March 24, 2015
“We choked … a dark mist hangs over our cricket …”
The author’s note of my novel, The CURSE and the CUP, begins with the above quote from a press interview by Gary Kirsten, the coach of the South African cricket team at the time, after their dramatic defeat in the 2013 Champions Trophy cricket tournament.
Today, March 24, 2015, South Africa lost yet another knock out match in pursuit of cricket’s biggest prize, the ICC World Cup. New Zealand, the team that knocked them out of the 2011 World Cup defeated them again. But today’s defeat in Auckland was not a repeat of the defeat four years ago in Mirpur, Bangladesh.
Today, South Africa didn’t choke. The Proteas played gutsy cricket till the very end. At several times during the match they performed better than the Kiwis with bat and ball, and in the field. And at several stages of the match—after they finished batting, toward the end of the match with three overs to go—it appeared as if they would actually pip the Kiwis to the tape.
But they lost. And the dark mist Gary Kirsten alluded to in 2013 continues to hang over South African cricket. Understandable then why the rainbow nation and millions of passionate cricket fans around the world would like to know why the Proteas lost.
Based on early reporting from Auckland, it appears that blame diggers have wasted little time in shoveling familiar dirt.
—Selection issues…selecting Vernon Philander was a mistake…
—Sloppy fielding…missed run outs…the dropped catch of Grant Elliott in the 41st over…
It’s early hours. The team and South Africa are still numb with the shock of defeat. However as the numbness wears off, and the heartbreak of defeat hardens, and the loss begins to sting, the shovellers will dig deeper and discover—in some cases even invent—more blame to hurl. And while the dreaded “C” word—chokers—has yet to rear its ugly head, it won’t be surprising to see it do its obligatory rounds as well.
But as I wrote in the opening pages of The CURSE and the CUP, what-if South Africa’s inability to win the ICC World Cup has nothing to do with cricket? What-if team selection and sloppy fielding has nothing to do with their defeat? Nothing. What-if the dark mist hanging over South African cricket is unpaid karmic debt; a debt to those who were denied their rightful place on cricket’s biggest stages during the apartheid era because of the color of their skin? What-if a generational curse is preventing the Proteas from winning cricket’s most prestigious trophy? What-if the curse and what it symbolizes is still unvanquished?
The CURSE and the CUP is fiction, and like all works of fiction is an invention fueled by imagination; yet extremely plausible. In that spirit of plausibility, I offer a few questions to ponder to those inclined to favor paranormal explanations over temporal explanations.
· It was rain that robbed South Africa of a certain victory in the 1992 edition of the World Cup; their first global tournament after readmission to international cricket. Just bad luck, as the pundits of that era had us believe? Or did an invisible force…a curse…order the rain?
· Who ordered the rain today? Yes, it was rain again that slowed South Africa when they seemed certain to post a match winning total around 350. A mere coincidence? Or did the curse, intent on exacting revenge and crippling dreams even till today, order the rain again?
· We could dismiss as mere coincidence that the same obstacle—rain—should have played a role in determining the outcome of the match in the same part of the world; the 2015 World Cup is being jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, as was the 1992 World Cup. Or, we could admit a separate reality and hear the silent sinisterness of the curse?
· Finally, again a mere coincidence that the same team—the Kiwis—that broke their hearts in 2011 should have broken their hearts today, or is it the curse’s way of saying, “I haven’t gone away yet.”
Incidents that appear as mere coincidences at first blush can often be a trove of alternate explanations, which is why novels grip us. The CURSE and the CUP is a novel that weaves a story around incidents that appear freakish, but could in fact be the workings of a curse doing its bidding. In the novel, Mama Nonkosi places the curse on the Proteas. After today’s match, the novel continues to ask if Mama Nonkosi’s curse is still alive, especially if we ask ourselves the question, “Who ordered the rain?”
November 12, 2014
Welcome to The Curse and the Cup blog. I hope you will enjoy my posts and share your comments, thoughts, and reactions.
My first blog answers the question I get asked frequently, ”How did you decide to write The Curse and the Cup?”
I remember vividly the day the idea came to me. It was March 25, 2011. I was packing to leave for India to conduct an executive education program at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. I was watching the cricket match between South Africa and New Zealand on my Mac, only because it is not feasible to obtain live broadcast of cricket matches in Reston, Virginia, where I live. When South Africa lost…and frankly I had a hunch they would, despite bowling out the Kiwis cheaply…I started toying with what ifs.
What if it has nothing to do with cricket…what if it is some dark destiny…unburned karma from a previous era…what if someone had put a curse on the South African cricket team?
It was not the first time South Africa had lost. So why did I decide to play the “what if” game that day? Why not on earlier occasions? I can’t say. Looking back all I can say is that perhaps the universe recognized I was ready to write a novel and flooded my mind with ideas. Thank you dear universe.
By the time I boarded the flight, I was consumed by my what ifs. I worked continuously on the first leg of the flight to India from Washington Dulles to Dubai—didn’t sleep a wink—writing, scratching, scribbling on my pad. By the time I landed I had sketched out a rough framework for the novel. It read:
An injustice was committed in the past…which spawned a dark destiny…the ill effects of which continue to this day…and, if not reversed, will continue to prevent South Africa from winning.
All that I knew was that the injustice would have to involve a non-white cricketer, and that my novel would have to engineer this injustice using an original and unique set of incidents. Beyond that I didn’t have much.
In the summer of 2011 I visited the MCC library at Lord’s, London, to research books dealing with race and cricket. I didn’t find any novels, but did find extremely insightful non-fiction books, and contacted several of the authors on my return to the US.
Two calls proved exceptionally helpful; the first to Cricket South Africa, in Johannesburg, and the other to Professor Andre Odendaal, author of The Story of an African Game. The sub-title of the book, which has a foreword by Nelson Mandela, is Black Cricketers and the Unmasking of one of Cricket’s Greatest Myths. The book inspired me and shaped my thinking, including names for the novel’s characters and locations. For example, The Story of an African Game is a tribute to Khaya Majola, a brilliant black cricketer who hailed from New Brighton. In my novel, the family of legendary left-arm spinners—the Linganis—also comes from New Brighton.
I should have been able to start writing in earnest around the middle of 2012, but the pressures of earning a living derailed my intentions and it was not until May 2013 that I finalized my story plan and began writing seriously…and regularly…as regularly as I could given the demands of my day job.
Family events, one happy (marriage) and one unhappy (bereavement), and an unexpected opportunity to conduct an executive education program in South Africa pulled me away from my writing in late 2013 and early 2014.
The novel was about 70% complete when I left for South Africa in the first week of February 2014. The trip was hugely successful. I met a large number of wonderful people, including a few whom I had been in regular touch with on the phone, or on Skype, for close to two years. I visited New Brighton, spent time with sangomas, visited cricket stadia, and other locations featured in my novel, and had numerous conversations with people about the themes and events defining the story. The reaction was unanimously positive and supportive. I returned encouraged and enthused.
But, to my horror, when I returned, my novel and I had become estranged; I had forgotten my own novel. I remembered it in broad terms, but couldn’t recall the nitty-gritty, and the specific details concerning where I was and how I had got there. It was a shock to me at that time, but not in hindsight. By the time I returned to my desk in late February I had been absent from my novel for close to six weeks. I had made a ton of notes during my South African trip in a journal and in the margins of my manuscript; but that’s not writing.
After lamenting furiously for a few days, I reconciled myself to the only sensible option I had—starting at the beginning. So in March 2014, I did just that, went back to the beginning and started again.
Starting again had its benefits. I found it easier to be my own worst critic. As a result, I was more focused, and ruthless. I adopted a brand new structure for the book, which required me to drastically alter the sequence of events leading to the birth of the curse, its return, and its harassment of Themba towards the end of the novel. I may not have done it cheerfully, but I did it, because I knew it was in the best interests of the novel. I didn’t keep track of how many previously written words I discarded, and how many new words I wrote; writing was tough enough; I didn’t need additional depressants.
The resolve and persistence paid off. Approximately seven months later, by the end of October, to my great joy and satisfaction, I had a complete, fully written novel—proofed, edited, and pre-read by a team of beta readers—ready to venture out into an unknown world.
I hope you will welcome and embrace it.