Sunday, April 30, 2006

Some thoughts on playing cricket at the Oval

A few days ago I was at morning cricket nets at the Oval Maidan in Bombay, a weekly affair where we exercise our two-bit skills with high seriousness and fidelity to ritual. Not far from where we were playing a bespectacled young man, clad in a tracksuit and a cap, was conducting some summer cricket coaching with a dozen boys in whites.

Caught up with the mechanics of trying to bowl an outswinger correctly, I soon forgot all about them. But a little later, while chasing down a hit, I happened to come across the scene of a standard fielding drill taking place. The man had lined all his wards up, and was hitting balls towards them. They were supposed to run up one by one, field the ball and throw it back, and return to the back of the line.

Unsurprisingly it was the coach himself who seemed most enthusiastic- all kids think of is bowling or batting. He hit the ball and shouted, in a tone meant to gee up the kid, "Come on, get it, it's yours!" But the boy running towards it seemed unable to turn his speed up a notch; in fact he had a struggling, striving air, like a butterfly fighting against a breeze.

He was being held up by his shoes, which were clearly two or three sizes too big for him - perhaps hand-me-downs from an older brother or cousin. As he ran in they seemed somehow to have a life of their own, independent of the feet inside them. He stopped the ball a little sheepishly, returned it, and ran back.

But no great tragedy need be read into all this. If the boy was slightly embarrassed, he was still happy and "switched-on", pursuing his dream, even if in shoes two sizes too big.

I've been going to nets for about three years now, mostly at the Oval and the more crowded Cross Maidan (where a small rectangular patch of land has a dozen pitches). The young cricketers playing all around me, and playing for reasons very different from mine, are mostly teenagers from middle- or lower middle-class backgrounds. In all these years of observing them I feel I understand something - in fact it is difficult not to be struck by it - of what cricket means to them.

Actually one needs to say no more than just this: cricket means something to them. It means something when very little else in their lives means anything, and this overpowering preeminence of cricket in their lives is not merely because of the magic of the game and the impassioned blinkers of youth (think of the boy Tendulkar, going from match to match on his coach's scooter, and of all the other boys who must have done similar things, if not to the same end) but because everything else in life is so profoundly dull and uninspiring.

Education, for instance, which serves in theory to free us, to make us more aware of ourselves and what we want to pursue, is almost everywhere in our country a bad joke, a set of dud formulae to be remembered and meaninglessly regurgitated. Where it should teach us to take an interest in the world, it renders the world opaque. Who can take any pleasure in school other than that of japes and camaraderie with friends? There is very little about life in these training-grounds that allows us to dream, glimpse a way forward for our lives.

But cricket - there is a spark in it that immediately rouses ambition and competitive spirits, that gives meaning and purpose to constrained lives. To play cricket is to wake up. On the field one lives fully, intensely, relying on one's wits from moment to moment. In the angle of one's bowling arm, or the calculation of which ball to play and which one to leave, lies the very same maths problem that induces such sleep in school.

For this reason, even if few of these kids go on to become cricketers of any standing, cricket is good for them because it serves as a beacon in their lives. While most other fields in life lie fallow, the maidans, at least in the imagination, are always green. It seems to me that kids who play cricket seriously, whether they play badly or well, learn something about themselves and about life that many others don't.

And yet of course, as one grows older, reality checks in, and other problems and issues present themselves, cricket is usually left behind. Just as on the Oval maidan the heat is fierce and the dust flies thickly, and even shiny new balls become cracked and chapped in a few minutes of use, so the demands of adult life, too, overpower people over time.

And sometimes on the train or bus one sees people who one feels must have once been those very same boys playing at Shivaji Park or at the Oval, only ten years older now and disabused of the lifegiving illusions of adolescence - still with a bit of fire in the eyes, but undeniably wearied, haggard and disenchanted. Cricket is over; many other things have taken its place.

Photograph by Amit Varma

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Memories of a Borges book, and the old Twentieth Century bookshop

I'm pleased with some of the responses to my recent post on Jorge Luis Borges, quoting bits of work that relate in some way to Borges's writing - in fact this proves, as Guiseppe Mazzotta writes in this beautiful piece on Dante, how "all arts are engaged in an endless conversation". With comments like these blogging also becomes a shared endeavour, an endless conversation.

And occasionally a comment happens to jolt one's memory, and things long past return vividly. Yesterday, while responding to a question about Borges, I remembered a book by Borges I'd read many years ago, and a great many other things besides. I thought I'd put up the comment again as a post - it's my personal tribute to Borges.

The Borges book that I like best myself is one that I no longer possess, but often remember with nostalgia.

In the year 1999 I was a college student in Delhi, and two minutes away from our residence in Connaught Place there was a most dusty and smelly bookshop called Twentieth Century Bookshop. (A couple of years later, as if obedient to the boundary line offered by its own name, it shut down, but clearly it was founded at a point when an enormous swathe of the twentieth century stretched out before the proprietor. For him the name was in sync with, even ahead of the times; now it was only a relic of it.)

It was here one afternoon that I joyfully bought, for the sum of fifty rupees, a pink paperback authored by Borges and his longtime friend and collaborator, Adolfo Bioy-Casares, called The Chronicles of Bustos Domecq.

The pompous and gullible H. Bustos Domecq was among the best characters Borges ever created (in fact, his voice always became notably "lighter" when he worked with Bioy-Casares). Bustos Domecq was supposedly a literary journalist, and the book is a collection of highly earnest essays written by him on subjects like modernism, abstract art, and so on.

In truth these pieces were devastating indictments of literary fads and fashions, and in particular the excesses of Modernism. Thrilling things were achieved by the sly wit of Borges and Bioy-Casares, firing away from behind their pedantic and credulous character. I remember this as one of the first books that showed me how much fun could be had with literary criticism, and indeed how literary criticism was itself a branch of literature.

Sadly, in those days I was more youthful, less wise and more kind than I am now, and in zest for somebody to share my enthusiasm for my book I lent it to a friend, who promptly lost it. To my regret I have never been able to find another copy.

I now possess The Chronicles of H. Bustos Domecq only in memory. And often it seems to me as if that book is a symbol of those beautiful days, now lost forever, to use a Borgesian phrase, in the labyrinth of time.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Alberto Manguel with Borges

The first thing to note about With Borges is its singularity. The only man who could have written such a book about Jorge Luis Borges has now .

The literary critic and essayist Alberto Manguel not only knows the work of Borges better than anyone else, he was also a close friend and ally of Borges. With Borges brims over with warm details of Borges the writer and Borges the man, but it is also it is also written in a circling, allusive, aphoristic style that shows Borges's own influence on Manguel.

Manguel's friendship with Borges began in a very unusual way. As a boy Manguel used to work after school in an Anglo-German bookstore called Pygmalion in Buenos Aires, and Borges was an ocasional visitor there. By this time Borges, in his late fifties, had become prey to the blindness that ran in his family, and, as someone who lived almost exclusively for books, he was in need of someone to read to him. Manguel didn't know much about him, but he was a bibliophile as well, and when asked if he would read to Borges in the evenings he consented.

For a few years, till the time Manguel left Argentina in 1968, the two would go over the books in Borges's library in the evenings—Dante, Chesterton, and Kipling were among Borges's favourite writers. Manguel would read, Borges would listen closely (he knew many of his favourite works by heart), and then make some observations of "wonderful perspicacity and wit, not only sharing with me his passion for these great writers but also showing me how they worked by taking paragraphs apart with the amorous intensity of a clockmaker". This is not the only occasion in With Borges when the reader feels more than a little envious of Manguel.

Books meant the world to Borges, and not just in the simple sense that he was greatly in love with books and literature. Rather, as Manguel explains, books were Borges's primary reality:

For Borges, the core of reality lay in books; reading books, writing books, talking about books. In a visceral way, he was conscious of continuing a dialogue begun thousands of years before and which he believed would never end. Books restored the past. 'In time,' he said to me, 'every poem becomes an elegy.' He had no patience with faddish literary theories and blamed French literature in particular for concentrating not on books but on school and coteries….He was a haphazard reader who felt content, at times, with plot summaries and articles in encylopaedias, and who confessed that, even though he had never finished Finnegan's Wake, he happily lectured on Joyce's linguistic monument. His library (which like that of every other reader was also his autobiography) reflected his belief in chance and the rules of anarchy.
"His library, which like that of every other reader was also his autobiography"—in utterances like this we see Manguel's own penchant for provocative Borgesian formulations. Elsewhere Manguel says:

There are writers who attempt to put the world in a book. There are others, rarer, for whom the world is a book, a book that they attempt to read for themselves and for others. Borges was one of these writers. He believed, against all odds, that our moral duty was to be happy, and be believed that happiness could be found in books, even though he was unable to explain why this is so. 'I don't know exactly why I believe that a book brings us the prospect of happiness,' he said. 'But I am truly grateful for that modest miracle.'
With Borges—beautifully brought-out by a relatively new publishing house, Telegram Books—complements another beautiful essay in Manguel's 1999 collection Into The Looking-Glass Wood. That essay is titled "Borges in Love", and it is about Borges's difficult romantic life ("Throughout his almost centenary life, Borges fell in love with patient regularity and with patient regularity his hopes came to nothing."). The irony about this is that Borges produced some of the twentieth century's best poems about love.

And now some links. The universe of Borges's poems and stories—he never wrote a novel, and in fact held the novel form in some disdain—is so rich that a great many readers have been stimulated into producing rich work in response to it; Manguel is just one of many fine interpreters of Borges. Here are two particularly good essays.

One, written by Borges's translator Alistair Reid, is called "Borges Beyond Words", and it deals (in beautiful language, one might add) with the vexing issue of the relationship between reality and the language we use to describe that reality. Reid writes:

There is one quotation which Borges loved--I think it was his favorite quotation in all of English literature. It was from an essay of G. K. Chesterton's on a fairly unknown painter called G. F. Watts. "Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colors of an autumn forest. . . . Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semitones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire." In other words, language can never accommodate the enormous reality beyond it....
The second is "Mother's Boy", by the literary critic Algis Valiunas, a writer whose work I admire greatly for its intelligence and verbal beauty. Again, it is contains a beautiful quote from a writer Borges admired—the philosopher FH Bradley, who says "For love unsatisfied the world is a mystery, a mystery which satisfied love appears to understand." (And perhaps one can tell, from Manguel's "Borges in Love", why Borges attached such importance to this remark.) But among the many interesting things in Valiunas's piece is the criticism of Borges's work that he proffers in the closing paragraphs.

And here is Borges's beautiful fable of the life of Shakespeare "Everything and Nothing", a piece that Valiunas takes up at the close of "Mother's Boy".

An extract from With Borges can be found here. The excellent Robert Birnbaum has a long interview with Manguel here. And the American novelist John Barth draws some parallels between the work of Borges and another giant of twentieth-century literature, Italo Calvino, here.

Lastly, an old piece about some poems by Borges, "Chess With Jorge Luis Borges".

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A year of the Middle Stage

Today it is a year since I began blogging about literature - about other things too, but mostly about literature - at the Middle Stage.

I began writing here last April at the invitation of my friend (and then colleague) Amit Varma, who used to write both this blog and India Uncut. After a while Amit was kind enough to give it to me for keeps, and so this is now the place where I am most easily and regularly found.

In retrospect, the Middle Stage was curiously appropriate for me when I took it over, because at that time I really was at an in-between stage - a middle stage - of my life. I'd just given up my job, but without much idea of how I was going to manage thereafter - I only knew I was dissatisfied, and that I didn't want to continue doing what I was doing. I was also struggling to get my work published anywhere, and was in very low spirits. But not only was I dispirited, I was also lazy and out of shape. Sometimes I wrote no more than one piece a month. If I didn't manage to find commissioned work, I wouldn't do any. I moped more than I worked.

All that changed from the day I took the site up. I still remember not sleeping very well on the night of 11 April 2005, consumed by thoughts of what I could write that would be of interest to Amit's captive audience (in this respect I was fortunate - I didn't have to start from scratch). After I’d put up a couple of posts I began to see the potentialities of the form, and realised there were a great many things I knew that were of no use from the point of view of marketable writing - who wants a piece on Willa Cather or Constantine Cavafy? - but which were of value nonetheless and I could extend to my readers to enjoy.

Best of all, the sense of responsibility I began to feel to my small batch of dedicated readers - even today, although their tribe has increased substantially, I don't think they number that many - had a galvanising effect on my writing. From my experience it seems to me that writers' blogs work similarly to literary magazines, in that one writes for a small but interested audience whose involvement and feedback is of great value. Because I now occupied a public space, I'd make an effort to write something every four or five days to please my readers, to thank them for their time (really, that's all a writer wants - good readers, and a bit of company in the evenings). I found myself dredging out books from the back of my dusty cupboard to look up a point, and reading poets I hadn't looked at for years.

The regular work, and the time I freed up for myself by abstaining from the drudgery of a job, had a good effect on my work. As time passed, my writing became sharper, and work also began coming in, if only in fits and starts. From around the new year my luck seemed to turn. In fact I now have more work than I can handle. But even though I write now for several newspapers and periodicals, I think I care the most passionately for what I put up on this space.

This is partly because a blog is like a generous editor - it allows you to do whatever you want to do in the hope that you will do it well. I find I can write here about two areas of my interest, poetry and classical literature, when nobody wants a piece on any of these things for a newspaper. There are no restrictions on space - although I try not to misuse this by being verbose or imprecise. And I'm not limited to current books - I can write about whatever I want, and one of the things I like doing best is bringing the work of little-known or neglected authors to light.

There have been some debates in the Indian blogosphere recently - it is a good thing that there are these debates, and that the quality of debate here is better than in Indian newspapers - about what reviewing and writing about literature, about what work they should properly do and how they should go about it. But I must confess that, reading these opinions, I cannot agree with any one of them. The sentiments expressed here are not the sentiments that animate me.

I think of my work as a form of love. It is a way of sharing out with people books that have given me aesthetic pleasure and intellectual nourishment. When I write about current books I try to judge those by the highest standards. Nevertheless I get some kind of pleasure or the other out of most books. I try not to be cutting about low-quality or middle-grade writing, because after all each one can only do the work he or she is capable of doing, and often poor work is the stepping stone to better work. It is only with what I consider to be dishonest or wilfully mendacious work that I feel harsh. I take my work seriously, and ask also to be taken seriously and judged rigorously. I devote almost no time to thinking upon the subjective-objective questions raised recently. To my mind a good critic’s subjectivity is a kind of objectivity.

So I'd like to thank you, my readers, for how you have helped my work, and to say that I look forward to many more years of our interaction. To celebrate I thought I'd invite both you and most of the writers featured here over the last year to a party, but since many of them are now dead (though not, I assure you, as a result of being written about here), the only space that these workers in words can occupy in common is a space itself made up of words - a paragraph. Here's the guest-list:

Anton Chekhov, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Constantine Cavafy, Orhan Pamuk, Jorge Luis Borges, Saadat Hasan Manto, Willa Cather, José Saramago, Amartya Sen, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Naguib Mahfouz, Minoo Masani, Attila Jozsef, Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Mirza Abu Taleb, Joseph Mitchell, Amrita Sher-Gil, Monica Ali, Nazim Hikmet, Siddharth Chowdhury, Ruben Gallego, Giovanni Boccaccio, Harold Pinter, Ramachandra Guha, Mo Yan, Adam Kirsch, Javier Marias, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Jahiz, Dandin, Giovanni Verga, Altaf Tyrewala, Antonio Machado, Hushang Golshiri, Attia Hosain, Joseph Epstein, Nikolai Gogol and Samrat Upadhyay.

I enjoy going to the movies very much, but don’t feel I have as good an understanding of the form as of novels. But here are some of the occasional pieces on cinema I’ve done over the last year: on Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal, Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, Tahmineh Milani’s Two Women, and Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti.

I don't do much cricket work any more, but I enjoy writing the occasional piece for a periodical or else on the cricket blog Different Strokes. Here are some recent pieces on new-generation players of whom I think highly: Virender Sehwag, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ramesh Powar, and Suresh Raina.

And I would like to do more non-fiction writing, but this is difficult because it requires more time and expense than writing about books, and when I do travel I prefer to store away my notes for a set of stories I'm working on. Here's the one piece I've done in this area in the last twelve months: “Seven Views of Puri”.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

On Kiran Nagarkar's God's Little Soldier

[A version of this piece appears today in the Indian Express]

It is not unusual or surprising that Kiran Nagarkar has chosen in Zia Khan, the protagonist of his new novel God's Little Soldier, a man who is self-involved, confused, violent, spiteful, and deluded. Excellent novels have been written about such characters. Indeed, what could be more fascinating than the story of a man who has to deal with the world but cannot see clearly and is shackled by his own failings?

What is unusual, however, is the extent to which the narratorial perspective of God's Little Soldier exists in faithful servitude to the worldview of its central character. Instead of summoning sober intelligence to balance out Zia's vast madness, Nagarkar's narration aggrandises him even further, echoing Zia's slapdash thinking and love of anarchy with a linguistic sloppiness and a bogus grandiosity of its own. Zia is a terrorist, and God's Little Soldier itself enacts a kind of literary terrorism, gleefully blowing up every literary convention and nicety over more than five hundred pages at once tedious and alarming.

Zia's story is credible for only a fraction of this book. This is the early section where Nagarkar takes us through his childhood, his immersion in Islamic doctrine at the urging of his devout aunt Zubeida, and his conviction as he grows up that he is destined to be "God's little soldier", a defender of Islamic values in a degenerate and immoral world. Here one can take genuine pleasure in Nagarkar's tracking of his protagonist. "The power of mass prayer was a revelation to Zia," he writes of Zia's first visit to the mosque by himself. "He discovered that his prayers had more body and weight and rapture when he was among the believers in the mosque." One understands why Zia might want to do something to shake up the world.

But how he shakes it up. Nagarkar's Zia is a Superman. He is a mathematical genius who nevertheless has no great love for mathematics; he has three girlfriends at his posh school but is indifferent towards all of them; he is petty in his dealings with family members yet they all, like Nagarkar, love him to bits. As a student in Cambridge, he decides to assassinate Salman Rushdie, the "obstreperous Midnight's Child" and the scourge of Islam, and hunts him down, only to be stymied at the last moment; this makes him flee the country. Later he becomes a guerilla in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

In the second part of the novel, we find that Zia has renounced his precious Islamic faith to become the zealous Brother Lucens, a monk at an abbey. Here his activities include making massive profits on the stock market, running a campaign against abortion, and setting up an organisation called The Guardian Angels dedicated to nothing less than the moral rejuvenation of godless, sinful America. (It is worth noting that while Nagarkar mocks capitalism, his narrative is steeped with gratuitous references to foreign brand names, as if to establish that he really knows his US and his UK.)

And in the third part of the novel we find that Lucens has taken up with a Hindu godman, Shakta Muni, and has taken on a new name, Tejas Nirantar. Zia is infinitely elastic; at one point Nagarkar even calls him - whether in seriousness or in jest it is hard to say, as Nagarkar seems to believe all seriousness must also be jest - Zia-Lucens-Nirantar, as if to suggest there is nothing like a stable Zia but only a succession of Zia avatars. Zia has only the appearance of independence; in reality he is a hostage - God's little soldier - to his whimsical creator, who makes him whatever he wants him to be.

Worst of all is that this tall tale is narrated in Nagarkar's new wild-eyed vagabond prose, so different from that of Cuckold. His protagonist wants to assassinate Rushdie, and Nagarkar himself sounds mostly like he has the one-point aim of parodying the work of "Midnight's Child". One of the reasons that God's Little Soldier is so long is that a great deal of the time the narrator appears to be working only for the pleasure of the sound of his own voice. Nagarkar needs not the slightest excuse to lurch into verbal excess.

Here is how a cold wind blows around Zia: "It tore at him, slipped inside his trouser legs, groped at his crotch, ferreted in his armpits and careened into his lungs." This establishes only that the writer knows many verbs and body parts; as a sentence in a novel it is risible. There is nothing very significant about the wind groping at Zia's crotch; one loses faith in a writer if his powers of discrimination are so poor and his emphases so illogical. Here is the best analogy Nagarkar can find to dramatise a particular mental state of his protagonist: "Zia became a rod of uranium-238, inflammable with self-loathing and spite." Elsewhere Nagarkar provides, "There was a manhole in his soul, and he had fallen into it." Who can countenance work like this?

Nagarkar's shopworn and tacky language is paralleled by a moral flabbiness - in fact he seems determinedly obtuse, as if to affect a kind of unorthodox bravura. Zia is a monster, but the only person with the courage to criticise him is his brother Amanat (whose writing, as quoted by Nagarkar, accounts for most of the book's sane moments). Nagarkar's narration itself records Zia's thoughts and activities without the least trace of irony. At several points he seems desperate to bat for his protagonist, to explain away his improbable deeds.

At one point Zia comes up with a business plan to brings funds into Concord-Ashton, the base of The Guardian Angels ("Tempt them with tax holidays and benefits, incentives, competitive insurance packages….Yes, like the Mafia dons, let's make them an offer they can't refuse."). This is only one of many instances when Nagarkar sounds like nothing so much as a hack brochure writer. And Nagarkar carries on the narration after Zia's speech: "You may call it a juvenile stunt, but it worked. Word about the tax holiday and other benefits got around…" "You may call it a juvenile stunt"? Why is Nagarkar so worried here about what the reader is thinking?

Late in the novel, when Zia embarks upon his grand venture to reform the United States, Nagarkar explains: "What was needed was to turn the world upside down. The very nature of the value system in the country had to be changed.The US had to be taken back, by force if necessary, to a state of innocence and grace." The "value system" indeed! "By force if necessary"! At such points we find it is not the novelist who reveals something about the character but the character who reveals something about the novelist.

Although God's Little Soldier purports to deal with questions of faith, and hollers out the names of Allah and Jesus at every opportunity, what it offers through the study of its cartoonish protagonist is really a parody of the life of faith, even militant faith. Its main quality is that it is a book greatly in love with the idea of its own cleverness; the insight it offers into the large themes it almost programmatically embraces is negligible. This preening and shabby novel exhausts all negative superlatives, and deserves to be sold with the novel-reader's equivalent of the kind of warning found on cigarette cartons and whisky bottles.

Some links: Nagarkar offers an interpretation of his protagonist ("Zia is a good man gone really bad...") consistent with the way he treats him in his novel in a pre-publication interview here, and makes some more bizarre claims here ("[Zia's] intolerance makes me examine my own prejudices and reflect that maybe I'm intolerant as well – towards intolerant people!").

And here are two older pieces on novels that address questions of faith far more sensitively than God's Little Soldier - Naguib Mahfouz's Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth and Leila Aboulela's Minaret.

And, since Salman Rushdie appears so often in Nagarkar's novel, here is a recent piece by Rushdie written the 25th anniversary of the publication of Midnight's Children. Called "The Birth Pangs of Midnight's Children", it is a striking account of how that landmark novel came into being. In the passage I cite below, note in particular not just Rushdie's acknowledgement of a debt to Charles Dickens but also his acute portrait (Rushdie has always been an exceptional reader) of Dickens's work:

In the end I had two titles and couldn’t choose between them: Midnight’s Children and Children of Midnight. I typed them out one after the other, over and over, and then all at once I understood that there was no contest, that Children of Midnight was a banal title and Midnight’s Children a good one. To know the title was also to understand the book better, and after that it became easier, a little easier, to write. I have written and spoken elsewhere about my debt to the oral narrative traditions of India; also to those great Indian novelists Jane Austen and Charles Dickens — Austen for her portraits of brilliant women caged by the social convention of their time, women whose Indian counterparts I knew well; Dickens for his great, rotting, Bombay-like city, and his ability to root his larger-than-life characters and surrealist imagery in a sharply observed, almost hyper-realistic background, out of which the comic and fantastic elements of his work seemed to
grow organically, becoming intensifications of, and not escapes from, the real world.
Also, Vikram Doctor's piece in the Economic Times last week on Midnight's Children and the city that inspired it can be found here (link via Kitabkhana).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The supremely light feet of Suresh Raina

As the cricket season is due to end shortly, I'm making up for some slack months by writing a few pieces on players who've caught my eye. I've put up a post today on Different Strokes on the rising star of Indian batting. It's called "The supremely light feet of Suresh Raina", and here's an excerpt:

A great many of the batting artists of our age - Virender Sehwag, Damien Martyn, VVS Laxman - bat in a way that makes us admire the work of their hands rather than their feet. Batting was traditionally was thought to begin with, and indeed rest upon, a batsman's footwork. But the thickness and striking force of modern-day bats sometimes makes precise footwork redundant. It has been a pleasure, then, to watch the two splendid half-centuries made over the last week at Faridabad and at Goa by young Suresh Raina, and to observe how much his batting owes to his supremely light feet.
Also coming up on the Middle Stage over the next two weeks: pieces on Kiran Nagarkar's new novel God's Little Soldier, Hamid Ismailov's The Railway, and Alberto Manguel's With Borges.