being mistaken for Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran deftly brings alive their work as well as their personalities. He makes us picture them and their impact on him.

Mike Marquesee (A gentle truth-teller), Nadeem Aslam (Beauty and terror), Donald Woods (Woods’s confession) are some examples of writers whose personalities and works alike linger in Suresh Menon’s mind. At the other end of the spectrum, he has no hesitation in sharing that Paulo Coelho (Master of the falsely profound) is far more interesting than his books.

The 10 short takes - two-page chapters - punctuating the book are a good idea. One makes a case for Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o to be honoured with the Nobel Prize. Another finds significance in a casual reference to Indian spin bowler Kuldeep Yadav in John le Carre’s 2019 novel Agent Running in the Field. A third focusses on irony that Clive James was adept at.

Even without these interludes, the reading is easy since you do not need to invest in a cover-to-cover effort. You can read any chapter/s at a time and return to read more chapters whenever you can. After all, as Suresh Menon himself warns us: We don’t know yet what the normal dose may be.

When he set out to write the book – as answer to a question that his wife, Dimpy asked him – he may have wanted to stay away from sport but then it is just as well that the book occasionally slips into the parallel universe that he has inhabited as a reporter, writer and editor. But he has found the right words and emotions to feature from that world as well.

If there is a disappointment, it is the palpable ease with which he looks beyond the boundary to stoke his passion for literature. You can almost see the creases on his forehead when he laments Indian writers as being content with versions of chick lit – slick lit, myth lit, flick lit and so on – and not broaching subjects beyond the tried and tested.

Be that as it may, you don’t need to visit the study in Suresh Menon’s Bengaluru home to visualise its appearance – walls lined with shelves full of books, some read several times, some read once, some half-read and others quickly tucked away in a corner beyond reach. You can imagine an entire range of books, sport, fiction, philosophy, sociology, poetry and the works.

Try hard as I might, I found no hint if he has the old-fashioned card catalogue for his books or if he has succumbed to digital temptations. But it will be a good wager that he has simply relied on memory to reach out and get hold of the book (and a specific passage) to reference a particular piece each time he sat down to write a chapter.

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(G Rajaraman is a sports writer, corporate trainer and author)

Published on January 12, 2022

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