Published in The Cricket Monthly, February 2015 issue
Dear Cricket Monthly,
Ticketbastard is what we called them. Vermin renowned for pilfering meaty percentages of the price of tickets they sold as “convenience charges”. But their thieving ways were a hazy afterthought as I sprinted up a bustling thoroughfare in downtown Toronto one morning in 1996 to get tickets to the first Sahara Friendship Cup. I had always stuck to a principled stand that Indo-Pakistani “friendship” beamed in from neutral venues was an abomination (possibly it was to do with the trauma inflicted by Javed Miandad in 1986) – principles you couldn’t sniff a trace of as I arrived breathless at the deserted ticket outlet. Convenience charge be damned, I could have kissed the Ticketbastard lady when she handed over a sheaf of tickets for the upcoming five matches. I stood in a daze staring at them. Could she ever comprehend what it meant?
Published in Cricinfo, February 12, 2014
The call always arrived after dinner. Located in the living room, the telephone offered little privacy. Pesky and nosy busybodies (siblings and parents) were always hovering and any spilling of the beans now that half the school day had been kissed goodbye would create mayhem. Poker face and minimalist was the way to go.
The voice never wasted time on pleasantries; straight to the point:
“Did you go?”
“Two flicks. One cover drive. A leg glance. Two back-foot cuts behind point. Later than God. Where were you rotting away?”
“Had a chemistry lab report to finish, dude. That son-of-Hitler professor would have killed me if I didn’t.”
“Sure. Rot in hell, will you?”
Published on Wisden India on November 21, 2013
As I stood on my porch on the morning of 16, November, nothing seemed right with the world. The entire milieu was off kilter. The skies were a swathe of startling blue and the sun shone brightly. It was ridiculously warm. Chilly November in these parts is usually the time to look back fondly on the smells and vibrant colors of the season just passed and forcibly banish thoughts of the looming cold months. But the grass on lawns that should have long retreated into hibernation was lush green and still growing. And I spotted a neighbor mowing his lawn across the street! The sound of its motor on a mid-November morning should have added a stark discordant aural note to the surreal state I was already in.
Are you such a dreamer
To put the world to rights?
I’ll stay home forever
Where two and two always makes a five
So, not much of a dreamer are you? Not when it comes to matters of cricket? Well, heed my advice and start. Right about now. Now that this gong show on Indian pitches – the one originally conceived by the unholy ménage a trios betwixt the oligarchs of the BCCI, CA and CSA – has meandered to its manufactured cacophonous, yet vacuous end. This is the time to start. For there is no putting this world to right. Over the next few months, you can stay home all you want. And be cursed with ruing and mulling over the sad fact that all two and two actually amounts to is not five, but a big fat zero. Nada. Zilch.
So, dream on…
They looked like a sequestered jury. The eleven of them congregated; eyes flicking nervously at each other, submerged up to their tense shoulders in a solution of equal parts anticipation, hope and prayer. In reality, they weren’t the jury. But the prosecution. The defendant stood behind them a ways off, staring poker-faced at his youthful accomplice, jaws gnawing away at a fossil of gum in his mouth. A mouth now dry as the hide of a bedouin’s camel. They waited together, yet separately. For the verdict to be handed out. Beamed down in fact from the glass-fronted judge’s chamber up in the sky.
“Not really. It is hard to find any real cricket on it these days” he said quietly this morning. And impassively. I decided not to pursue it any further as I looked at his expressionless face. For I knew too well what he was implying with his reply to my “Did you check out cricinfo today?” And what was being left unsaid. And it really burned me inside. Badly.
An excerpt from “Nightwatchman, for a Night”, published in “The Best of Indian Sports Writing“, an anthology of Indian sports writing:
The K.S.C.A stadium had materialized magically – almost overnight – in my life. Growing up in South Bangalore, the part of the city it is located in was almost an alternate universe to us back then. Mahatma Gandhi Road only played cameo roles in a child’s mind – Brigade Road, Christmas lights and store window Santas knee-deep in white cotton snow. Visits to movie theatres like Lido, Rex, Plaza and Galaxy – the magical screens that shimmered with epic movies like The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Guns of Navarone, The Day of the Jackal and Enter the Dragon. These visits culminated – most of the time – in mouth-watering ice-cream specials at Lakeview. Aah, the Cassata, the Merry Widow special…
Those were the wondrous days.
Cricket was just budding in the imagination. Devoid of television imagery, it was embroiled in a web of incomplete stories, myths, rants, theories and smorgasbords of opinion inflicted on us by fathers, uncles and grandfathers. You always found them clustered around giant glowing contraptions that served as radios, faces knotted up in concentration, ears cocked at the crackly signals being beamed in from god knows where. Sometimes, things got scary – people snarled, shouted and bared their teeth. These were divided families – divided by the tactics and strategies they espoused and dispensed to the hapless captain, who was fortunate to escape the cacophony. They stood united in their support of the state and national team, but were willing to disown each other in a flash over a bowling change or field placement.
But in Bangalore, there was no risk of familial bonds fracturing amidst the stress of these cricket matches. None whatsoever. For, peace was always lurking around the corner. When fathers, uncles and grandfathers united; faces softened, understanding and reassuring smiles broke out. Their voices turned gentle and conciliatory. Even the mothers and grandmothers looking on exasperatedly at the hordes in front of the radio would sit back and smile affectionately.
For he was at the crease.