i have never liked cricket as a spectator sport. i am more of a tennis fan, though i cannot rattle off grand slam winners from the 1970s onwards.
having said that, i am a great fan of gully cricket; that characteristically bombay thing to do on a sunday morning, with the smell of mutton and fish floating out from homes, and angry mothers screaming out of their windows to their half-chaddi clad kids (some dangerously close to being thirty), to come home and have lunch.
it has to be done on a sunday. no other day gives that feeling of ‘let’s have a match’ like a public holiday, when the cat is sleeping under the shadow of a hibiscus tree in the building compound, waiting to become a target of a speeding MR rubber ball. i remember when we used to play the game as kids; the whole exercise of getting the bat and ball out from the electric meter box, setting up the stumps (most of the time just bricks), getting a team together and starting the play. rules were incongruous. ‘one-tappa’ behind the wall was a ‘2-d’ or two runs declared, but if the ball landed directly behind the said wall, it was out. ‘chikki-run’ was running for every ball played; you had to be extremely talented at finding gaps or inattentive fielders. no run, give up the bat. simple.
windows being broken, shopping bags of poor old grandmothers being toppled, cars dented; everything among the cacophony of a bunch of kids screaming at the top of their voices, bickering with the choicest abuses directed at the whole family. no game could ever be complete without a large-scale fight, and a whole lot of heckling. the game was, and still is fun. i was a lousy bowler and an average batsman. but on the day of holi, my bowling was miraculously perfect. all balls straight to the stump, and a couple of wickets too! i am sure it was the bhaang-laden paan that musa used to feed us.
playing it in my native place was altogether different. every year, my grandfather used to make me a new bat. he used to take me to the forest to look for logs of wood, mostly saag. when we found a suitable one, he would take it home and create the world’s best looking bat out of it. i loved to move my hands around it, and wondered how that log of wood has been suddenly transformed into this thing. and then i would run off. knees got scraped, hands bloodied by falling in the mud, shirt pocket torn in fights. but my bat helped to strike some fine sixes right out of the courtyard! give me an underarm match any time!
exhausted by a full day’s play, with a one hour break for lunch which consisted of very spicy sukat and bhakri, i used to come home, all dirty and sweaty. that’s when the wounds would start smarting. the blue strapped chappals looked orange from the mud, and so did most of me! then came the hot water bath, the best thing to do after smashing sixes.
i’d sleep after some terrific jokes from my uncle, but not before having one look at my bat, and telling myself i was going to hit much harder next day!
back to the present. i am doing a part-time job at KFC here in Surbiton. on my way to the job and back home, i see a lot of gullies lying empty. open parking lots where many a match could be easily played in the afternoons, now with the weather looking good. but sadly, there is not a single kid out there with a bat and a ball. not a soul. the tarmac looks all nice and clean, with no skid marks of a wicked swing that would knock the batsman on the head. no holes made right in the middle of the road for stumps, nor three squiggly lines on walls made in brick or charcoal. the gullies look very sad and lonely. And i miss my bat.
lousy player i was, and i am kind of sure i haven’t gotten any better. but the game…