Old Mrs Clarke

This is one of my favourites. I had the book Mrs Clarke sent me until I realised it needed a more loving house and I asked Mohandas Menon if he would keep it for me. Mohan’s eyes twinkled as he said yes!

The past sometimes dies an unpreserved death, yellow crumbling paper no longer able to support the weight of the words and pictures it carries. Sometimes it dies an uncaring death for the present is far too overpowering. But occasionally, only occasionally, it flits into your life unannounced, its romance alive, its sentiments robust, its pages firm and asking to be turned.

A very neatly packaged envelope arrived this January to the ABC Commentary Box in Brisbane. Inside, very carefully packed, was a slim book and a typewritten letter. It seemed a trusty old manual typewriter, the ribbon alive but complaining. The address on the letter was a traditional top right, not a more informal top left that suggests familiarity, the capitals were appropriate and the paragraphs began a respectful distance away from the rest of the lines. It was signed “Margaret Clarke” with “Mrs” in brackets suggestive of an era when it still seemed to matter.

“I was cleaning out a drawer of “all sorts” and I came upon this book which I thought I had give away. I thought it would be nice to pass it on to you, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard you talking about the 1947-48 tour.” It turns out that Mrs. Clarke was a friend of “Datta” Phadkar who “took her to the pictures after a meal” The use of the word “Datta” intrigued me for wasn’t he always “Dattu”. I thought her memory was failing her until I opened the book and saw, pretty neatly written, the words “ To Margaret, with best wishes, Datta.”

Apparently DattuPhadkar had spoken to her about the effects of partition on the team, of how there were two factions and how “poor Irani was somewhat ignored by all of them because he was the only Parsi amongst them!” They continued corresponding and when she received a wedding invitation, sent him a “mulga inkstand which I thought was suitably Australian”

The book was no less charming. It was called “Cricket. United India in Australia” and was written by a person I had heard of, Homi J H Taleyarkhan. Sadly it has been a while since he passed away for I would have experienced no greater joy than to present him a copy of his own book, 57 years after it was written, and now a symbol of friendship. It was 102 pages long but only four inches by five and three-fourths and had a rather feisty dedication. “Dedicated To Sports. About the Only Thing In Which India’s Unity Is Still Left”. That lament, understandable for it was written on the 16’th of June, 1947, continued well into the introduction.

The book was a collection of career sketches for the team “about to tour” Australia. The quotes are intentional for between the writing of the book and the start of the tour, Merchant had pulled out and so had Modi, there was no Mushtaq Ali nor was there Fazal Mahmood. But it had Amir Elahi who made his debut for India in the 2’nd test at Sydney and then played for Pakistan against India at the Kotla in 1952!

But we go ahead of the story for its heart lies in the introduction. “India’s unity is desecrated. Politically, economically, financially, in defence, in everything India is torn to pieces. Only in one thing, India’s unity is left untouched so far. That saving grace is SPORTS.” The capitals suggested that the man feverishly writing, or maybe pounding on a manual typewriter, might have nodded his head in approval at the emphasis.

He went on. “On India’s sports fields, we still find Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Scheduled Classes, Christians, all brushing shoulders playing in the happiest spirit of amity, knowing no distinction of class or creed, claiming no Hindustan and no Pakistan, no Moplastan and no Sikhistan. They are all SPORTSMEN OF INDIA, playing for ONE INDIA—alas, it makes one weep, the very mention of its memory!—for the glory of one nation.”

The profiles themselves are a little tame by comparison, anything would after words that deserved a voice, a microphone and a large audience (which they might have had, had they belonged to the other illustrious Talyarkhan—‘Bobby’ or AFST). But as a piece of history, as the relic of what must have been a warm friendship, it is priceless.

I wrote Mrs. Margaret Clarke (and I didn’t forget the Mrs!) as polite a letter as I could. And I looked at the scorecards of that series. DattuPhadkar made his debut in the second test with 3 for 14 from 10 overs (as India bowled out an Australian line up of Brown, Morris, Bradman, Hassett and Miller for 107!) and scored at least a half century in each of the remaining four tests!

India showed glimpses of promise but sadly for Mr. Taleyarkhan, it wasn’t United India taking on Australia.