Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2012
V. S. Naipaul once wrote of his native Trinidad that ‘we were a society with no heroes, except cricketers’. In other times and other places too it is sportsmen who have often most fully embodied the hopes of the lowly and dispossessed. Naipaul's sentiments would be recognized by blacks in the Chicago ghetto, who honour no hero other than Michael Jordan, and by mulattos in the slums of Buenos Aires who are devotees of the deity Diego Maradona. They would also have been appreciated by an Indian not generally known for his interest in sport, Dr B. R. Ambedkar. As an Untouchable boy placed by the accident of birth at the bottom of the Hindu hierarchy Ambedkar, the future draughtsman of the Indian Constitution, took as his hero a slow left-arm bowler named Palwankar Baloo. Year after year Baloo dominated the Bombay Quadrangular which was the showcase cricketing tournament of India at that time. He was one of the first great Indian cricketers and among the earliest public figures to emerge from the ranks of the Untouchables. Now almost wholly forgotten, Palwankar Baloo commanded enormous respect inside and outside his community during his lifetime. Consider thus a little, thirty-page biography published in Poona in 1959 as part of a series of Marathi tracts with the running title ‘Kahintari Navech Kara!’ or ‘Do Something Distinctive!’ Priced at half-a-rupee these booklets were aimed at school and college kids presumed to be in search of role models.