This is reprinted from my old blog at Sulekha.com. I wrote this last year and somehow was reminded of it seeing India win the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup in South Africa this week.
I do not care what the naysayers scream. I do not care if my wife screams infidelity. I am in love with the de facto national game of India, that little thing called cricket.
And I think a billion other Indians agree with me.
My father bought me my first bat when i was five or six. He brought home as my birthday gift a bat made by (now defunct) a company called HRM and a rubberized sponge cricket ball (which was called a “dog” ball, basically nothing more than a glorified chew toy)
Earlier that summer I had been introduced to the wonderful world of cricket following the exploits of a miracle working Indian cricket team that had been crowned champions down under. I remember spending sleepless late nights sitting on my fathers lap following the dering do under lights of the team in general and my heroes Krish Fourth Umpire Shrikanth and Ravi hai hai Shastri. (I know it is not fashionable to call one self a Ravi Shastri fan, after all the man did a LifeBuoy Soap ad J, but what can I say except that I was at an impressionable age and my fragile little mind was warped by Mr Packer and his pajama cricket circus.) My father explained the backward, silly and finer points of the game to me. My mom I think was a silent sufferer as we had a one room (not one BEDROOM but a one ROOM) apartment and she was hard pressed for sleep once the Benson and Hedges cup was underway.
I think my father must have gotten tired of the dents in the scooter as I fashioned a cricket bat out of a mallet / hammer my mom used to hit bed sheets with when she was washing them and started hitting rocks (round at first, then as supplies ran out graduated to roundish to oblong to any thing I could find). After the thirteenth or fourteenth dent on the scooter which coincided with the eve of my sixth birthday I think, I returned home to find a shiny new bat and as I have explained before a dog ball.
I promptly took up my best Ravi Shastri stance and asked my father to bowl to me. Now the cricket pitch was a narrow verandah where a sheer wall prevented any movement away from the wickets and the offside ended abruptly in sheer drop of two feet as the verandah gaveway to the gravel of the outside. The lighting was handled by a bare 60 watts bulb that hung like a pendulum from the ceiling. But in that moment for me, this was Sydney, Perth and MCG all rolled into one.
Now my father loves the Australlians, especially fast bowlers. No he is not Australlian, with a surname of Mohapatra even a koala bear or a kangaroo would be hard pressed to call himself an Australlian. So without further ado my father started bombarding me with the short pitched stuff. He was not even bowling. He just started chucking bouncers left and right. (Many years later seeing Brett Lee and Shoab Akhtar dish out there stuff to hapless batsmen, I had a feeling of d��vu of my father bowling those bouncers), I mean this stuff was not even Murali legal. Anyways after taking a couple of hits on the stomach, chest and my cheeks, it became a battle of wills. I stood there taking hit after hit and my dad kept on bowling the chin music.
After a while my mother finding the house surprisingly quiet (and no more stuff destroyed or taken apart since her last stock taking earlier in the evening) came out to see where I was and what was I doing. (I had later heard her say that she was the most afraid when I was apparently behaving cause that meant I was just planning my next act of derring do).
She immediately, in a spirit seen only among the most impartial of Match Referees, put an end to the tamasha as she called it. All through out this ordeal, my dad had silently been chucking bouncer after bouncer. He quietly stopped as soon as my mother intervened and I was trying hard to hold back my tears (from pain mostly, but I think I was feeling humiliated as I was not able to dodge or hit a single one of the deliveries). As my mother led me inside my dad patted me on the shoulder and said, You bat well. You did not move away to the leg side even when you were getting hit. You took it like a man. That is the essence of batting. No fear. Never fear, my boy!
Then he did something I do not remember him doing ever again. He put his hand on my head and tousled my hair. I could see pride in his eyes.
That was the breaking point for me. I started crying with tears pouring profusely from my eyes. It started as a series of sobs and later culminated into a full fledged bhein bhein with occasional snifflings. My mom thought that I had finally succumbed to the pain and so did I. But later as I replayed the moment in my minds eye, I think I was crying as I was happy, more like elated. My father had taught me in that torrid fifteen minutes a lesson that I have taken to heart.
For whatever cricket I have played for my club and for my alma matter IIT Kharagpur, I can see one thing for certain I have never been afraid of the ball. May be I have not set the cricketing world on fire and not played at a level higher than inter-university matches for team of jocks among geeks, but this much is the honest truth. No matter who I have faced charging down and bowling express speed bouncers or beamers I have faced them staring down the barrel of the gun. More often than not, I have dealt fire with fire blasting them over point, hooking them or taking one on the chest and not rubbing it.
While some may consider this misplace machismo, I consider this guts. Every time I have been hit, I have waited till the bowler turns his back and then I have rubbed it while muttering to myself, No Fear! My boy, Never Fear.
I have gone on to take my stance again and that is how I have played cricket. That, in fact, is how I have tried to live my life so far.I am not a particularly “brave” person. Ask my wife and she shall regale you with tales of my ill fated attempts to ride roller coasters. But I am proud of the way I have dealt with the short stuff.
Thank you cricket and ( Well its high time I said this!!!)