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A fascinating throwback to the good old days of Indian tennis

BOOK REVIEW

CROSSCOURT

Authored by: Jaidip Mukerjea with Papri Sen Sri Raman
Publisher: Vitasta Publishers
Price: Rs 495

Calcutta, with its British Raj rule and the boxwallah culture for a number of mercantile firms, was a tennis city. The masses played football and cricket. The presence of a large number of Anglo-Indians, Armenians and anglicised Indians made the city a sportsman’s delight, with schools such as La Martiniere’s huge playing fields enormously encouraging athletics in school children.   

No wonder then that of some of the well-known tennis players who made Davis Cup history for India, three were from Kolkata – Premjit Lall, Jaidip Mukerjea and Leander Paes. Another of the Lall and Mukherjea generation was, of course, Ramanathan Krishnan from Madras that is Chennai, a city that also produced some of the best known tennis players of the country, like the Amritraj brothers; Krishnan’s son Ramesh and, more recently, Mahesh Bhupathy. 

Jaidip and his brother Chirodip Mukerjea studied in La Martinière, which also produced great rugby, hockey and tennis players, not to talk of swimmers (Nafisa Ali, for instance). No wonder there are frequent mentions of the school in this book on tennis – a book by Jaidip Mukerjea, written with Papri Sen Sri Raman. It is a valuable collection in Indian sports literature while briefly shedding light on a certain era in Bengal. 

The great grandson of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and cousins of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Jaidip belonged to an illustrious family. He talks of his maternal great grandmother Basanti Debi’s (Chittaranjan Das’s wife) positive influences on him. There is a girls’ college in Gariahat, South Kolkata, founded by and named after her. He remembers the pranks he played by hiding Mahatma Gandhi’s wooden clogs when he came visiting her, the spanking he received from his mother when he, as a young boy, quipped on seeing Gandhi “but he is a small man!” He reminisces that the whole day there were preparations in the household to meet a very big man. Gandhiji is said to have replied that he was indeed a small man.   

The period vignettes apart, what is to be lauded is the setting up of a wonderful tennis culture in the city, especially with the formation of South Club that produced so many excellent players. Various  corporate houses too were involved in promoting the game. Russi Mody of Tatas extended all help.   

Dilip Bose, Naresh Kumar, Suman Mishra, Akhtar Ali, later Enrico Piperno, Zeeshan Ali (Akhtar’s son), Bidyut Goswami, Leander Paes, son of hockey player Vece Paes and basketball player Jennifer, and made up the tennis fraternity The dedication, hard work and commitment to the game of tennis serve as a fine example of the legacy of pioneering efforts in an area. Later more tennis academies came up all over India and Jaideep now has his own tennis academy, too.

There is mention of some famous matches. The biggest feat was India reaching the Davis Cup Final in 1996, in Australia. Rod Laver had this to say: “Jay had a great Davis Cup record and was a key player in the Indian team that took India to the Challenge Round in 1996.” Jaidip writes about important matches, the professional circuit and friendships on and off the court. The memories of Wimbledon shine bright. After all, India became a well-known tennis playing nation for a period of time when these players were in their prime. This is a good documentation with rare black and white pictures, some of which are, unfortunately, not very sharp but bring back memories of a time gone by.

The book could have provided been some interesting sidelights, but at 82, Jaidip has played it safe. He writes about his several friendships with sportspersons on and off the field. The transition from wooden to titanium racquets is another interesting facet of the game he shares. 

The book was released on April 21, his birthday, at The Tollygunge Club. Said

Ramanathan Krishnan: “Whenever we lost a vital point in a match, I found Jaidip always charged back. I never saw him steal a point.”   

(Reviewed by Manjira Majumdar, a Kolkata-based independent journalist and researcher.)

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