Why has no one heard of Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketer? Shehan Karunatilaka, author of Chinaman: The legend of Pradeep Mathew, explains it this way: ‘Wrong place, wrong time, money and laziness. Politics, racism, power cuts and plain bad luck’. The recent publication in India and the UK of the Karunatilaka’s novel, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, presents readers with an extraordinary cricket tale, contrasted against a background of Sri Lanka’s recent dark decades. The story concerns the attempt by an alcoholic former sports journalist, W G Karunasena, to write the biography of Pradeep Mathew, a Tamil bowler of left-arm unorthodox spin – a ‘Chinaman’. Mathew’s cricketing career during the late 1980s and early 1990s was brief but spectacular – yet since then, he has been mysteriously forgotten. Himal's contributing editor Richard Boyle recently spoke with the writer about the year he spent ‘reading cricket books, watching games, downloading stats and interviewing drunks’.
|Photo: Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, facebook|
Two years ago, the then-unpublished Chinaman won Sri Lanka’s Gratiaen Prize for English literature, the prize money from which has to be used to self-publish if a publisher is not forthcoming. You had to resort to self-publication, which took a year to accomplish – a period that, I believe, was largely spent in editing the manuscript. Was the result substantially different from the original?
The manuscript that won the Gratiaen was very much a first draft. I had to set myself the goal of getting the plot of Chinaman down on paper by the Gratiaen deadline. The year after was spent ironing out the inconsistencies, cutting out irrelevancies and adding texture to the story. It took much longer than expected.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
flickr / The US Army
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