Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Cricketer And The Swami


On 21st November 1896 three great personalities from India, each an achiever in his own field, shared a common platform in London. The occasion was a dinner hosted by the Cambridge Indian Majlis in London in honour of two celebrated Indian citizens who had made a name in England—One was the well-known cricketer K.S. Ranjith Singhji [ popular as Ranji] and the other was Atulchandra Chatterji from Calcutta ,who had topped the list in the I.C.S. Examination. The third person who had been specially invited to respond to the ‘toast of India’ was none other than Swami Vivekananda whose name had spread across the globe after his triumphal speech at the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in September 1893.

Colonel H.H. Sri Ranjithsinghji Vibhaji Judeja, Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, a princely state, was known popularly as K.S.Ranjithsinghji or Ranji for short. Ranji was recognized as ‘the black prince of cricketers’ and as one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Unorthodox in technique and possessed of extremely fast reactions, he brought a new style in batting that revolutionized the game of cricket. He excelled in late cuts and popularized the leg glance. The Ranji Trophy, the most important first class cricket I India was named in his honour and inaugurated in 1935 by Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala.

Ranji was born in a small village in Kathaiwar, Gujarat, in a wealthy Indian family of princely status. His clan, the Jadejas, was Rajput warriors. He was adopted by the Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, a small princely state. As were there was some conspiracy to dislodge him from his heirship to the princedom and as his life was at stake, Ranji was sent to England in 1891 when he was 19. He was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge University. Prior to his arrival in Cambridge, Ranji had never played an organized game of cricket. Nevertheless he won a cricket blue in the final year and moved on to play country cricket for Sussex after graduation. He played his first country match at Lords in May 1895 and made his first debut in England in 1896, becoming the First Indian to play Test Cricket. It was to honour this signal achievement of Ranji that the Cambridge Indian Majlis had organized the dinner.
In 1896 Ranji’s batting average exceeded even that of the legendary W.C.Grace. It was written in Ranji’s praise that no cricketer had ever won so peculiar a place in the affection of English people as Ranji did through his genius for the English game. He was probably the first Indian to have touched the imagination of the English lovers of sport. Such was his popularity in England that one London newspaper suggested that at this rate of progress, Ranji might even seek entry into the House of Commons and aspire for still higher positions. Even as Swami Vivekananda was holding his European audience spellbound by his powerful oratory, Prince Ranjith Singhji was saving English honour against the Australian cricket team. He had scored 154 runs and was not out.

Atulchandra Chatterji stood First in the highly competitive I.C.S. Examination in 1896—a dream achievement for any Indian. He went to England on a state Scholarship from Calcutta and was admitted to King’s College, Cambridge. He topped the ICS list which was his crowning achievement—an examination which drew the most brilliant and talented aspirants, both in England as well as in India.

In the dinner hosted on 21st November 1896, as per the custom, a number of toasts were proposed and many speeches delivered. Drinking to the health of the people and praising the British Empire for its contribution to the welfare of Indians was a normal feature in such gatherings. In his reply, Ranji [as an expected heir to the throne of Nawanagar] commended the British rule in India in keeping with the policy adopted by the other princely states. He exhorted his countrymen to extend full cooperation to the British rule in India. Even Atulchandra who was to serve under the British Government as an ICS officer was all praise for the British rule and toed the line of Ranji.

The speeches made by Ranji, Atulchandra and other Indians could not have pleased Swami Vivekananda. Responding to the toast, Swamiji pointed out that though India had fallen behind and was now serving the British, it was purely a temporary phase and it was only a matter of time before India would rise again and occupy the pride of honour it once commanded among the comity of nations. Swamiji said, inter alias:

“It is only out of the past the future will come. I know no greater and more permanent foundation for the future than a true knowledge of what had happened before. The present is the effect of infinity of causes which represent the past. We had many things to learn from the Europeans but our past, the glory of India which had passed away, should continue even as a still a greater source of inspiration and instruction. Things rise and things decay. There is rise and fall everywhere in the world. And though India has fallen today, she will assuredly rise again [loud cheers]. There was a time when India produced great philosophers and still greater prophets and preachers. The memory of those days ought to fill us up with hope and confidence. This is not the first time in the History of India that we are so low. Periods of depression and degradation had occurred before but India has always triumphed in the long run and so would she once again in the future”

During the entire speech Swamiji stressed the need for having a real and true knowledge of the history of the past—a history that would give Indians adequate self-respect and totally remove unhealthy feelings of slavishness from their minds.


Fw: ARTICLE NO. 540 Cricketer Ranjith Singh [ RANJI ] and SwamiVivekananda
Created: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 8:45 PM


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