The Taliban Cricket Club, a novel by Timeri N Murari that came out in 2012, is a magnificent book that holds relevance even today when the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan.
When the Taliban once again took control of Afghanistan in 2021, there was a sense of dread all over again. Afghanistan seemed to be on the path of peace after decades of warfare. But, in one swift moment, the Taliban shattered that illusion. Dark memories of the rule from 1996 to 2001 once again came swirling back. For ordinary Afghan citizens, it was once again a sense of deja-vu. For the womenfolk of Afghanistan, there seemed to be dread and fear of brutal repression. There was a larger concern for the status of Afghanistan cricketers.
During the time when the Taliban were not in the country, the Afghanistan cricket team had made giant strides in the world of cricket. The cricket team participated in World Cups and ICC World T20s. Several of their players featured in high-profile Twenty20 leagues in Australia, West Indies, England, and India. In the backdrop of all the volatility bought about by the return of the Taliban, it perhaps makes sense to revisit a novel that highlighted the times of people in Afghanistan.
Timeri N Murari’s novel ‘The Taliban Cricket Club’ is a magnificent novel that has showcased how far ahead of its time it is. The book, which came out in 2012, is a fine record of how the Taliban rule in Afghanistan was and how a game of cricket played a key role in the freedom of certain individuals from brutality. The main protagonist is a woman who coaches her cousins so that they could win a tournament and head off to Pakistan to escape the Taliban.
Murari’s skill in the book revolves around how he describes the background and the foreground. His description of Kabul and the ruins is riveting and intriguing. This particular line sticks to your conscience even after you finish the book. “The city, as fragile as any human, was gaunt with sickness. Its blackened ribs jutted out at odd angles, craters of sores pitted its skin and girders lay twisted like broken bones in the streets. Its gangrenous breath smelled of explosives, smoke, and despair. “
The anguish of Rukhsana, the main character of having to meet Taliban officials, her heartbreak in India, and the constant fear of being captured for the simple crime of being a woman is woven intricately by Murari in the book.
The heartbreak that Rukhsana faces when the individual whom she is supposed to marry ditches her only boosts her thirst for freedom. The struggles in which she had to dress like a man so that she could coach the team highlight her difficult path. In many ways, it highlights the practice of Bacha Posh in Afghanistan society, in which the pressure to have a son forces daughters to dress up like boys.
But, in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, this is how some women had to survive. The book is a perfect template of team-building, despite the continuous fear of death. When her would-be fiancé dumps her, all hope could have been lost. But, the entrance of her former lover from India adds a different twist to the entire story. Rukhsana’s time in India, how she developed a liking for cricket, friendships is also one of the best sections in the whole book.
The cricket match, the tournament, and all the pyrotechnics involved make this book riveting. Even the escape has a bit of a Bollywood touch. The team is desperate to flee and escape from the clutches of the Taliban. But, some late drama, especially the interaction at the airport where the team is just one step away from freedom makes this a Bollywood Masala potboiler.
In fact, to say that this is a criticism of the book is unjust. In fact, the last section makes your pulse racing and it keeps you gripped. When the team reaches Karachi, the maniacal relief of freedom is something that gives the book the ultimate crescendo. Murari has woven a brilliant story around how cricket is viewed as a tool of freedom for Afghanistan. For India, cricket might be a religion. For Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, it is their summer sport. England will always be the spiritual home. But, for Afghanistan, cricket is a method of freedom from the travails of volatility in Afghanistan. Thus, Murari’s book is a must-read even in 2021.
The Taliban Cricket Club
By Timeri N Murari
Published by Aleph Book Company
Cost: Rs 595