Fast Train from Chakdaha
Jhulan Goswami plays her final game of international cricket today, drawing to close one of the greatest careers in the sport. At one point the fastest bowler in women’s cricket, at another point the ICC Women’s Cricketer of the Year, and today, after two decades at the top, retiring as the highest W-ODI wicket-taker in the world. She transformed the course of the sport in India. And little does she know, she changed the course of my life too.
In 2014, I had quit my job in the US and moved back to India to try and see if I could make something of my love for writing and photography. I was travelling to different parts of the country and posting photo-essays and travel stories when out-of-the-blue Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (@sidvee) — an incredible writer, editor, and friend — asked me if I wanted to pitch a story to The Cricket Monthly, a longform magazine that ESPNCricinfo was starting up at that time.
What could I possibly pitch to Cricinfo? I didn’t know the first thing about journalism. All I knew at that moment was that I was travelling to Kolkata in a few days to see the Durga Puja festivities. I also remembered that Jhulan Goswami lived in Kolkata.
“How about a profile on Jhulan Goswami?” I asked Sidvee.
Audacity or naivete, I don’t know. A greenhorn asking for a chance to interview and write about an Indian icon. But Sid greenlit the idea, found me her phone number and asked me to go for it. Before I knew it, Jhulan’s phone was ringing.
“Hello… uhm, I am calling from Chennai. I am a… mmm… I’m a writer?”
“Yes, tell me.”
“I’m coming to Kolkata next week and I wanted to ask if I could meet you… to interview you for an article on your cricket journey.”
“You’re coming here in October? That’s the busiest time for us Bengalis!” she laughed. But she then added, “It’s okay, you come. I’ll give you time.”
Jhulan wasn’t kidding when she said it would be busy for her. So busy that I was on the final day of my two-week trip and still hadn’t got time with her. I was roaming around the Armenian Church, down on my luck, trying to distract myself from the misery of a dream opportunity missed… when my phone rang. “Can you meet me at the Jadavpur University Second Campus Ground?” Jhulan asked.
The article came out in January 2015 titled, ‘Fast Train from Chakdaha’. It was my first byline ever. For a publication I had grown up reading. 2000+ words about an Indian great in a sport I love.
And that’s how my professional career in non-fiction started. Thanks to Jhulan Goswami’s generosity and Sid’s belief in me. It’s long over-due, but Sid — thank you for taking a chance on an extremely inexperienced and insecure writer and making me believe I had something in me.
And Jhulan — thank you for sharing your story with a writer who had no portfolio or reputation, but only a desire to make a career in this. Everything that I get to do today, I can draw a line back to that moment when you said, “It’s okay, you come. I’ll give you time.”
‘Fast Train from Chakdaha’ ends with this quote from Jhulan: “If you have passion and love for the game, if you have the desire to do well on the field, this small distance hardly matters. And I enjoyed. I truly enjoyed. That is the beauty of my life.”
We have truly enjoyed watching you play, Jhulan. Thank you for showing us that the “small distances” in our lives can be travelled, that challenges can be overcome and that there is beauty to be found not just at the top, but also in the winding journey that takes one there.