We had a chat with author, Anindya Dutta who shared insights on his book, Advantage India: The Story of Indian Tennis and sports in India.
A Banker turned Author, Anindya Dutta went on a research spree to pen down his book, Advantage India: The Story of Indian Tennis. The book is a well-researched logbook about the history of Tennis in India. It was his column on cricket for an Australian website that encouraged him to turn into an author and write about sports. The encouragement led to his first successful sportsbook called, Spell Binding Spells based on Cricket. After writing four books on cricket, Anindya spent hours researching and reading various articles to finish his book focusing on Tennis as a sport.
He also dove into archives of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and British newspapers from the past 200 years to get the most authentic and accurate information. Advantage India: The Story of Indian Tennis features some of India’s pre-independence players like Mohammed Sleem, the Fyzee brothers, S.M. Jacob and Ghaus Mohammed and tennis icons like Dilip Bose, Sumant Misra, Naresh Kumar and Ramanathan Krishnan. Players who transformed Women’s Tennis in India like Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza also feature in the book. We had a chat with the author himself who shared his insights on the book and sports in India.
Here’s what Anindya Dutta has to share about his book:
You are a Banker turned Author. How did that switchhappen? What made you write for sports as a niche?
“I first wrote a column on cricket on an Australian website which got picked up by noted Australian cricket writer Kersi Meher-Homji. He encouraged me to write a book based on an article I had written on bowling spells. That would eventually become my first major success – Spell Binding Spells. Until writing that first article I had never written on sports. So it was a random occurrence if you like as if it was fated to happen.“
India is widely known to love and worship Cricket. Even you’ve covered it in your books in the past. How and why did you choose to write Advantage India The Story of Indian Tennis?
“My first 4 books were on cricket. Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling had just won India’s Cricket Book of the Year award. My Westland Editor Karthik Venkatesh asked me if I wanted to write a history of a different sport knowing my obsession with discovering lost sports stories. I had written a number of articles on Tennis in Australia and in Hindustan Times and Sportstar, so I decided to dive into Indian Tennis whose history had not been written before. It has been a magical journey.“
Do you think that the scenario of Tennis in India is changing?
“We have several youngsters coming up. We just lost to Latvia in the Billie Jean Cup but the fact that we got to the World Group for the first time is huge for women’s tennis in India. In the years ahead we may even get another Sania Mirza. But what we need are public courts for the sport to be as accessible to normal people – not just the well to do – like cricket. We also need the AITA to do far more for players than they currently do. It’s an expensive sport and very hard to do what Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza have done in the past two decades. They couldn’t have done it without family and other support.“
There is an extensive amount of research that must have gone into penning the book. Did you come across any interesting facts that stood out during your research?
“The research was intense. Hundreds of hours of reading books and articles, diving into archives around the world, and speaking to as many past players as I could get hold of. There are hundreds of untold stories that I have brought out in the book. India’s great players are themselves amazed by these stories. There is the fact that we went to the semi finals of the Davis Cup beating the World’s #1 team France in 1921, the very first year we participated in the tournament. Then there was Sidney Jacob, one of the players in that team who was actually India’s first Grand Slam semi-finalist reaching the semis of the French Championships 35-years before Ramanathan Krishnan achieved it in Wimbledon. Many many more. Read the book!“
How long did the research take?
“It took 12-15 months of the 18-months to ready the book for publication. I kept researching and interviewing and adding and rewriting even as I was writing the book.“
What were the points you kept in mind while digging up the history of 135 years around a particular sport?
“For me the purity and quality of the research is key. So, every fact must add up from multiple sources. Otherwise, it doesn’t get into my book. I interview players but I don’t accept their stories at face value. I double-check everything they tell me. A lot of the time they have forgotten or inadvertently made an error in telling me. I also remind myself that I am chronicling something that future generations will use for their research. So, I have to get my facts 100% write. It’s a great responsibility I put on my own shoulders. And finally, when I tell the story I tell it for the lay reader, not the tennis aficionado. My process is that my wife must love it as a stand-alone story and be engrossed in it. Otherwise, it doesn’t go into the book. She is my conscience keeper and most honest critic.”
Has the sport changed in pre and post Independence?
“Yes, it certainly changed. But the bigger change came from the mid-1980s when the material used in racquets changed. Then Fitness levels changed, there was more power, and massive money came into the sport. In the last 20-years, it has changed beyond all recognition and has become an extremely physical and expensive sport. This is exactly why AITA, corporates and the government need to support tennis to give us future Grand Slam champions. Right now there is no chance we will get one in the foreseeable future.”
You have a special section on the Doubles game and Women’s Tennis in India. Did you find any striking differences or instances?
“Doubles is what has taken India to the next level and helped us remain relevant in modern tennis. If Paes and Bhupathi had not come around Indian tennis would have been dead and buried by now. So our doubles success is key. Women’s tennis is a fascinating subject. The history had been lost. Modern Indian journalists and players alike had no idea about the fantastic and deep history we have. They had even forgotten the contribution of people like Nirupama Mankad never mind the generations of players before her. And how many know Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer and now politician, was the Asian Women’s Tennis champion? I am delighted I have brought it to life. And of course, Sania is the shining beacon of Women’s tennis for us. Her achievements given the barriers she faced and her pioneering role in Women’s sports in India are staggering. She is not given enough credit nor is her father Imran Mirza who helped mould what she finally became.”
Is it true that Tennis has significantly lesser women representation as compared to their counterparts?
“Well, we just played in the Billie Jean Cup World Group tie against Latvia. That’s a great achievement. Again, what Sania has done for the case of women’s tennis in India is staggering. But there are quite a few good young players in the wings. Can they win Majors? Unlikely. Can they keep the Indian flag flying high for some time? Certainly. Does women’s tennis in India have a future? Absolutely.”
Who is your favorite Tennis player?
Can you share some of the forgotten names of the Tennis legends who deserve to be talked about in glory?
“Sydney Jacob, Lewis Deane, Mohammed Sleem, Sumant Misra, Premjit Lall, Naresh Kumar, Ghaus Mohammed, SM Hadi and many more.“