“The Great Tamasha” is a book about cricket, but it is also a tale about the rapid rise of modern India and the corruption that plagues it. A series of scandals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the glitzy Twenty20 tournament run by the country’s cricket board, got James Astill hooked to the game in India. What followed was the 40-year-old journalist’s first book – an account of India’s rich cricketing tradition, politics, religion and the emergence of the cash-rich IPL.
Astill takes the reader from the slums of Mumbai to a village in north India, places where cricket is as much tamasha (spectacle) as it is religion. Bollywood stars, business tycoons and cricketers, both past and present, feature in “The Great Tamasha”. So does Lalit Modi, a former IPL chairman, now an outcast in India’s cricketing circles.
Astill spoke to India Insight about his book, cricket and its celebrity culture. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Why “Tamasha,” which can mean “spectacle,” “commotion” or a tempest in a teapot?
A: The idea of spectacle and entertainment or theatricality in public life, sometimes chaotically, sometimes premeditatedly… It’s that coincidence of meaning that I wanted.
Q: “Tamasha” is being increasingly used in a negative sense in India.
A: The fact that it is used pejoratively is nonetheless something I wanted to capture. As you say, Indians speak of the IPL, speak of goings-on in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) dismissively as just tamasha — not serious cricket, not serious politics. I wanted that attitude also to be contained in the meaning, in the title, but that’s not necessarily my view.