With 'The Fixer', it's yesterday once more
New Delhi: Hes lived in 12 cities around the world, including in El Paso, a lynchpin of the Mexican drug cartels. As a keen observer of human nature and the reasons why we make the decisions we make, its but natural that Suman Dubey should make what he terms "Aspirational Regret" — in this case, that of a cricketer — the theme of his debut novel "The Fixer" (Rupa) that lays bare the fictional world of a privately-owned league in a setting is similar to the IPL.
"I have been fortunate in my career to have lived in as many as 12 cities around the world. These include the town of El Paso, which is famed for its stories of Mexican drug cartels, the college city of Boston and the tech-centre of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. In each of these cities I have met some fascinating people who've enlightened me with their unique stories," Dubey, now based in Mumbai, where he pursues his two greatest passions of gourmet coffee making and fiction writing, told IANS in an interview.
"As a storyteller, I love observing human nature and the key reasons why we make the decisions we make. It is truly fascinating for me to imagine how a character might behave in a particular situation. After spending years thinking of various fictional situations and characters, I decided to sketch them through my words in a novel," added Dubey, who studied at Cornell and has worked in Silicon Valley.
The outcome is quite fascinating — a no-holds-barred look into the soul of the protagonist — Neil Upadhyay. Named the 'ICC Emerging Cricketer' at 19 — and viewed as the next Kapil Dev — he returns 5/26 in a Test against Australia but is then sidelined due to injury and 21-years later, attempts to resurrect himself by coaching the best team in the nascent Indian Club Cricket League (ICCL).
An Oscar Wilde quote — "When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers" — created a powerful impact on the way Dubey perceives things.
"I realized that Aspirational Regret can be a strong driver of human nature and can make a person think out of their usual personality. Thus, I wrote about the journey of a character struggling for redemption and survival and the decisions he makes to achieve his goals.
"The overblown ambitions of this character lead him down a wrong path, and eventually towards 'aspirational regret'. In the end, he realizes that his goals were misplaced and he was looking for approval from the wrong people," Dubey explained.
A considerable amount of research went into the novel.
"I have spent days and weeks reading and researching about cricketers who had failed to fulfil their potential. I tried to understand how such cricketers coped with failure and rejection and the career paths they chose after their careers were over. I have also read several books, journals and articles on the famous match-fixing scandals in cricket to understand the history of corruption in cricket," Dubey said.
To this end, the protagonist is trapped in the dark and murky world of match-fixing by his family. Thus, his reasons for fixing matches are unique to his situation and in no way related to the real-world instances of cricket-related scandals, however, there are parallels.
Can cricket ever be "cleansed?" Has the match-fixing controversy unearthed in 2000 and the subsequent steps taken by the ICC served to clean up the game? Is there anything more than needs to be done?
Yes and no, with greater emphasis needing to be placed on the latter, Dubey said.
"I firmly believe that the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the individual cricket boards have taken strong steps to clean up the game and eradicate any form of corruption in it. However, it would be naive to think that this problem in cricket (or for that matter in any sport) has been solved for good.
"The sports industry is very dynamic, and scamsters always find new ways to trap sportspeople in their schemes. It is essential to understand that cricketers are not any different from professionals in other industries, and they face the same pressures that we all do," Dubey said.
In many instances, these stars entirely depend on the sport they play for their livelihood without developing any additional skills and are thus more vulnerable than others. Another important aspect that comes into play is the fact that sports careers mostly end when players are in their late 30s with nothing to do after retirement. This is precisely what happens with Neil Upadhyay.
"Thus, the ICC and its member boards must do more towards not only educating cricketers about the perils of match-fixing but also rehabilitating former cricketers in other careers after they retire," the author maintained.
Dubey has now turned his attention to the media for his next book.
"Just like we don't always look at cricket as a business, we also don't think of media as a business. Looking at media as a business and not necessarily as a source of public service would help us understand it better. In recent times, the popularity and spread of social media, combined with 24 hours breaking news, has created unique news patterns that we have never seen before.
"Thus, I am eager to provide the unheard stories of the media industry narrated by key stakeholders who are involved in the day-to-day business of making news," Dubey concluded.