SELECTION DAY by Aravind Adiga

Selection Day is that one day in the year when aspiring young cricketers (and their parents - who are really the aspirational ones) show off their cricketing chops to a bunch of judges who have sole power over who will be Mumbai's next great cricketing stars, with fame, fortune and cricket glory just around the corner.

It is a complete understatement that India is mad for cricket. In recent years the rise of the IPL has opened wide the dreaming skies for parents, agents, coaches as they desperately work their young charges on the cricket treadmill. The world is awash with stories of parents obsessed with turning their children into sports stars, musicians, chess players, A++ geniuses. And what good really does it do them. So this novel is a morality tale really, on what can go wrong when a parent's reason for being is having his child make the big time. There is, of course, nothing wrong with wanting to better oneself, and improve one's standard of living. But at what cost?

In this novel, it is further complicated by the father having not one child, but two, 16 year old Radha and 14 year old Manjunath. The three of them live in  Mumbai slum, this being the extra motivation for the father to have his boys shine. All energies are focused on the hard working and diligent older boy, but it is actually the younger boy who has the real talent, and who has to be made to see that he is really quite exceptional. So the basic plot of child/parent/talent, is stretched more by the addition of sibling rivalry. During the course of the novel, Manju is also tormented by his growing attraction to another young cricketer, a young wealthy and privileged Muslim called Javed. Javed is a bit like Manju's moral compass, seeing the corrupt and exploitative business of cricket for what it really is, trying to appeal to Manju's sensibilities to get him out of it. But will he?

Modern day India is a great setting for this novel, aside from the author's intimate knowledge of the place, we are also fully aware of how corruption is part and parcel of daily life in Indian society, how exploitation keeps the wheels going, how little control millions and millions of people have over their lives.

Great writing, and characters including the two secondary characters of the agent/promotor and the coach, the latter also disillusioned, defeated, but still standing in the vortex. There is a great story here, but for me it just did not hit the spot. The story ended up not really going anywhere. By the end, Manju is still conflicted over his relationship with Javed, Radha has self destructed, and cricket is somewhere far, far away. It is nothing to do with the cricket, it could easily be tennis, or cycling, or piano playing or any of these other parent obsessed activities that make the child simply a commodity to the parent and hangers on. But for me, the original gritty story lost its way. 

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