CLR James: A literary giant forgotten

The house of the Trinidadian author, who wrote what's widely considered the greatest book on cricket, is a neglected mess.

Rodents, stench, and beggars occupy the home of one of cricket's great writers. (Somshuvra Laha/HT)It’s the second house on the left on Ward Street in Tunapuna. But the anticipation that has built up trying to locate where CLR James lived suddenly gives way to heartbreak and utter disbelief. The house, a classic two-storeyed structure with colonial wooden windows and tin roof, is in a shambles. Urine-soaked walls, garbage in front of the house and dense bushes make it impossible to go near the house.

That window of James’s house, ‘lined just behind the wicket of the recreation ground’, as described in ‘Beyond a Boundary’, is not to be found. Most residents don’t even know CLR James. ‘No idea’ and ‘are you looking for that young guy’ came one’s way till someone finally gave the right directions.

“A group was last seen coming to this house seven years ago. They sang songs, there was a memorial service but nobody has come to the house ever since,” informed a neighbour.

Tunapuna has gone upscale, Trinidad and Tobago is booming financially but their hero and one of the finest cricket writers ever has been conveniently forgotten. And his house, worth preserving as national heritage, is now home to rodents, snakes and the odd beggars.

Writer and famous commentator Tony Cozier isn’t amused. “I have read ‘Beyond a Boundary’ over and over again. I never get tired of it,” he said. “I don’t think the current generation pays much attention to history. I get the feeling they think cricket only started in the 1960’s, 70’s or later, which is a pity, really!”

The book. Among the finest books written on cricket, ‘Beyond a Boundary’ is a crisp memoir of James’s childhood, the local players he grew up watching and the issues of race, class and politics around cricket in pre- and postWorld War West Indies.

“He really stirred the issue of white captains to begin with. He pushed for (Frank) Worrell who then became captain. James was an activist and a lot of his work brought about change,” said Cozier.

“The first tour for Worrell to Australia in 1960-61 was a difficult one. As the first black captain if he had failed, it would have been a tremendous setback. Everybody was waiting to say that black people can’t lead West Indies,” said Cozier, who has covered cricket since 1958. West Indies lost 1-2 but such was their gutsy display and gentlemanly behaviour on the pitch they were given a farewell parade.

His outspoken views often invited government ire. And though James had shifted to England, he was placed under house arrest when he came to Trinidad soon after ‘Beyond a Boundary’ was published in 1963. Authorities made amends later and James was given a state funeral after his death in 1989.

Today, ‘Beyond a Boundary’ is part of the post-colonial literature curriculum in Jadavpur University but Cozier said the Caribbean has still not entirely realised its importance. “The West Indies University in Barbados does have a course on cricket though,” he said.

The dissociation with their own history does hinder West Indies cricket. James’s probing question, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ is yet to find an answer.

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