A Madras and Chennai Super Kings reading list

There’s a bunch of friends I’ve grown up with, with whom I went to school and then to college, and who remain my closest gang of never-do-wells. We do at least one trip together every year (usually Kodaikanal, whose lanes we now know like the back of our hands), reliving old memories and retelling old stories. We have a WhatsApp group with a cringeworthy name we thought up when we were 17 or 18, and it hosts our conversations and our constant bickering.

If you had a peek at it, it would be very difficult for you to guess that these are grown men in their 30s, and that almost all of them have kids.

The group is never more active than when there’s a CSK match on, though. In late 2007, our 3rd year of engineering, we got ourselves a cheap TV so we could watch cricket. We watched the 2007 World T20 together. All of us were avid fans, and played a lot.

And then the IPL began, and the Chennai Super Kings bought Dhoni.

This marked the beginning of a fandom we have celebrated together for so long we don’t remember a time without it. At least once every year we try to go to a CSK game. in 2019 we went to Bangalore to watch a thriller where Dhoni put a ball out of the Chinnaswamy and we almost, almost won.

This sense of community and loyalty is why at least one of us will text in the group just as the toss happens, that quintessential question: Enna da, batting a?

Over the years, I have written a lot about the city and about the Super Kings.

I grew up in the Indian north, and this gave me a way of seeing (the Naipaul phrase) the Tamil south both as an insider and an outsider. The culture, proud and loud, extends to me a belonging I never had and only found when I moved back home to Pondicherry. But because I had an understanding of the other to compare it to, I found that I could articulate its essence much better.

This was then the starting point for the three essays I share here. Written at different times in my life and in response to different things, there are three things common to all of them: A vision of Tamil identity, my understanding of my people, and the team and a player that somehow embodies these things.

1. On Madras, its women, and its evenings (August 2015)

One of my own favourites, and an essay several of my friends ask me about again and again. Written when I was a different person, and when some of the most important things in my life, good and bad, hadn’t happened to me yet, it is a celebration of Madras and its quiet, self-contained romance.

2. Whistles in the night (March 2018)

The Chennai Super Kings returned in 2018 to the IPL after a two year ban, and we couldn’t wait. It was a dream return, a campaign that will be remembered as much for its symbolism as for the victory. But it was the anticipation of it, the idea of something you loved coming back to you expressed as collective emotion, that I tried to capture here. I succeeded, I think.

3. The hero from the hill country (July 2019)

Written just after India’s exit from the 2019 World Cup campaign in England, this was a kind-of farewell to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of India (well, that’s how he’ll be remembered, though Virat led us that campaign). I consoled myself by the fact that he would still lead the Super Kings, and that he still belonged to us, in a way. But I won’t lie: I teared up when I wrote it. There’s a lot of MS in this, but there’s also a lot of Madras.

More than a decade I have followed and loved this team, and as my life and career speed up, I have less time to devote to the pure, rabid fandom of my younger days.

What sustains me yet, however, is that every time there is a CSK game, a bunch of old friends in different corners of the world will come together over a screen, and at least one of them, bleary-eyed, will text again that old, beaten question: Enna da, batting a?

Written in October 2020.