“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.
The onset of spring was supposed to be our annual hiatus and break from cricket anyways. Something we planned for and relished. And spring in Toronto is a gorgeous time of the year. When all the blues of a long and chilly winter are cast off and expunged. When the city turns green almost overnight, right in front of your eyes, erasing all memories of barren and leafless trees that lined your street in the cold winter months. The smell of fresh grass, the sound of birds and the constant chatter of excited voices of kids running around, kicking a ball or biking on the street. And most importantly, the splashes of colored uniforms and the smells and sounds of baseball and soccer on lush green fields. Cricket could wait.
High Park, in the heart of Toronto is a 400 acre swathe of green; lush trees and foliage lining ponds, hiking trails, bike paths and playgrounds. It is practically my backyard and is the sole reason why we moved into the neighborhood when my kid was born. He has literally grown up in it, treats it with the easy familiarity and fondness of a perpetual reassuring presence in his entire childhood. Swimming, hikes, walks and endless hours playing around aside, it has been the focus of two activities that have been an annual ritual in his life since he was five – league soccer and little league baseball.
As I had jogged past the little league baseball diamond on a run in the park this morning, a happy smile had broken out on my face. For there they came, tumbling out of cars; little tykes from ages five and up, neatly attired in their baseball team’s colors. Feverishly unloading kits from the trunks, faces knotted in concentration, furrowed brows and seriousness writ large above rosy cheeks and gleaming eyes. A ritual that I have partaken in for years now. Blissfully. Just for that look. One of uncomplicated affection and love for a sport. Yes, it’s that look. You have to cling to that.
But today, it was the expressionless vacant look on his face that reminded me of how utterly fragile, yet valuable, that very look really is.
Yes, our planned break from cricket had panned out exactly as planned this year too. There had been cleats and shin-pads to procure for soccer, new mitts and bats for baseball. The uniforms had been collected. Practice and game schedules printed and pinned up in the kitchen. Pre-season warm up games were already underway. School was winding down now and meticulous plans to squeeze in practices and games during the week whilst working around project deadlines and exams were all in place.
Then came Sreesanth.
And in no time, around his feet bubbled up a puddle from the sordid cesspool that lay just under the surface.
“Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!” had said Michael Corleone lamenting on his inability to go legit once for all. And now, after coming close again to completely divesting ourselves of all interest in the annual circus of cricket and lose ourselves in the pleasures of the rituals of spring, it had splattered off the fan and had stained our shirts. We were not even going to be permitted the private pleasures of our own apathy and indifference.
Sreesanth. He had always been a constant running joke between us over the years. It probably started with the furious hip and bat gyration he serenaded Andre Nel with. That had tickled him pink and in spite of me pulling his leg relentlessly, he would stand by him. Over time, his views had changed. “Moron!” he had exclaimed, as Sreesanth shouldered Michael Vaughan mid-pitch and got suspended. “Idiot!” he had screamed at him as we sat at Trent Bridge in 2011 as every brilliant delivery in each over was trailed by three of utter tripe. “They should both slap each other silly” he had chortled as Bhajji deployed his backhand to Sreesanth’s mug.
And now this.
Three years ago, I had been heartbroken watching him deal with the dark events that had unfolded in England – that huge no ball. Had watched on sadly as he grappled with agony as the wonderfully talented Pakistani crash-landed spectacularly and horrifyingly. A bowler he had adored and was fiercely protective of. His sadness during those dark days had torn me. “And what else is left, now that those taking their first bites into the fruits of the game have a crinkled nose of disgust on their faces?” I had written at the time.
Looks like there was more left. And now it lay bare in front of me. In his utter doggedness to not deal with what is staining cricket right now. In his complete avoidance of it. His refusal to even comment about it. He had read the initial reports of the arrests in complete silence. Turned away and walked off. This one would not be up for discussion. This one was either being shut off from the mind completely or was going to be dealt with silently. In private.
I am really not sure any more what hurts more – that loss of innocence I had tortured myself over three years ago or this. This flat-out refusal to discuss the matter whatsoever. If I needed an indication of what had been destroyed, his expressionless face changing the topic every time I broached it said it all.
And now I seethe inside. Seethe at my inability to get him to let it all out. To see an explosion of anger or disgust. He has retreated behind some walls he has constructed for himself. And it is the construction of protective walls in his young mind that hurts more than anything.
One could only hope that another watershed moment wouldn’t come prematurely. I had more living proof now that Gideon Haigh’s words still held true. So the hardened cynicism and jadedness were put away and kept carefully hidden, all the while hoping that the reoccurrence wouldn’t come too soon. Knew it would, but just hoped that there was ample opportunity to build up a locker-full of new memories, to give the new fans a fair shot at weathering the tempest to follow. To allow them to negotiate their own peace. Do their own skirting around topics. That was all one could wish for.
This is what I had wished for three years ago. Yes, I had been naïve after all.
After spending a day skimming the headlines on cricinfo and every other newspaper in India and spluttering silently in disgust at the sordid political drama the whole affair had now morphed into, I had decided to embrace his code of silence on the matter henceforth. This wasn’t about cricket anymore after all. And paying even an iota of attention to the sickening spectacle of hucksters, shamsters and slimy politicians crawling out of the woodwork, pointing fingers, stabbing backs, pontificating sanctimoniously and shamelessly, farting into the winds, resigning and returning to their posts in a flash, was madness. I was literally going to step aside.
As I drove him to his baseball practice later in the day, I decided to state my case to him too. Quietly and casually let it slip that it had gotten really ugly now and it was just good if we ignored the filthy soap opera altogether. There was silence in the car. I drove on.
And then he spoke: “It is okay daddy. It is only a month before the Ashes start.”
I turned to look at him. He was gazing out of the window.
But I think I saw that look on his face.