Imagine getting into the mind of a woman — that too one living under the Taliban regime — and writing out a 336-page novel? Timeri N Murari has successfully accomplished what has evaded men for ages — understanding a woman’s psyche, in his new novel The Taliban Cricket Club.
Murari admits it was very difficult for him. ‘I was trying to find ways to tell the story when Rukhsana (the protagonist in the novel) stepped in,’ he says. Sometimes, he says, a voice takes over. ‘May be I have a kind of a split personality,’ says the writer who has done the same in his earlier novels like The Small House.
‘Once a character starts talking and takes over your persona, the writer becomes a kind of a stenographer. When Rukhsana started speaking, I was just trying to follow her storyline,’ explains Murari.
The Taliban Cricket Club is the saga of Rukhsana, a spirited Afghan woman who studied and fell in love in Delhi and with Delhi and yet went back to Kabul to work as a journalist. Even when the Taliban bans women from public space, the gutsy young lady does not give up on her vocation, reports on the plight of women under Taliban rule and secretly faxes them to a national newspaper in Delhi so that the world gets to know and share the suffering the fairer sex endured under the Islamist extremists.
A Taliban minister Zorak Wahidi, tries to force her to marry him. She looks for opportunities to get out of Afghanistan and like godsend, she gets an opportunity in the form of cricket with the help of which she helps her brother and cousins escape the clutches of the Taliban.
The idea comes across as simplistic, almost surreal at times. ‘It might seem simplistic, but I wanted to show the conflict between a democratic game and an autocratic nation. I wanted to show the contrast between them,’ argues Murari.
‘People under any tyranny would want to rebel. Compared to other novels, it might seem simplistic, but then life is beautiful and simplistic,’ he explains further.
Why cricket though? Murari says he didn’t attempt to write the ‘ultimate treatise’.
‘Because cricket is our form of entertainment. It is an escape for the young,’ says the author who says he had played a lot of cricket at one time as well.
Before sitting down with The Taliban Cricket Club, which took Murari two and a half years to write, the author spent a week in Afghanistan. He had a very good contact who set up meetings for him. ‘I met quite a few women professionals. I wove their experiences in the novel. I also met a lot of young men who were also affected by the Taliban rule,’ he says.
The idea for the novel, though, came way back in 2000 when he read a small news report about the Taliban introducing cricket to the country and applying for the International Cricket Council (ICC) membership (Afghanistan is now an Affiliate Member of the ICC). ‘That was the springboard for the novel. But I didn’t work on it then. I was working on other projects when I thought I would explore it again,’ he says.
The country is not too far from Murari’s mind even now. ‘My next book is also set in Afganistan, in the present times,’ he says.
And what happens to Rukhsana after she managed to get away to Pakistan? That might be the subject of yet another novel. ‘May be I would bring her back to Afghanistan some day,’ he muses.