Former first-class cricketer-cum-historian Vasant Raiji’s invaluable contributions to Indian cricket literature have to be celebrated, and not mourned, says renowned author and cricket historian Ramachandra Guha, who himself benefitted from Raiji’s advise and experience.
Raiji, who represented Bombay, Baroda, and the Mumbai-based Cricket Club of India (CCI) in first-class cricket between 1941 and 1950, passed away aged 100 years and 139 days on Saturday at his Mumbai home. He left behind his 94-year-old wife Panna and two daughters.
“Obviously his family and friends will be sad, but his contributions have to be celebrated, not mourned, because they continue in the shape of the books that he wrote, or inspired, that will be read for many years,” Guha told Outlook in an exclusive chat.
Guha does not agree that the Indian cricket literature is poorer with Raiji’s passing away. “I wouldn’t look at it that way because the legacy lives on; it is a cliché that it is poorer. Maybe the cricket world is poorer. But cricket literature is not poorer because the legacy of his own books as well as of the books by others he inspired lives on,” says the 62-year-old Sahitya Akademi Award winner.
Raiji wrote and edited 12 books on cricket, besides playing nine first-class matches between 1938-39 and 1949-50. His pioneering books are on Ranji Trophy, the Indian national championship of cricket, the Mumbai-based Cricket Club of India, and legendary Australian batsman Victor Trumper.
“His legacy lives on in the books he wrote, but also to the books other people wrote to which he contributed so much. In my own book, ‘A Corner of A Foreign Field’, his contribution is properly acknowledged because he was a very valuable source for me, and likewise I am sure he would have been to many other writers,” says an indebted Guha.
“The thing about someone like him is that the celebrity lives on because even when he is not acknowledged that he did the first book on Ranji, the first book on Victor Trumper, the first book on the Cricket Club of India, and so many other things, that the legacy will live on,” elaborates Guha.
The Bangalore-based Guha points out that Raiji was “very concerned” that the younger generation should not forget Indian cricket history. “So one of the things he did was to found this ‘Legends’ Club’ [in Mumbai] to honour Vijay Merchant, Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Hazare, and Lala Amarnath. I hope he went peacefully,” he says.
As Guha himself discovered when he met Raiji while writing his seminal, award-winning book ‘A Corner of A Foreign Field’, he found him helpful to young writers, generous and graceful. “He was a great servant of Indian cricket in terms of documentation of its early history. He was a pioneer in that regard. So, that is his literary or scholarly contribution. He was also a man of great generosity and grace; always willing to help younger writers, which is not always the case,” emphasises Guha.
Raiji was also a selfless person, stresses Guha. “Researchers can be very possessive about their stuff – ‘humne paaya, I found it, why should I share it with you?’ He was incredibly generous to many people and I was one of them. And, of course, he had the rare experience of a cricket writer of having played first-class cricket himself,” he says.
“So, if you look at the other well-known Indian cricket writers, they may have played at school or college or club. But he and Sujit Mukherjee were in unique position of being serious cricket writers and historians who played first-class cricket. They had the unique position of having played with CK Nayudu or Lala Amarnath or Vijay Hazare. You shared the dressing room with them; you bowled against them; you batted against them. I mean it gives you a whole different understanding of the game,” says an impressed Guha.