Cricket, as it is all over the Indian subcontinent, is the favorite pastime for the children of Harvey Colony. The closest playground, Union playground, imaginatively named because it lay right in the middle of Union Colony, was nearly 5 kilometers away from Harvey Colony. That never stopped the children of Harvey Colony from having their daily fill of the subcontinent’s favorite game. Fights and arguments, amongst the players, were common during these games as were accidents to neighbors.
Mr. SHANKAR AND CRICKET
Mr. Shankar, a portly, middle aged, bespectacled clerk of a rubber factory adjoining Harvey Colony, lived in the same street as Shiva, Krishna Street. That he did not like cricket or anyone who played the game was an understatement. The reason for his dislike could be related to a number of reasons during his childhood, either his non-selection despite a number of attempts to his school cricket team or being constantly teased by his friends for having a constant stream of bajjis and pakoras supplied to him by his mother even when he was batting.
Mr. Shankar, for all his failures in the cricket field, had built himself a single story two bedroom house on a thousand square feet plot in Harvey Colony and married an equally portly girl(when he married her) with a sense of humor far greater than that of her husband. Their only child, Meena, had inherited the girth of both her parents and the laziness from some unfortunate ancestor. The boys of Harvey Colony were particularly severe in poking fun of Meena’s girth and laziness. That she had to walk all the way home from the school bus stop along with the boys was enough to make her hate them as much as her father hated cricket if not more.
The Harvey colony cricket matches usually started at around 3pm, depending upon the availability of members and equipment, and would extend till “bad light stops play” which meant a batsman who was out says he couldn’t see the ball.
On a particularly bright, sunny Saturday afternoon the members of the “Krishna Street cricket team” gathered for their usual round of matches. The team regulars usually consisted of Seenu, Sathya, Shiva, Mani and Babu. The twins, James and Jerry, Shankar, Dilip and Vasanth were another set of 12 year olds who joined from the street opposite to Krishna Street, called Church Street as it housed, Mr. Patrick, the pastor of the Harvey Colony Church, who also happened to be the father of James and Jerry. Krishna Street and Church Street were separated by the main road Harvey colony which ran right through the Colony.
Bats, ball and stumps were collected from Shiva’s home (door opened by an irritated Shiva’s mom due to this disturbance of her afternoon siesta and foresight of what would be a noisy afternoon). 31 December 2014 The rubber ball was found to have a hole in its seam, probably due to a trip into the ubiquitous thorn bushes, in the empty plot next to Shiva’s home. Shankar was sent to get a new ball from the neighborhood grocery store, Ramu’s Groceries.
Armed with the new ball, the members were split into 2 teams by the captains Shiva and Babu. Babu got the first choice via the time tested coin toss and he chose Seenu, Sathya, Jerry and Dilip. The remnants Mani, James, Vasanth and Sravan moved into Shiva’s team. Again the coin was tossed to see who would bat first. Babu again got better of Shiva and chose to bat first as is the norm in gully cricket countrywide. The stumps were set at the other end of the street as the point where Krishna Street met the main road was a puddle 2 feet in diameter created by the Madurai Corporation water delivery truck’s leaky valve.
It was 3:30pm and Mr. Shankar was enjoying his afternoon siesta in his canvas cloth, reclining chair with glasses on his forehead. Even during sleep he had a slight frown due to the noisy team selection going on outside his gate. Meena was asleep to the right of her father’s chair in small cot. The sleep was the result of a rather heavy lunch prepared by Mrs. Shankar who had left to a matinee movie along with Mrs. Raman. The only noise in the household was from the grandfather clock hanging from the wall above Mr. Raman’s head.
The match had the usual street cricket rules, 5 overs a side, one-bounce catches, if a batsman hit inside a home or compound he was “OUT” and “bowling” was by throw. Babu, as captain, started the batting formalities by scoring three consecutive boundaries in the first over from James but was out next delivery when he hit the ball into Shiva’s compound. Despite of loosing Babu and slow play in overs 2 and 3, Babu’s team managed a respectable score of forty runs in the allotted five overs.
Shiva started proceedings for his team by scoring 20 runs in the first two overs. The third and fourth overs saw Babu’s team make a comeback with Sathya picking up the wickets of Shiva, James and Sravan. Mani and Vasanth were the only 2 batsmen left with 12 runs to score of the final over from Jerry.
Now Jerry had the reputation of bending certain rules in any game, be it cricket, hide and seek or seven stone. The first delivery from Jerry had Mani striking it above Jerry’s head and run two. Unfortunately it landed in the puddle. After the ball was carefully fished out Jerry prepared himself for the next delivery.
Any full toss delivery, above waist high was considered a no ball which was exactly what the second delivery was. It hit Mani squarely in the left cheek and created a smudge below his left eye. Mani’s shock of getting hit was more than the actual pain itself. Jerry apologized and reasoned that the ball had slipped from his hand owing to its wet condition from the recent puddle trip. The already noisy match turned noisier with Mani and Jerry clutching each other’s shirt went from rolling in the “pitch” straight into the puddle. The chlorinated Corporation puddle failed to deter the enthusiasm of either party who were intent on ripping out the remaining buttons in their shirts.
While Mani and Jerry were puddle wrestling their other team members started arguing about whether the fault lay with Jerry or the puddle. None of them chose to stop the fist cuffs going on between Mani and Jerry. The ruckus outside his gate bought a visibly annoyed, red eyed, disheveled dhoti and vest shod Mr. Shankar outside. This hardly had an effect on the two boys wrestling in the puddle. Sathya joined Mr. Shankar in trying to pull them apart. Sathya took hold of Mani from behind his shoulder and pulled him back while Mr. Shankar did the same to Jerry. The boys came apart in an explosion of kicks, clutches and splashes of muddy water.
It was then that the single most influential event which stopped cricket in Krishna Street happened. Mani abused Jerry with a chaste Tamil word which was normally used by the visitors of the arrack shops. Mr. Shankar, upon hearing the word, let Jerry go, forgot his age, folded his disheveled dhoti above his knees and started at Mani. In sheer terror of seeing the 40 year old, bespectacled clerk coming at him Mani picked and hurled the only thing he could lay his hand on, the damp, muddied rubber ball.
The ball was flung with such fear that it hit square in the middle of Mr. Shankar’s forehead and knocked him of his feet right into the puddle. The ball ricocheted of his forehead into his home and hit the grandfather’s clock which came down with a resounding crash. Meena, dreaming peacefully in the cot beside her father’s chair, came down into the real world with a less resounding crash from her cot onto the marble floor and sat up in exactly the same pose as her father was lying outside in the puddle.
In the panic that set in, the group of boys, aware of the seriousness of the damage they had created, dashed to their respective homes with the Church Street boys running straight through the puddle containing a stunned Mr. Shankar and splashing more water on him.
If the humiliation of getting knocked down by a rubber ball hurled by a 12 year old wasn’t enough, Mr. Shankar turned to a sound of loud laughter from Mrs. Shankar coming from the Colony main road behind him. Mrs. Shankar had just returned with Mrs. Raman from the matinee and found the sight of her husband lying all muddy in the puddle and her daughter trying to lift him hopelessly funny.
The above tale was told with many layers of mirth added for many more years but always ended with Mrs. Shankar laughing even while serving dinner several hours after the event.