Monday, September 23, 2019

Cricket memories with Maa

Summer 1991



My yell resonated across the little hallway of our house where a cricket match was in progress. The white plastic ball had pitched on my legs. But as I attempted to swat it straight, it spun prodigiously to disturb the bucket behind me – which worked as the stumps.

“You bowled leg-spin. I don’t know how to play leg-spin. YOU ARE CHEATING!” I hollered, feeling betrayed.

“That doesn’t make any sense at all. Just give me the bat,” my elder brother said irritably and snatched the bat away from my hands. Three other boys – our neighbours from the floors above – shook their heads condescendingly. That irked me even more.
“MAAA!!!! Bhaiya is cheating!” I howled.

Within seconds my mother emerged out of the kitchen.

“What’s wrong? Why are you bothering your little brother?” she enquired immediately while placing a comforting hand on my shoulders.

Hurt and crestfallen, my eyes flowed with tears by now. “He bowled leg-spin, Maa! He bowled leg-spin,” I said in between sobs and drowned my face in her sari.  

“Why do you make your little brother suffer like this?” she demanded. “Why did you bowl legpin?”

“Leg… Spin,” I corrected her quietly while wiping my tears with her sari.

“Yes. That,” she said.

“But…But…That doesn’t make…” my brother sputtered.

“Hush!” she raised her hand and snatched the bat from his hands. “Let him bat. He is just 6 years old. You should be ashamed.”

Cursing under his breath and giving me murderous glances, my brother turned back to head to the other end of the hall – the bowling crease. I could literally feel that he was itching to get hold of the bat and pound me with it.

“Here,” my mother handed me the bat. “Play for a few minutes and then let your brother bat, okay?” she whispered in my years and patted my head.

I nodded and held the bat firmly.

From the corner of my eyes, I could see the three boys shaking their heads again. My brother was getting ready to bowl. He had a permanent scowl on his face. I knew a fast one was coming. I also knew that all of them hated me at that moment.

It was okay, though. “It doesn’t matter if the entire world wasn’t with me,” I thought and blocked a rather fast delivery on the middle stump.

“Good shot, Chiku! Good shot,” she clapped excitedly from behind.

My Maa was. And that’s all that matters.

October 21, 1996

“Steve Waugh has got the wicket that really matters – Sachin Tendulkar,” Ian Chappell’s voice drilled a hole through my still heart.

A deathly silence had descended all over our room. India was playing Australia in a low-scoring day-night match at Bangalore in the Titan Cup. Chasing a target of 216, India had been reduced to 164-8. The country’s biggest hope, star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, was walking back to the pavilion after being dismissed for 88. Tail-enders Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble were at the crease now.

I stared at the floor blankly, wishing the ground could swallow me.

A loud cheer followed by the noise of drumbeats punctured the silence in the room. I was taken aback for a second. But then remembered that today was Vijay Dashami, Dusherra. The local pandal must have taken out the idol of Goddess Durga for immersion. My soul crushed further.

I had set my heart on enjoying the immersion festivities from my verandah with an Indian win. That looked gone now.

“It’s all over now! The match is gone. Switch off the TV,” my mother declared.

I didn’t have the heart to argue with her and quietly dragged myself off the room. So did a couple of others. I hated feeling like this.

For the next fifteen-odd minutes I moped around in the verandah while quietly stealing glances inside the room. The TV hadn’t been turned off. And I could make out the match was still on. There was no loud noise. So nothing untoward had happened, I presumed. Another few minutes went by. I could see my mother glued to the television set from the window. She was smiling.

I was restless and decided to give the match another chance. The moment I re-entered the room, Javagal Srinath smacked Steve Waugh straight down the ground for a scintillating six. The score was 188-8. The crowd had found its voice. And so had my mother.

“Chiku, look! Kumble’s family is in the crowd,” she pointed animatedly at the screen. Two middle-aged, benign-looking women were smiling and clapping with the crowd - Kumble’s mother and grandmother. My mother was fascinated with them. “Look how happy they are,” she said gleefully.

“Um. Yeah,” I mumbled, feigning interest. My mind was trying to calculate where the remaining 28 runs would come from. But they did. In the course of the next 20 minutes, Kumble and Srinath smartly accumulated the runs. My mother, meanwhile, kept talking about the two women.

“Such simple ladies! Sitting with the crowd,” she kept interjecting happily in between balls.

At 208-8 in the 48th over, Srinath flicked a ball from Glen McGrath for four. And the crowd at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium went delirious with joy. So did I. I jumped and yelled and screamed and pumped my fists. For once, my mother didn’t mind it at all.

She was clapping heartily as Kumble and Srinath ran the last two runs to complete an amazing Indian victory.

A series of loud crackers were now being burst outside. Apparently, the ‘Visarjan’ procession of a few Pujas had got wind of India’s thrilling win. And now, Goddess Durga was being bid adieu with added fervor.  The entire stretch of the main road outside our house was now chock-a-block with people dancing and celebrating with mad frenzy.  

Our entire family stood on the verandah, witnessing this rather incredible spectacle. My mother folded her arms as the grand idol of Goddess Durga came into view.

My heart surged. And I felt I could fly all the way over to the moon. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been this happy. “We did it, Maa!” I declared happily and hugged my mother. “We did it!”

She patted my head. Her eyes, though, were set on Maa Durga.

July 1999

“The perfect yorker! I bowled the perfect yorker, Maa!” I squealed in delight.

I was reliving my magical moment from a school cricket match a few hours back. It was evening now and I sat in the kitchen with my mother. She was busy preparing dinner and was trying her best to listen to my thrilling account.

“The ball curled in the air, hit the base of the middle-stump and uprooted it out of the pitch,” I said excitedly. ”You should have seen Himanshu’s face, Maa. Oh, he was almost in tears.” I was in a frenzy.

“The perfect yorker!”

My mother smiled while stirring the daal with the ladle in her hand. “What’s a yorker, again?” she asked.

“MAAAA!!! How can you forget?” I felt offended. “I have been talking about it for the last month.”

“Oh, stop being so dramatic and pass me the box of salt.”

“You don’t listen to me at all,” I muttered irritably.

She giggled while sprinkling salt on the daal that was brewing on the stove. “Of course I do. It’s just that it must have slipped my mind in all the activities from this week.”

I frowned. But she continued her stirring.

“Okay. Was it the one you were practicing with the ball all week in the hallway? With the brick and everything?” she said.

I nodded.

“Ah, I see. So you executed it well? Tell me all about it.”

This was the cue I had been desperately waiting for the moment I had entered home from school in the evening. And this was all the dinner I needed.

January 2002

“That’s a play and a miss by Ganguly!” Ravi Shastri’s booming voice echoed across our room.

I let out a groan. That was too close to cut.

India was facing off England at the Eden Gardens in a day-night ODI encounter. India was batting first and the opening pair, Sachin Tendulkar and captain Sourav Ganguly, was at the crease.

“Tsk, tsk tsk!” my mother exclaimed. “He looks so nervous.”

It was a cold January afternoon. And about half a dozen of us lay sprawled across our room, watching the game. Including my mother. Today being a Saturday meant she had some time on her hands to spare. Which was good for her. But nor for me, unfortunately.

My mother had a habit of making some loud pointed observations during live cricket matches. Almost always, they didn’t sit well with me. I am one of those who like to watch a game quietly. My mother is the opposite.

“Oh look how badly he’s playing! He just can’t get bat to ball,” she remarked again, rather loudly.

I bit my lips. Swallowing the urge to snap at her.

The next ball saw a leading edge from Ganguly’s bat. Fortunately, the ball fell inches short of the fielder’s hands.

“Tsk tsk tsk! He got lucky. Such a bad shot,” she said nonchalantly. “Give me the bat. I will go and hit a few fours.”

I dug my nails in my palms. This had happened countless times before. I couldn’t allow myself to slip once again. If only all of them could leave the room and let me watch the game in peace.

“Rapped on the pads!!! Loud appeal for LBW. But the umpire says no.”  

Ganguly had just survived a loud call for LBW off Darren Gough. It was really close.

“Oh, he should just go back. I can’t watch this anymore. It hurts,” my mother said dramatically.


I finally exploded.

“Can you just watch the match quietly?”

“Hush!” she dismissed my plea. “Why are you getting irked at me because your batsmen can’t bat?”

“NO. You just have to keep making comments,” I bellowed.

“Ooo…Somebody bring me an iron. I need to flatten the creases on my son’s face,” she mocked.

I kept mum. Forcing the bubbling rage inside to not completely overwhelm me.

“In the air…And just short of the fielder at third-man. Sachin was fortunate there,” the commentator on air said.

Sachin’s cut didn’t go where he had intended and landed just a few feet short of the fielder. The two batsmen were clearly having a tough time in the middle.

“Look, look! Now Sachin too can’t play. Oh, this is so shameful,” my mother commented.

“MAAAA…!” I banged my fists on the floor. “I swear if you don’t keep quiet I will go and jump off the verandah.”

“Oh, why don’t you go? Please go. Now…,” she said coolly. “I will myself push you off the ledge.”

I felt like tearing my hair apart.  

“Will you guys keep quiet and let us watch the match?” said my brother, who was stretched out on the floor, and increased the volume of the TV.

I turned my face completely away from my mother so that I couldn’t see her at all. I knew if I see her making her observations, it would annoy me further.

Three dot balls were played in silence. The next ball, Sachin stroked one towards mid-wicket. But the ball was cut short off the boundary ropes by the fielder before the batsmen could even think of two runs.

“Tsk tsk tsk! They can’t even run properly. Looks like they haven’t eaten anything today.”


October 31, 2005

I knew something was wrong. She was unusually quiet.

From the last hour, my mother had been lying quietly on the bed. She had said she needed some rest. But her face looked rather pale. The last few weeks hadn’t been too kind to her. The cancer relapsing, this time on her liver, had broken her spirit. And it was now affecting her body too. More than she was letting us know anyway.

I sat beside her. A cricket match was on, but I kept stealing furtive glances at her every minute. She had her eyes closed and it looked like she was grimacing.

“Maa,” I finally said. “It’s time for lunch.”

She got up suddenly, clutching the side of her stomach.


Before I could even complete my sentence, she let out a cry of pain. “Oh…Oh…It’s really hurting bad.” Her eyes were closed. She seemed to be in agony.

I felt numb. I had never seen my mother like this. She never expressed her discomfort openly. I didn’t know what to do.

She clutched her sides tighter. “Oh… Oh…God! I think… I am dying.” She yelled out loud.

Red hot fear iced through my veins. I had never experienced an emotion like this before. Raw fear. It was as if every cell in my body was on fire.

“Maa,” I whimpered.

My brain had stopped functioning. Only one sentence kept repeating itself: “Please don’t take my Maa away from me. Please don’t take my Maa away from me.”

All I could do was hug her. She was shaking uncontrollably. And crying. In pain. I began crying too.

My brother had come in by then. And a few others too. He was shouting something. I couldn’t register a single word. I just kept holding her tightly. I wanted her to stop hurting. Please, somebody, take her pain away.

There were tears. There was a lot of screaming. There was utter chaos.  

And then there was Dhoni.

Right at that moment, India was playing Sri Lanka in an ODI at Jaipur. After batting first, Sri Lanka had amassed a healthy 298-4 in their 50 overs.

In their chase, India had lost opener Sachin Tendulkar early with only 7 runs on the board. Captain Rahul Dravid decided to send wicket-keeper batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the No.3 position that day. Known for his aggressive hitting, the 24-year-old Dhoni was playing only his 22nd ODI.  He had already shown his mettle with his dashing hundred against Pakistan at Vishakapatnam earlier this year. Today, he had a huge responsibility on his young and robust shoulders.

We could hear the commentary from outside. My mother and I had parked ourselves on the verandah on two chairs for the last couple of hours. Her pain had subsided a bit. But she still had her eyes closed. The whole ordeal had drained her out badly.

I kept caressing her sides in the hope that it might be providing her some relief.

There was a loud noise from the television somewhere inside the house. Apparently, Dhoni was on fire.

“Is Dhoni batting?” my mother suddenly asked. The noise must have woken her up. Her voice was weak. Her face looked like she hadn’t slept for a month.  

I nodded.

“Let’s go in and watch the game,” she said.

“But, Maa!” I protested. I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. She needed rest.

“No. I am tired of sitting here. Let’s go in. I want to see Dhoni bat.”

There was nothing I could say. She had taken a great liking to Dhoni ever since he made his debut last year and never missed an opportunity to see him bat. Uncertainly, I held her hand and took her inside.

It turned out to be a good decision, after all. Dhoni’s batting took my mother’s mind off her distress. Dhoni was in his elements today; cutting, pulling and scything the ball with disdain to every corner of the ground. In the next hour and a half, we watched the match quietly. My mother clapped slowly when Dhoni got to his hundred – only his second one in international cricket – and opened his helmet to acknowledge the crowd.

“Look at his hair,” she chuckled. “It looks so ridiculous.” Dhoni’s long mane had amused her greatly. She was now watching the match with her usual child-like glee.

I was so relieved to see her smiling that my eyes welled up.

Dhoni, meanwhile, continued his hitting. It was a savage and blistering onslaught and made a complete mockery of the 299-run target. With a brutal six over mid-wicket, Dhoni finished the chase and ended up on an unbeaten 183 – the highest score by a wicket-keeper in a one-day international.

Dhoni walked back to the pavilion; exhausted but beaming widely.  

My mother was smiling too. “This Dhoni. There’s something about him,” she said. Her face had just managed to regain a little bit of its glow. “He will go places. You will see.”

January 29, 2006

“Chiku, not a Test match right in the morning. Please, no!”

“Ufff….It’s India v Pakistan, Maa! Can you please keep quiet?”

I increased the volume of the TV. Irfan Pathan had bowled three beautiful deliveries to opener Salman Butt in the first over of the 3rd Test between India and Pakistan at Karachi.

My mother was busy with her yoga routine. The chemotherapy had taken its toll. She had lost her beautiful hair and wore a scarf to cover her scalp now. But her spirits were still alive. Every morning, she would get up at 5, follow the yoga instructions on television by a certain Yog guru Baba Ramdev, and do it dedicatedly all through the day in little sets. She strongly believed that it would get her back on track more than the medicines.

Usually, she liked watching a few songs while doing her yoga. Today, however, it was time for India-Pakistan.

Edged and accepted by the fielder,” Rameez Raaza on-air shouted.

India’s new swing sensation had delivered a lovely out-swinger that had taken the edge off Butt’s bat and had been gobbled up at slip.

“Good boy,” my mother said while finishing her breathing exercise.

The very next ball, Pathan bowled a sensational in-swinger and trapped Pakistan’s best batsman, Younis Khan, plumb in front.

“OH, YESS!!!!” I yelled in delight and got up. My mother began clapping too and was just about to get up from the bed.

“Maa…What are you doing?” I cried out. “Stay exactly where you are. Don’t move. You will jinx it.”

She rolled her eyes. “God! Your superstitions again. Please! I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Uff…Please don’t irritate me, Maa. He’s on a hat-trick. Just sit quietly.”

I had not seen an Indian bowler take a hat-trick live. This looked rather difficult today as well because the next batsman was Mohammad Yusuf, one of the best in the world. But what if he actually does it? I thought. Against Pakistan. In Pakistan. That would be insane.

I kept my fingers crossed and waited as Pathan set his field; his eyes having a kind of fire I had not seen before.

The third ball was another terrific in-swinger that came in sharp and went through the gate of the batsman, clattering his stumps.

Oh bowled him! He’s got a hat-trick!” the commentator said on air. “Second Indian to take it. What a delivery!”

My mother and I both got up at the same time, clapping and hooting in delight. “HE DID IT! HE DID IT!”

Pathan was mobbed by his teammates and lifted off the ground. It was an incredible moment.

I ran towards my mother and gave her a high-five. We often did that during cricket matches. And today was as deserving a moment as any.

She was still applauding the effort and beaming widely. “He’s such a good-looking boy,” she noted. Apparently, she had completely forgotten that she had to visit the bathroom.

It was okay, though. Pathan deserved that attention. And she deserved that smile.


Those who know me, or have followed my writings, would know that I have often written about my mother. Sometimes in the form of short stories and sometimes through little anecdotes, I have tried to keep her memories alive.

Lately, however, I had felt that I had overdone it with my nostalgia trips with Maa. And had hence pushed these memories away.

This one, though, had been nagging at me for a while.

It will be hard to explain what I have written above and why. As the title suggests, it’s a collage of some of my memories with my mother, particularly related to cricket – the game I love so dearly. It has no structure or pattern. These are just random moments I collected from different phases of my life.

Perhaps they look odd, one after the other. But I had been wanting to write this for a while. For myself, mostly. The thought of recollecting a particular memory in detail, however, was rather unpleasant and I was hence pushing this back. Despite that, I enjoyed writing most of it. It made me reminisce some fond memories; few that I had even forgotten.

Unfortunately, my last good cricket memory with Maa was the one with Irfan Pathan’s hat-trick. A few months later, she passed away.

My interactions with my mother during cricket matches, though, continue. You see, by a strange coincidence, a giant photo frame of my mother has been placed directly above the television set in our new home. So during tense matches, I keep exchanging glances with her photograph and communicating with it. If, for instance, India is struggling, I end up saying things like: “You are enjoying this, aren’t you?” And when India wins a close contest, I always gesture a high-five towards her.

Of course, I have missed her terribly all these years. I missed her when India lifted the two World Cups. I missed her when we won the Champions Trophy. I missed her during Sachin’s retirement. And most of all, I missed interacting with her during all those cricket matches that we couldn’t watch together these past few years. She would have especially loved to see how Dhoni blossomed into a leader and a mature batsman. Also, I am curious to know what her views on Virat Kohli would have been.

Yes, all of this is sad. And it will always pinch. But I have found my way around it. Well, mostly.

Besides, they say there are alternative universes out there with our alternate versions. Who knows, maybe in one of those alternate universes, my alternate version has been luckier than I have been and is high-fiving my mother at this very moment after India has won a thrilling match. Or maybe they are celebrating India’s World Cup win after Dhoni has smashed a six.

If I listen closely, I feel I might hear them celebrating wildly. Perhaps, if I am lucky, I would also hear the reverberating voices call out: “We did it, Maa! We did it!” 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

World Cup memories part 1: The 1996 magic – Where my love for cricket commenced

The ICC 2019 ODI World Cup begins today in England. Am I excited? A little, yes. Not too much, though. For now, I have decided to chronicle some of my favourite World Cup memories from each edition of the event that I watched. The 1992 edition is still a blur – I have vague memories of the colorful jerseys, Ajay Jadeja’s tumbling catch in the outfield and Imran Khan lifting the crystal trophy. That’s about it.

The 1996 World Cup was the one which kick-started it all - my real fire for cricket. Prior to this it was a little spark, simmering inside. But the 1996 World Cup made it into an all-consuming passion which has stayed 23 years since.

I remember the tournament vividly. Since it was taking place in Asia, and primarily India, the hype surrounding it was absolutely tremendous. Even in an age where there was no social media, I remember everyone everywhere was talking about just one thing from February that year – the ’96 World Cup. Even in my school, the teachers and the students alike were buzzing with excitement about the tournament. I was in 4th Grade and had fallen hook, line and stinker with the fervor. One of the better memories from that tournament was a special screening of the India v Sri Lanka league encounter being organized for the 4th and 5th graders in our school’s main hall. We were allowed to watch the entire first innings and about 15 overs of the chase. It was such a special moment as I had never experienced watching a cricket game with my school friends. We clapped, hooted and cheered as Sachin went on to smash 137 – then his highest ODI score. India lost the game, eventually. But that is one cricket memory that I shall always savour.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph, India, had released a preview magazine days before the tournament and I was absolutely besotted with it. It was thick and colorful. I remember devouring the magazine all through the week and carried it in my backpack to school. The content itself was pretty routine – there was past history of the World Cups, opinion pieces by some former cricketers like Clive Lloyd and Sunil Gavaskar, preview of the teams and articles on special players to watch out for. Today, all that is mundane stuff but for the 10-year-old me it was absolutely fascinating. Interesting bit about that magazine. I had lost the magazine in the following years and regretted it bitterly. About 7 years later, around the time of the 2003 World Cup, I found another issue of the magazine in an accounts teacher’s place. The ever-nostalgic me was almost in tears on finding it and pleaded with my teacher to let me take it back home. I read that magazine again happily that night and immediately began entertaining thoughts of keeping it to myself sneakily. But the wretched teacher simply refused to forget about it and demanded it back.

I am still searching for that magazine. Maybe someday it will find its way into my life again.
Anyway, the tournament itself was incredible. The scorecards had changed into a small box on the top left corner of the screen. The jerseys looked cool (well back then, yes) and I loved how the pattern was uniform for all the teams. The matches were entertaining and not just about batsmen hitting sixes into the crowd. The madness of the crowds, especially, was electrifying. I hadn’t seen anything like that before.

I was in awe of Sachin Tendulkar’s dominance, of course. I knew he was a good player but, boy, in this World Cup he really took a step into the big league and made me a fan for life.  His knocks against Kenya Sri Lanka and West Indies were very good. But when he took on Australia’s Shane Warne and Glen McGrath on that night in Mumbai…Phew! I knew I was watching a special, special batsman.

That World Cup wasn’t just about India, though. I simply couldn’t have enough of each and every game, even watching each second of the South Africa v UAE match where Gary Kirsten scored an unbeaten 188. For some reason, the game between Sri Lanka and Kenya had not been aired. But the fact that Sri Lanka had amassed a massive 398-6 in their 50 overs – the highest team total in ODIs then – absolutely blew my mind and I was so annoyed that I wasn’t able to witness that carnage (thankfully, it’s on YoTube now). The one match that I shall always cherish, of course, is the humdinger of a quarter-final clash between India and Pakistan at Bangalore – Jadeja’s incredible cameo where he pummeled Waqar Younis to all parts of the Bangalore stadium and Venky uprooting Aamir Sohail’s off-stump after the batsman had mocked him the ball before were such astounding highs for my little heart that it felt India had already won the Cup.

Of course, my little heart was shred to a million pieces the very next game as India was knocked out by Sri Lanka in the semi-finals at Eden Gardens. But let’s not talk about it. It still hurts. It always hurts. Sri Lanka eventually won the trophy and I was okay with it. I liked Ranatnga back then.

Despite the rather unsavory end to India’s journey in the event, the 1996 World Cup shall remain my favourite edition for several reasons. Even now when I think back to that time, I wish I could relive parts of it all over again.

Just like you don’t forget your first crush, I won’t ever forget the ’96 World Cup – it was my first crush with cricket.

And then it bubbled into a full-blown romance.

I was in love. And there was no going back.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

In Time – A Short Story

December 31, 1984, Calcutta

The booming growl of a tiger from somewhere in the distance confirmed to him that he must not be far from where he wanted to be. Vivaan Sharma walked purposefully with the milling crowd at the zoo, trying his best not to bump into anyone.

His hands were stuffed inside the pockets of his large black jacket and he shivered a little as he walked briskly ahead. It was a chilly Calcutta winter morning with the northern winds blowing merrily all over the Alipore Zoological Gardens.

Even though it was just 10.30 in the morning, the zoo was teeming with people – families with kids, mostly, who were relishing the year’s last day with great abandon.

Vivaan took a left turn from the aviary section, resisting the urge to take a peek at the Hornbill enclosure. In fact, a part of him desperately wanted to stand there and gape at every part of the surrounding in detail. But he knew he had little time in hand.

The turn brought him to a wide clearing where every little space was crammed with people. At his far left was a row of cages filled with myriad species of monkeys, a Sloth Bear, a Spotted Hyena, and a Himalayan Black Bear. The boisterous chatter of the monkeys easily drowned the excited murmur of the crowd gawking at them.

At his right, Vivaan found a large, round and open enclosure with a solitary giant tortoise. A bunch of kids ogled at it from the other end of the enclosure. Right beyond it was a big garden where a number of families sat, basking in the sun. Vivaan knew he was almost there.

Before he could make a turn towards the garden, though, Vivaan’s eyes fell on the tortoise and a silent “Oh!” escaped his lips. A little board outside the enclosure read: “Addwaita, the Aldabra tortoise. Addwaita arrived in the Alipore zoo in 1875 and at 224 years, she is one of the world's oldest living creatures.”

A little smile appeared on Vivaan’s face as he observed the giant animal, nonchalantly lazing away in the center of her enclosure. “Good to see you again, my friend,” he bent down and whispered through the bars of the cage.

A soft beeping noise in his right ear made him stand straight again. Making sure no one was noticing him he pushed a button from inside the pocket of his jacket and walked ahead. 

“Make it quick, Aditya!” he whispered, as lightly as he could, while covering his mouth with his left palm. “I am in the middle of a crowd.”

“Did you reach safely?” a frantic male voice at the other end said. “I told you to update me the moment you land there. What the hell are you playing at? I was so tensed…”

“Yes. I am safe and sound. And I will get back to you after I am done,” Vivaan said while crouching behind a huge tree near the side of the tortoise enclosure and pretending to tie his shoelace.

“Okay, remember this is our first beta test,” the voice said sternly. “You just have a thirty-minute window for now. We do not know how your body will react to traveling back 36 years. So be very, very careful of any odd anomaly. Also, don’t forget that you cannot tell anyone…Anyone… That you are from the future. We simply do not know what kind of an effect even a little rift in time can induce. We are on the verge of a massive breakthrough here after years and years of toil. This can change both our lives forever. Heck, this can change the world. So we cannot afford any slip. Is that clear?”

Vivaan got up and sighed, “For the 100th time, yes.”

There was a little pause at the other end. And then, the voice said, “For the life of me I cannot fathom why you have chosen to go back to Calcutta. And why on this particular date? With the technology we have developed, we needed a better location. The next trip will take at least six months if not…”

“Adi, I am already seven minutes in,” Vivaan cut him short. “I will explain later.”

“Oh. Okay. But I want a detailed report. And be very, very careful.”

“Yes,” Vivaan whispered and pressed the button inside his jacket again.

He took a deep breath and scanned the garden in front of him. A few kids playing catch nearby looked at him and whispered among themselves. He was tall and he knew he would easily be the odd one out in the crowd. Vivaan had hence worked doubly hard to ensure he could at least blend in with his outfit – a large jacket over a dull grey shirt along with a pair of black Bell-Bottom pants.

Vivaan made his way through the crowd, surveying the area thoroughly and looking at a host of unknown smiling and cheerful faces all over. He now felt nervous and anxious.

The sudden loud noise from a radio from his left, followed by the angry yell of a man, caught his attention. “Damn you, Gavaskar! You just had to nick that!” barked the man furiously.

Vivaan turned towards the man. He had his back to him and sat on a carpet on the ground with a woman.

“And a hush has descended over the Eden Gardens as Sunil Gavaskar walks back to the pavilion. That was a very good catch indeed by Gatting,” the silken voice of a man from the radio swam over to Vivaan as he slowly moved over to the couple.

His heart was racing. His breathing became a tad heavy and he could feel his stomach cramping up. He stood behind them for a few seconds, gathering his nerves, before finally saying: “Excuse me, Sir. What’s the score?”

The man turned around. He had an extremely bushy mop of hair, was very skinny and wore a grey half sweater over a pale white shirt and baggy blue pants. He appeared to have been deeply engrossed in the game as traces of annoyance still remained on his face.

“Oh…Um…It’s 35-2 now. Both Wadekar and Gavaskar have been dismissed. Stupid openers,” he said through gritted teeth.

And Mohinder Amarnath ambles up to the crease to join Dilip Vengsarkar in the middle,” the voice on the radio flowed. “India really needs a good partnership now.”

The man returned to stare glumly at the little black radio set in his hand and adjusted the antenna a bit to clear the voice. Vivaan stole a furtive glance at the lady sitting beside the man. She seemed lost in a Hindi magazine titled ‘Saheli’ and was draped in a dark green shawl over a neat pink saree. Everything about her was immaculate.

Tearing his face away from her lest he was caught gaping, Vivaan took a few deep breaths and shut his eyes for a few seconds. He looked to be fighting with himself. Trying hard to not lose control. He couldn’t. He had been training his mind for months for this moment.

He moved forward to face them from the front.

“Hey, did you know that this is the first Test match India is playing on the 31st of December?” Vivaan said.

The man looked up from the radio. “Wow, is it? That’s interesting.”

Vivaan smiled and checked his watch as if calculating something in his mind.

“And I predict that Amarnath will open his account with a boundary.”

The man chuckled. “Amarnath is agonizingly slow. The audience will probably fall asleep today with…”

Before he could finish his sentence, a ‘thunk’ sound emanated from the radio followed by the boisterous cheer of the crowd. “And Amarnath has ladled this over the cover boundary to open his account. What a shot to get off the mark!” the commentator said.

The man looked at Vivaan with a sheepish smile. “Damn…You are good.”

Vivaan was breathing easier now.

“I wish I could have been at the Eden today,” the man said in a hushed tone. “But today is the birthday of the missus. So…”

“I see,” Vivaan responded, trying his best to sound surprised at this information.

The man peered at Vivaan closely. “Have I met you earlier?” he questioned uncertainly. “You look oddly familiar.”

Feigning a snicker, Vivaan said, “I don’t think so, no.” And then he immediately changed the topic. “So what do you think of the current Indian team? They have not been at their best after the World Cup victory last year, huh?”

“Oh, tell me about it,” the man shook his head. And for the next fifteen minutes, the two went on to animatedly discuss in intricate details the good, the bad and the ugly of Indian cricket. Despite the chatter of the monkeys, the commentary from the radio and the cacophony of the kids from around them, Vivaan listened to the man with rapt attention and indulged in the conversation while stealing glances at the woman from the corner of his eye.

“This debutant Azharuddin,” the main trailed on. “I wonder what he will do.”

Vivaan checked his watch. “Yeah. We will have to wait and see. But now… I must get going.”
“Ah, so soon?” the man looked genuinely disappointed.

“Yes. I …Um…I am short of time,” Vivaan said.

“Well, it was nice meeting you,” the man said warmly. “Your knowledge on the game is incredible.”

Vivaan smiled. “I credit my father for that. He passed on his love for cricket to me at a very young age.”

“He must be an interesting man.”

Vivaan paused for a moment, as if suppressing the urge to move towards the man, but then held himself back. “He is the best father anyone can have,” he said simply.

The man nodded. “Hey, before you go,” he said and picked up a square steel box from beside him. He opened it and took out a little round, mustard-colored sweet from inside.

“Here, have this,” he got up and handed the sweet to Vivaan. “This is a ‘sattu ka laddu’ – my wife’s specialty. She made it for her birthday.”

Vivaan stared at the sweet closely, a little taken aback. It was hard and smelled fresh. And Vivaan looked at it as if he had found something he had lost after a very long time.

“Tha…Thank you,” was all he managed to mumble.

“And a happy birthday to you, Ma’am,” he finally addressed the woman properly. She had been observing the two men and only smiled demurely at the greeting.  

“Hey, I never caught your name,” the man said suddenly.

“Uh…It’s Vivaan, Sir.”

“Ah…What a unique name! I love it,” the man said brightly.

Vivaan nodded and said, “It means rays of the morning sun.”

“Ah! That’s interesting. I will remember it.”

Vivaan grinned and then extended his hand. “It was lovely to meet you, Sir!”

The man shook his hand. His palm was very warm and Vivaan felt really nice holding it. “Likewise, my friend. I hope to meet you again someday.”

Vivaan considered him for a moment before saying, “You will, Sir! I promise.”

And just as he was about to turn around, he said, “And I predict that the debutant Azharuddin will score a century today.”

The man sniggered. “That’s a tall task.”

“We shall see. Goodbye then,” Vivaan smiled and turned away quickly from them.

He walked swiftly, fighting the urge to look back. Only after he had reached the big tree near the side of the enclosure of the giant tortoise, did he come to a halt. He collected his breath and wiped his eyes. And then, ensuring that no one was looking at him, he caught a glimpse of the couple while poking his head from behind the tree. The woman was busy saying something while the man’s eyes were firmly fixed on his radio set.

Despite the overwhelming feeling gnawing at him, Vivaan managed a weak smile. He looked at his wrist watch; his time was up. He took one last glance at the couple, focusing especially on the woman.

Without moving his eyes away from her, he pressed the side button on his watch.

There was a soft buzzing sound and Vivaan’s body trembled a little.

The wind from the north picked up speed and Vivaan shivered. Somewhere in the distance, a tiger roared loudly and several people in the park turned their heads in that direction.

The woman was now laughing about something the man had said and playfully hit him on the shoulder. Both of them looked happy and at ease.

“Bye, Maa!” Vivaan whispered.

Another gust of wind blew sharply from the north. By the time it reached the tree near the tortoise enclosure, there was no one behind it.


December 31, New Delhi, 2020

“And there it is! Mohammad Azharuddin becomes only the eight Indian batsman in history to score a hundred on Test debut. What a fine performance this by the 21-year-old! He raises his bat to acknowledge the applause from a boisterous Eden crowd.”

35-year-old Vivaan Sharma smiled as he looked on happily at the black and white footage of a vintage cricket match playing on his computer screen. He wore a rather large black jacket.

It was 11:20 in the morning and Vivaan appeared to be at ease with himself in his tiny apartment. After the batsman had resumed his batting in the video, he pushed the pause button on the computer screen, picked up his cell phone from the table, and dialed a number.

“Hey, Dad!”

“Ah, Vivaan! Is everything okay? You are coming today, right?” an aged man’s voice at the other end said. It sounded tired.

“Yes, Dad. I leave in a couple of hours and will be there by evening.”

“Oh, good. Good,” the man said. His voice was a little relaxed now. “It would be really nice having you over finally. It’s been so long.”

“I know, Dad…” Vivaan was about to say something else, but the man continued on the phone.

“The house has been so empty after your mother’s passing,” he said almost as if speaking to himself. And after a moment’s pause, he added, “But…It would be really great to have you back. Especially today.”

“Yes, I know,” Vivaan said. “Hey, Dad! Do you remember the Test match where Azhar scored his debut hundred?”

There was silence for a few seconds at the other end. “Oh… The one at the Eden Gardens? 1984?” there was a distinct change in the tone of his voice. It was more enthusiastic now.

“Yes. The first Test India played on the 31st of December. I remember you telling me about it years back.”

“Oh, yes! Yes, I remember,” the man said, happily. “Yeah, what about it?”

“They have finally uploaded the video of the match’s highlights on YouTube. We can watch it together tonight,” Vivaan said brightly.

“Oh, that’s fantastic!” the man said, sounding truly elated. “I love watching clips of those cricket games from the 80s. I really wish I had been at the Eden for this one.”

“I know, Dad. I know,” Vivaan said with a smile. “Anyway…I will see you in the evening then.”

“Looking forward to it, son,” the man replied.

Vivaan appeared relieved as he disconnected the call and placed his phone back on the table. He was lost in his happy thoughts for a few seconds. Then, as if remembering something suddenly, he began checking the pockets of his jacket. From the right breast pocket, he took out a little round mustard yellow sweet. Vivaan beamed and sniffed the sweet. It felt fresh and appetizing.

His eyes then turned to look at a little photo frame beside the computer screen. The photograph contained three people – a very pretty woman, clad in a cream sweater over a white and indigo saree, a skinny man with an exceptionally bushy mop of hair wearing a blue jacket over a red sweater and a three-month-old baby boy nestled comfortably on the lap of the woman. The three of them appeared to be inside a zoo and sat outside a little platform in front of a huge open enclosure. Behind them, a giant tortoise could be seen lazing on the grass inside the cage. The couple looked very happy.

Vivaan took a little bite from the sweet in his hand while continuing to gaze at the picture. It was soft, fresh and delectable. “Happy birthday, Maa!” he whispered.

The next moment, the door to Vivaan’s apartment flung open and a short and bespectacled man with wiry hair entered, carrying a bulging plastic bag in his left hand. He wore an olive green overcoat which had covered him almost entirely. Despite his short height, though, this 30-something man had an air of no-nonsense about him.

He looked at Vivaan and exclaimed, “Oh, thank goodness you are back! I had to run an urgent errand. Now tell me…” He advanced towards Vivaan without wasting a second and flung his bag on the floor. “Were there any anomalies? Did anybody suspect you? What was your first feeling like? And when you landed, did you feel any cramps in your stomach as I had predicted? I need answers!” He spoke fast and had a frantic expression on his face.

“Good to see you too, Aditya!” Vivaan smiled.

“Don’t try to be a wise guy, wise guy,” Aditya barked while folding his arms. “You have been oddly evasive about this trip, Viv, and I had only reluctantly agreed because I trust you. But I still don’t know…”

“Adi,” Vivaan cut him short. “I will tell you everything in minute detail once I return from Kolkata next week. For now, just trust what I had told you earlier. That I needed a blessing of sorts before we actually take this full scale. And today’s date…”

“Is an important one for you, I know. You have said that many times before,” Aditya finished his sentence, shaking his head in annoyance.

Vivaan snickered. “Yes. So, I needed to begin our venture on this precise date only and from the place and time I chose. I wanted to make it auspicious if that makes any sense. But for now, you need to have patience with me for this one. I will tell you everything before we commence our next adventure….”

“This is NOT an adventure!” Aditya hollered. “This can have a lasting impact on…”

“It will be… In time,” Vivaan said confidently and took another bite from the sweet in his hand while pushing himself comfortably back on the chair he was sitting on.

“Wait…What is that you are eating?” Aditya asked, pointing at the sweet.

“Oh, this? This is a ‘sattu ka laddu’,” Vivaan responded with a cheer while merrily savoring the sweet taste of the laddu in his mouth.

“I want it too,” Aditya demanded.

“Ah, no can do, my friend! And, besides, you wouldn’t like it at all.”

“Yeah?” Aditya raised his eyebrows. “And why is that?”

“Because,” Vivan said while putting the last crumb of the sweet inside his mouth, “This is a 36-year-old laddo, man.”


All rights reserved 

(End Note:

Although this wasn't the intention initially, but as I was finishing the story I began contemplating that I can take this idea further. I have always enjoyed stories on time travel and it is a concept that fascinates me immensely. It is complex and very, very tough to write on. While this story was pretty simple, I now want to explore it more. I have some ideas, though they are very simple too. Something on the lines of 'The Time-Traveling Adevntures of Viv and Adi'. It is just a thought. Let's see if I can actually do it. It certainly does get me excited for the coming year. )