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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“OHH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAA!!!”
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.
“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!”