Mumbai: Shoaib Akhtar's tell-all book has baited controversy, yet again. What else can you expect from a book that makes its intentions so very clear, by calling itself 'Controversially Yours?'
After reports quoted the pacer as saying that even Sachin Tendulkar is afraid of facing him, the book release, scheduled to have taken place at the prestigious Cricket Club of India in Mumbai, was cancelled on Sunday evening. Not to be outdone, members of the Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena are now jostling each other for credit, with each faction crying itself hoarse to convince the electorate that it was solely responsible for the cancellation of the event.
In a city packed with ardent devotees of cricketing deity Tendulkar, it isn't difficult to gauge why both parties are scrambling to make a hue and cry about the pacer's unflattering remarks, and taking up cudgels to repudiate the perceived slight.
MLA Jitendra Awhad, a senior NCP leader, insisted that it was he who had browbeaten the CCI into cancelling the event. He also gave himself a public pat-on-the-back for having organised protests against the book at Thane. Striking a self-congratulatory note, he said, "Sachin is the God of cricket, and I, being a cricket fan, organised the protest. I also called upon the CCI to prevent their venue from becoming a platform for a book that criticises Sachin."
Shiv Sainiks, on the other hand, are convinced that it was a message from their leader Uddhav Thackeray that resulted in the book release being called off. Sanjay Raut, Sena spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP denounced Akhtar's alleged remarks, saying, "Uddhavji sent messages to the concerned people, passing the stern order that they shouldn't go ahead with the book release, on the grounds that it will hurt the sentiments of all our countrymen."
A disgruntled Raut added, "Let us not speak of the book. By talking about it, we will be giving it publicity, which may help Akhtar's cause."
The CCI, however, denied that it had called off the event under any kind of duress, political or otherwise. CCI president Sevanti Parikh said, "Akhtar's book release was cancelled because the club wanted to steer clear of all the controversy that it has kicked up. We do not want to sully the association we have with Tendulkar. Let me make it clear that we had just offered our premises as the venue for the event, and were not responsible for organising it."
Parikh categorically denied that the elite South Mumbai institution had received any verbal or written threat asking it to cancel the launch, saying, "We have not received any threats - veiled or upfront - from anybody. We just didn't want to court controversy, that's all."
Journalist Anil Dharkar of Literature Live, which had organised the event, said he was "not surprised" that the event was cancelled. He said, "There is an air of intolerance in this country, so you cannot blame the club."
"People exercise caution. When we broached the subject of the book release, there was palpable excitement."
"This is not surprising, since Akhtar is a colourful character, and a bit of a maverick."
Dharkar clarified that a thorough reading of the book would prove beyond doubt that the media had misquoted Akhtar. "It is true that he claimed that Dravid and Tendulkar weren't match winners - this is an opinion to which he is entitled. But the comment that attribute him as claiming that Sachin was scared to face him, needs to be read in context."
He signed off saying, "In a democracy, we need to engage in dialogue. The event could have been the platform for discussions that would help people understand why he said what he did. Akhtar has ruined his career by courting one controversy after another. We shouldn't have given so much credence to his personal opinion. We should have taken it all with a pinch of salt."
Queering the pitch?
The cancellation may convolute matters involving other Pakistan cricketers in future, especially the function scheduled to be held this Thursday, featuring yet another Pakistani bowler.
Former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan has been roped in to speak at the third annual Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture Series. Ironically, the talk aims to shed light on how Indo-Pak cricket could improve ties between the hostile nations.
Professor Nandini Sardesai, cricketer Dilip Sardesai's wife, said, "I don't see how any problem could crop up. Perhaps (Imran) Khan will have to field some questions on the controversy from the media. I am sure the moderator will be able to keep the talk on track. This discussion about Indo-Pak cricket ties has far more gravity, as it is not a promotional event. People also see Khan in a different light."
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