- Cricket and the Meaning of Life (2006)
Amongst the mountain of cricket literature there has always been a strain of thought that affords the sport a higher meaning. Lord Harris once claimed cricket to be “more free from anything sordid, anything dishonourable, than any game in the world.”1 Neville Cardus called it a form of art, no less.2 These themes are familiar to the cricket enthusiast. They fill the media and literature that allow access to the game; shape the way the individual looks at it, talks about it and, ultimately, thinks about it. Sanjay Talreja adds to this reverential treatment in his personal documentary, Cricket and the Meaning of Life. Talreja attempts to understand the immigrant experience in Canada through cricket; how the sport can help people to respect one another and, just as importantly, aid people to understand themselves.
Talreja was born in India and grew up in Bombay. When, he claimed, the “New Modern India” failed him, he decided to move his family to Canada and to the multicultural city of Toronto. They arrived in 1999. Talreja’s Canadian experience presented further problems. He was a “visible minority,” but he felt “invisible,” detached from India and his past. He sought something familiar, and when he spoke to other Indians in Toronto [End Page 289] a reassuring topic was the “shared language” of cricket. Even this, however, presented complications. Cricket for Talreja provided access to his childhood. The game took him beyond the confines of his everyday life, as he listened to the exploits of the Indian national cricket team as it toured around the world. Probably his most vivid memory of cricket is also his most bitter. The Indian tour of Pakistan in 1978 shattered his enjoyment of cricket. India’s defeat to a nation it overwhelmed in war led the young Talreja to disregard his relationship with the sport, but his new life in Toronto gave him reason to resume it.
When a conversation with a fellow immigrant informed Talreja that 20,000 people played cricket in Toronto, he sought to find them. He found a cricket culture based on disparate ethnic groups, many members of whom were drawn from India. On the cricket fields of Toronto, and in the work of Brian Hale, he found a renewed respect for the game. Born in Guyana, Hale runs the Toronto Cricket Academy (TCA) with complete dedication. The TCA aims to spread and improve the game for the benefit of Toronto’s youth. Talreja became intrigued and inspired by the work of Hale at the TCA, even joining them on a two-week cricket tour to Trinidad in the West Indies. Although Talreja is interested in the colonial aspect of cricket in Trinidad compared to that of India, the tour became a bridge to more personal matters. He wanted to reconnect with his childhood love of cricket. This all boils down to what Talreja sees as cricket’s ability to teach us lessons in life. On tour, he watched contently as the young men in the TCA team gained a better understanding of Trinidadian culture and a better sense of who they are. The moral code of cricket is given special attention. The familiar tenets of fair play, honesty, integrity, courage, and gentlemanliness are hailed as tools to further individual development.
In a wider sense, this documentary raises issues about the immigrant experience in Canada and the place of cricket in many immigrant communities. Cricket functions in different ways for the teenagers of Indian descent in the TCA, and Talreja hones in on two young members of the team: Nitish, nine years old and already a skilled batsman, and Riyaz, the team captain. From several short interviews, Talreja uncovers that cricket provides a means for the young Riyaz to stay connected with Indian culture. Even though he was born in Canada, he confesses that he still regards himself as both Canadian and Indian.
The documentary is simply filmed, which fits the intimate nature...