Sen, Ronojoy: "Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India."(Book review)

Author:Joseph, Raphael
 
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Sen, Ronojoy. Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

Ronojoy Sen's Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India is a significant addition to the emerging field of sports studies in India. Sports studies in India is a maturing field as is evident from the presence of a few doctoral dissertations across universities of India and an increasing number of books published for general readers on the subject. Sen's narrative does not just weave colonial, postcolonial, and contemporary histories of sports, but dwells in length on the socio-political and cultural aspects of sports and games in India. He covers the entire range of sports and games in Indian history from the ancient period to contemporary times, writing with the flare of a cultural historian without dwelling on dull facts and figures.

The book's arguments and narrative progression ultimately boils down to the relevance of cricket in today's collective consciousness of India and the poor performance of India in international sports events. The ubiquitous presence of cricket in the pages shows the deep rooted significance that the sport has on Indian psyche; but at the same time the importance of other competitive games like football, hockey, wrestling, and tennis are also located in the cultural matrix of colonial and postcolonial India. Cricket as it emerged as a colonial sport was not adopted immediately by Indians and Sen's mapping of the rise of the sport to a national mania is a pleasure to read.

The introductory chapters, delineating pre-modern history, make it clear that Indian society favors epic imagination, rather than historical imagination and his history of ancient sports in India is drawn from the Indian epics and not from official history as such. The following chapters survey the history of sports and games from medieval times through the colonial period to the partition and later to the contemporary globalized times. The colonial interaction in sports, though heavily racialized, had been a two way process; for instance, cricket came to India from Britain and polo migrated from India to Britain.

The method that he follows is important as he draws from anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and studies of material cultures and this is the unique aspect of this book. For example, he unearths the situations and circumstances under which clubs, gymkhanas, and sports-meets evolved from the colonial period to the present; and...

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