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Indian cricket captains over the years have faced one common problem. Where to hide their weak fielders?. My class teacher faced the same conundrum that day. It was inspection day at our school and the weak fielder in question was none other than me. My class teacher was an innovative old lady. She decided to place me in the first row, the front-most position. It was like the double bluff where you bring the fine leg in and bowl a short delivery. It was like placing Ashish Nehra at backward point. She thought the best place to hide me was in plain sight. There was more to the field placements.
The brighter students were instructed to occupy the back seats. In a way her logic seemed sensible. There is a usual notion that the back benchers are not up to the mark and if the inspector wanted to check out our batting order, he would definitely take on the tail-enders. So she deliberately placed our best batsmen in that position. But unfortunately her plan did not work out and I ended up in the line of fire.
There was a sense of excitement and nervousness in the air just like before the beginning of a big match. The inspector was a middle aged guy with spots of grey hair interspersed among the black ones. His face was neatly shaven and had a tinge of green to it. It reminded me of bouncy pitches with a touch of grass. After accepting our greetings, he took his guard in the middle of the wicket, I mean the classroom. As everybody was waiting with baited breath and utmost concentration to capture the first words coming out of his mouth, the audience was dumbfound when those words actually came out.
“ Who won the cricket match between England and Australia yesterday? “
The class room adorned a silence as if Sachin was just dismissed for a duck. Someone in the back mumbled it was not in the syllabus. Then much to our class teacher’s joy ( or rather relief), our star batsman from the back bench stood up. A little heads up on the guy will be helpful. He is the typical student who can be cited as an example for the words ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ or even ‘jerk’. He was academically brilliant but never been a fan of sports or cricket in general. He always felt left out in our discussions about cricket. But he was not the kind who would give up that easily. He would see some specific portions of the match and accumulate the necessary fodder to contribute in our discussions. His comments would be like ‘ the 17th over was good. Did you see the boundary in the 39th over?’.
“Sir, there was no cricket match between England and Australia yesterday”. There was a collective sigh from the students which added to the tension.
“Yes there was. Sit down you” he muttered
The class teacher’s faced turned grim.
“ Sir, England won by 4 wickets. Sarah Taylor scored a century” . It was the tail ender from the first bench aka me. Being a cricket junkie I couldn’t help not answering that. It was the first time in my school life that I answered a question in class. It felt like scoring a hundred on debut, that too at Lords. His face went through a transition of emotions which I was not quite able to comprehend. I think it was the exasperation of a fan at Australia’s defeat. He was not able to watch the match last night and was relieved to know the result.
“So you watch women’s cricket?” he asked
“ I watch all forms of cricket” . suddenly there was an air of confidence in my voice.
He came over to me and took the notebook which I was nervously fiddling with. He started going through my notes. My hand writing was like the 5th day pitch at Feroz shah kotla. Then a stark terror struck me. There was a piece of paper in that notebook which was slightly less academic. To use the common jargon, it would come under the category of love letters. After watching the match last night, in a moment of increased creative urge and I don’t know what else, I put words to my feelings. And now those feelings were at arms length of a complete stranger. I prayed to all the invisible gods that he doesn’t find the letter. Just as I finished sending my prayers, he took out the piece of paper or rather the piece of my heart from the book. I think the gods were eating popcorn and enjoying watching my trouble.
I have never written anything on my own ( including home works) till now. So this is my debut. Whenever I see you, my heart races like that of a batsman facing a really fast bowler. I don’t have the courage to come down the track and say this to you in person. So I am taking the conventional route of pen and paper. I might come off as tentative like a new batsman at the crease. Even though there is the fear of getting out, I must get this off my heart. I always found girls like the reverse swing. So unpredictable and difficult to read. You are expecting the ball to come in, but then it goes the other way. But you are an exception to the rule. You are more like conventional swing. The ball behaves as it should. You are calm and collected like M S Dhoni under pressure. So I am taking the power play and letting you know that I love you. Like a batsman waiting for the third umpire’s decision, I will be waiting. If it is red light, I will graciously walk off the field. If it is green light ( which I hope it will be), I will be estatic.
After reading the letter, he smiled at me. “So you really like your cricket don’t you?”.
I smiled back in return. By the way, it should be ‘ecstatic’ he said pointing to my letter. I thought wow, I got him to proof read my love letter. As he was going out he suddenly stopped and asked
“Who is Maya ?”
A girl from the third- man position stood up.
He smiled at me and left.
Little did I know at that point of time that we three, me, Maya and the man with a tinge of green in his face will be in the same room again 25 years from now.
That was an unforgettable day in my life. As for the letter I never gathered the courage to give it to her.
A few months later there was a rumour that Maya and a friend of mine was in love.
One day he came to me and said “ Can you believe Maya doesn’t like cricket”. I smiled, patted on his shoulder and started walking thinking about the ashes cricket test starting that day.
Time progressed and I grew from an ignorant irresponsible teenager to an ignorant irresponsible adult. I was happy with a sports reporter’s job in a leading daily. I resist using the term “happily married” as much as possible because I think it’s a misnomer. The two words are somewhat contradictory. But I was reasonably happy with a Wife and a son in class 5.
Then out of the blue came a day which had in store a string of surprises for me. The gods were back in the gallery with their popcorns. I was on my way to work when I got a call from my son’s school. I was asked to meet his principal. I have always delegated the job of going to his school for parent’s meetings and other such chores to my loving wife. But that day somehow I decided to go thinking some important matter was there.
Entering a school in ages brought back some memories. My journey down the memory lane was abruptly halted when I was called inside the Principal’s office.
The Principal’s face seemed familiar and my brain went into overdrive trying to discern who he is. Before my scan could be completed, he handed me a piece of paper. I took just one look at it and was on board the memory lane express again. It was the same love letter that I had written some 25 years before and carefully hidden in a book somewhere in the attic. I never had the courage to give the letter or throw it away. So it was stashed in a heap along with all other insignificant things in my life. Things even though insignificant, I was not yet ready to part with.
So I minimised the window scanning the Principal’s face and started wondering how the hell this letter came here. Then suddenly my search was complete and I realised who the Principal was. He was the same guy who came for inspection that day and read this same letter. He had retired and now joined this school.
He still remembered me and even if he didn’t I think the letter might have helped. We talked about cricket for a while but I was itching to know the thing about my letter. I think he was enjoying my restlessness and deliberately swayed away from the topic. So I had to interrupt him.
“Your son gave it to a girl in his class”. My reaction to that piece of information was not what I had expected. I was proud because my son had the courage to give a letter to a girl. But he could have given something a bit more original. The girl’s name was Maya and accidentally he found this letter in my attic. Since it was also addressed to a Maya, he found it convenient. Kids these days are becoming lazy than ever.
I wanted to know what action is going to be taken.
“ I am not going to take any action. I think it’s funny. A son delivering a letter written by his father. By the way haven’t you guys heard of email or facebook? ” . the principal was in a jubilant mood and enjoying pulling my legs.
I was moving uneasily in the chair and looking at my watch often.
“ the girl’s mother is coming to meet me today” he added.
His words were synchronous with a “May I come in” from outside and in walked my next surprise.
It was the girl’s mother. The girl to whom my son gave a love letter. The girl whose name was Maya. The girl’s mother who just walked in was also Maya. The same Maya who was my classmate some 25 years ago. The subject of the love letter in question. Who on earth gives their child their own name?. Well, I know one person who does.
She was as surprised as me. I could see her boarding the memory lane express. After an initial eerie silence, I broke the ice. We haven’t seen each other since high school. So after a quick update, I told the Principal that we were classmates. But I bet he already knew. When I told him, she is Maya he let out a smile which I will never forget for the rest of my life. One man’s torture was another’s delight.
I folded the letter in my hands, crushed it with all my might. I was afraid if she would ask for the letter. I did not give it to her then. I was not going to give it to her now. We talked for a while and she was also surprised to know that the Principal was the same guy who came for inspection that day in our school. She also saw the funny side of the incident and the matter was swept under the carpet. I was relieved to get out of the Principal’s room. As she was about to leave, she asked him as to why he called her name that day before leaving. He exchanged a tricky glare with me.
After a moment he said “ Did I? I don’t remember. Its been a while”
We exchanged a smile and he gave me a wink. I was relieved and signed off my conversation with Maya with a promise to keep in touch. A promise I had no intention of keeping. The school was over by then and I decided to take my son with me too. I wanted to ask him a lot of questions but fearing his single question in return I decided to let it go. As we were moving towards our car in the parking lot, Maya with her daughter Maya passed us. I felt an irresistible urge to look back at her. I think my son would also have felt the same urge. But to look at another Maya. Slowly we walked towards our car and I peeked a glance at her from the car’s mirror. My son was looking out of the window. The gods finished their popcorn and left the gallery.