It was on a clouded over Coimbatore morning that a 21 year old me first felt fear on a cricket pitch. It was a routine practice game, our business school against the engineering school, and the ball was doing a bit under dark skies. I was a cocky young fast bowler who did not feel the need to wear any protection apart from my pads & gloves. We were 5 down for 60 or so runs in a 25 over game, and I walked in to try to set a good enough score. I took guard on middle stump & looked up. The umpire called right arm fast & took his position. I stood on the back foot as I’m wont to, and watched the ball from the bowler’s hand, as I was taught to. It bounced midway & before I knew it, I had somehow moved my head away & watched the ball go, just inches from my head. I took a step back, bent down, took off my gloves, breathed in deeply, & called for a helmet.
I have never played without a helmet since that day. Not in university games, not in club games, not in corporate tournaments.
And I always say a prayer before I go in.
What happened to Phillip Hughes was a freak accident, something that will make old-timers, the ones who know a thing or two about life, sigh & tell us how everything is just unfair sometimes. We, the young, don’t have their wisdom & resilience to fall back on. We don’t know why it should be this way; we don’t understand.
It is this disbelief that we cricket fans had to deal with this last week. The loss to his family & his teammates is incomprehensible. All of us who’ve played team sport know the bonds that form between the people we play with; the word Michael Clarke used often in these last few days has been ‘brothers’. To the players, past & present, who’ve ever worn the baggy green test cap of Australia, the feeling of loss must be immense. And for his small & beautiful farming family, ‘salt-of-the-earth Aussies’, as Clarke described them, anything we can say & do will never be enough. They’ve lost a son, a brother, and a friend. May they have the strength to get through this & celebrate an Australian hero’s life.
But what does the ordinary cricket fan feel? The college student in Lahore, the retired gentleman in Leeds, the club bowler in Kandy, the school teacher in Wellington, how is he supposed to feel when he settles down again to watch the game he loves? Phillip Hughes’ death is almost without precedence in cricket, in that no celebrated young player has ever died on the pitch for a long time now. There have been injuries galore, of course, but none like this.
Which is why it left the cricket fan gutted. The tributes were spontaneous, the eulogies heartfelt, & the tears beautifully, tragically real. We have talked a lot about the spirit of cricket in the last few years, mostly in relation to inane & forgettable incidents, but if even there was a time that phrase could be invoked, it was this. The cricketing community is a small, exclusive sliver of the planet, one of the happy remnants of colonialism, and it came together in beautiful tribute to a man who played the game they loved. #PutOutYourBats was stunning in its simplicity & heartwarming in its scope. This game still means something, it said, the flame of the gentleman’s game still burns in the heart of its fans; for this game, its players are nothing short of heroes.
I’ve watched Hughes playing on television several times, and there was something about him, the little guy & his extravagant cut shots. There was something of the mongrel in him, a quality Ponting had. You saw the fight in him, you saw the grit. You saw that he was going somewhere, you saw that he wanted to. That much was evident to anyone who saw him play. But it is only now, after I read about who he was away from the game, and where he came from, that I realise something more.
Young Hughes was so wonderfully Australian.
Son of Banana farmers in the country town of Macksville, a lover of cattle & the outdoors, Phillip Hughes was the country boy with a dream of playing for his country. And he did it, with a homegrown technique that so memorably rattled the Proteas in that wonderful test match. How similar is his story to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s; they are both small town boys who rose to be national heroes, and Hughes was already being talked about as a future captain. And like MS, Hughes in his beaming smile, slight golden stubble & confident swagger, personified his proud cricketing nation. He was Australian, & it showed.
Cricket is not going to be the same again. Hughes’ shadow will fall on every ground cricket is played from now on; its mortal peril is now painfully evident. And we fans will brace ourselves every time a player is hit. But I think we can give our players something more. Something that perhaps will give them a bit more strength when they put on their pads. Something I think they will value more than our concern.
We can give them respect.
The player knows he is in danger when he goes out there. He knows that he might be hurt today. But that is the game. If we say that cricket builds character & discipline, that it makes us better men, it is because of a reason. This game we love tests everything we have, technique, resolve, determination, patience, but most of all, courage. In a time when we blame our players for not playing well enough, for not trying hard enough, for making too much money, or in extreme cases, when we throw stones at their houses, it would do us well to remember that, as Simon Barnes put it, every innings is an act of courage. Maybe, just maybe, our respect would give them a little bit more of it.
Where to, now, for the cricketing community, then? Michael Clarke ended his speech at an emotional funeral with these words, & I don’t think it can be put better.
“We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on.”
Farewell Phillip, you little beauty, you.
When my father starts talking about Vivian Richards, there is this glint in his eyes I love. I can tell you what he’ll say, to the word. Vivian was big, he’ll say, imitating the famous swagger of the Caribbean master, and then he’ll tell me why he loved Vivian Richards, and why the world loved him too. He showed the white man how to hit a cricket ball, my father will say, he battered them into submission.
He showed them, did Vivian. That’s what my father will say.
For my father’s generation, Vivian Richards was the black man who gave it back to the white overlord. He was an era’s pent up emotion; he was their black salute. To a generation that rose from apartheid, stung by issues of race & strengthened by a sense of community, he was more than a cricketer.
Vivian Richards was an icon.
In the preface to the single greatest book on cricket ever written, Beyond a Boundary, the Trinidadian intellectual CLR James wrote, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” The sentence was not entirely his, being a take on a line in Kipling’s poem ‘English Flag’, but to me, that is the most beautiful and meaningful sentence written about the game I love.
When Sachin Tendulkar made his test debut against the arch enemy in Karachi, he was 16. The bowling attack he faced still gives me goosebumps – Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir. Warriors and magicians they were; arguably the best bowling lineup ever assembled after the great West Indian pace battery of Clive Lloyd.
The year was 1989.
India wasn’t going anywhere.
Having modeled itself on the USSR’s economic policies of state control and central planning, India remained a financial crackpot of a country. The power of its young population was squandered in those years, entrepreneurship was buried behind so many layers of red tape, corruption and elite control that creative energies fizzled out. The only way you could get into the middle class in those dark days was if you could snag a government job through bribes or well placed contacts, or work in one of the public sector enterprises. Goods were scarce; imports for the state controlled markets were sold exclusively on the black market.
My country struggled to eat the food it wanted to, work in sectors in wanted to, do things it wanted to; the world looked down upon it.
The world had reason to. Millions of dollars in foreign aid reached our shores. Well heeled westerners travelling to the ‘exotic east’ found that everything was beautiful, but that India was stagnating, rotting away in an ugly sludge of its own making.
And India’s young people were sad, a proud culture found its uniqueness and identity questioned. National pride is seldom threatened in India; our country has fought wars armed only with unnatural courage and blind patriotism. But still, young India found itself in a strange place then. Their country was giving them nothing to be proud of.
It was then, on finding itself in an economic situation with probably no other solution, India opened up its markets to the world. India’s infamous red tape found its length shortened by several kilometers. Foreign corporations were allowed entry into the humungous Indian domestic market; for the first time in decades, monopolies were challenged, competitiveness was questioned. India was back.
The year was 1991.
Sachin was turning heads in the cricketing fraternity that year. And the heads that turned to see him stayed glued. He was complete, they said, he was the best since Bradman, they said. They argued about him, wrote about him, and basically went crazy over a teenager who could hit balls thrown at him with a heavy wooden bat.
It was in the 1991-92 tour to Australia, when Sachin made 148 on a Sydney pitch alien to a boy from the Bombay maidans, that Merv Hughes made his famous remark to Allan Border. He said, “This little prick’s going to get more runs than you, AB”.
Sachin was becoming the player India hoped and prayed he would be. But even one person among the entire booming population of my country could not have imagined what we came to associate with Sachin, and what he came to mean to us.
India was growing. Money was coming into the country. PV Narasimha Rao’s government had demolished the bulk of the License Raj, invited multinationals in, and cut import duties and taxes. People had more to spend. Things were looking up after a long time. The English news channels on newly arrived cable television had nice things to say about India. Smartly dressed anchors and journalists debated India’s growing might at prime time. India was to be the next superpower, they said, India would grow like there was no tomorrow and that there was no stopping it.
And Sachin, being the star that he was, became the best vehicle for newly arrived brands to reach an adoring local population.
When Sachin said ‘Boost is the secret of my energy’, we flocked to buy Boost. When Sachin declared that there was ‘Nothing official’ about Pepsi during the 1996 World Cup, we refused to drink anything else.
Bollywood boomed too, in those days. The age was one of action movies, where a good guy, someone we called the ‘hero’, would beat up several bad guys, kill the villain, and get the girl. A young India modeled itself on those movies. We wanted to be that hero. On the global stage, we wanted India to be that hero, the proverbial ‘good guy’.
In one of those years my father bought a Bajaj Sunny for my mother to go to school on – a weak looking, little plastic thing. But in those days, for a defense family to have two vehicles –my father’s Bajaj Chetak was the other one, was unheard of. The day the red scooter came home, an occasion for Pujas, coconut-breaking, and friends to come over, there was a cricket match. I remember the scene clearly. All of us Air Force families sat together eating a south Indian sweet called ‘Kesari’ my mother had made, and watched Sachin bat.
Those were good times, the 90s, full of hope, music and a belief in the country’s future and its place in the power plays of the world. It was a time of national pride.
Sachin was an embodiment of that pride. When the world hailed him, we were overjoyed, we were vindicated. Here was an Indian being the best at something in the world; we believed it was only a matter of time before we were the best at everything.
It was Sachin who first made us believe.
I was 2 when he made his India debut. I was in primary school when he smashed the Australians to oblivion at Sharjah; ‘desert storm’, we called it. I was writing my 10th board exams when he let loose against Pakistan in the World Cup. I was studying engineering, my graduate degree when I watched him in a TV shop window, winning the CB series in Australia. I was in the auditorium of my business school when MS Dhoni’s India won the World Cup after 28 years and dedicated it to Sachin. I had been working for 3 years when I cried as I watched his engraved-in-memory visage take the field for the last time.
When I say I grew up with him, I’m not kidding. I’m 26 years old, and I have not known the game I love without him.
I’m just one boy among millions; I’m talking entire lives here.
The void is not just physical, it’s emotional. Sachin was the last remnant of a time India holds very dear to its heart. He was our leading light in those days of hope and approaching glory. Because we Indians have never believed in anything as much as we believe in our country. And we never believed in a person as much as we did in Sachin.
This is the void that he has left behind, and that is why India cried that day, as its greatest sporting hero walked into the dusk, leaving behind memories a proud nation will cherish, and tell stories about.
To my father, the memory of Vivian Richards is one of rebellion, of defiance, of heroism.
To me, the memory of Sachin is of my nation’s rise.
Sachin took an emerging India to the world, as much as he brought the world to us.
He was our last action hero.
The best part of the Hyderabad summer, when I was there 2 years ago, were the mornings. They dawned cold and fresh, forcing me to gather my sleeping bag and run back into the house from the terrace. In another five minutes I’d be off towards the Banjara Hilla mosque, blending in with the crowd answering the muezzin’s early call to prayer.
This is still the memory that defines Hyderabad for me, a vision of the faithful in white kurtas and grey beards, walking towards a voice that seemed to lure them towards it. It seemed magical, and if you think about it, it actually is.
I thought then, as I still do, that a little faith can be a beautiful thing.
I’d go straight to Ismail Chacha’s shop at the mosque gates, where I would be handed Irani Chai in a glass cupped within both his weathered, gnarled hands in almost lost Hyderabadi courtesy. Chacha would inquire about my health that morning & proceed to tell a story. He would start with “Jab Nizaamon ka zamaana tha, Sairam beta, tab Hyderabad main..”, and I would listen, tea in hand and my mother’s old brown shawl around me, to tales of the Old City.
Madras mornings, though, are different.
The wind is not wind, it’s breeze. The sea is Madras’s most conspicuous presence, and easily its most beautiful. But lovely as the beach is in the mornings, the city won’t give you enough time to enjoy it – the sun will be up soon, & you need to go places, see people, work, make money.
Which means the best part of the unrelenting Madras summer is when the sun decides it has done enough damage for the day, and descends to the west, much to the relief of an assaulted city.
This Monday, a friend handed me two tickets to the Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals game.
It was half past 6 when we set out, on a summer evening in Madras.
Poet Meena Kandasamy had written a short piece for the Hindu for last year’s Madras Day, and I saved this passage from it –
“If you care to learn her (Madras’s) whole history, listen to it come away in layers, like the names of old, unforgettable lovers – Pallava, Chera, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara. Empires who held her close, coveted, almost concealed, since the 7th century – a port city on the Coromandel Coast.
She speaks a language with a legacy of 2,000 years; she also understands every word of English. She romps around with jasmine on jet-black hair, night or day. No other city shall ever seduce you in Madras’s Tamizhachi style: with sultry, sidelong looks; with spontaneous speech; with all her selfless, surplus love.”
It’s almost invisible, the invocation of Madras’s gender in the passage, but I was struck by how natural it seemed. Maybe this is because we almost always describe cities and countries as female, but in the case of Madras, I don’t think it could ever be otherwise.
Madras can never be a ‘he’.
As I sat on the back of my friend’s expensive sports bike and took in my adopted city, Madras’s feminine nature asserted itself, in a way I never would have thought possible.
We drove through Thiruvanmiyur, where on a small side street clogged with going-home traffic, a pookari sat on a wooden stool & chatted animatedly with a customer, while her arms expertly measured out mozhams of jasmine blooms. We passed through Adyar, where as a college bus stopped to let down students, a horde of young girls jumped down, heads buried in iPods, hair free and voices high. Footwear in front of the temple on LB Road overflowed onto the street. Mothers and daughters headed in, as the slow humming sound of shlokas being recited wafted out in the warm air.
Mylapore came and went in a buzz of activity. Madras’s oldest neighborhood is a standing history lesson, and again, women are its chroniclers. We passed Bharatanatyam students in full costume returning from classes, mamis waddling around getting provisions and the retired evening walkers gathering around the old coffee shops.
We’d almost reached Santhome.
It isn’t widely known, but Santhome is an integral part of the story of Madras’s birth –
On August 22, 1639, Francis Day signed the lease for a tiny strip of beach he had obtained from the local chieftain of the Vijayanagara Empire. It was a village called Madarasapattinam, about three miles from the Portuguese settlement of Santhome.
Francis Day chose this particular village for a reason. He had fallen for a Portuguese woman; he was in love, and she was in Santhome.
The village became Fort St. George, and marked the birth of the city of Madras, the oldest modern Indian city.
This August she’ll be 374.
We passed the gorgeous Santhome Basilica, drove on to the Marina Beach Road, and the old lighthouse flashed to our right. Queen Mary’s came and went, and the lights of Chepauk appeared from around the corner. The roar of the crowd came a minute later. The captains were heading out for the toss. My friend fed a little more juice into the bike’s engine.
Madras’s IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings is captained by someone the city loves to bits, as I do too, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They chant his name like a God’s, they fight his critics rabidly, they pay thousands to watch him play. I know this, I do too. The man from the small town of Ranchi, in Jharkhand is now claimed by Madras as her own.
There have been numerous attempts to decrypt Madras and its people, its conservativeness, its intellectual snobbishness, its aspirational atmosphere, all of it. I have an explanation of my own.
Madras is a small town. It is not a metro, and it never will be. It is a migrant city, populated by people coming from all over Tamil Nadu’s small towns and villages. Madras is the city where dreams congregate. This is where people come in search of success and fame. It may be one of our country’s biggest cities, a centre of art and culture, a business and technology hub, but Madras’s people will always be from the small town.
And that explains everything.
In a Tamil village, where they are usually homemakers, the evenings belong to the women. They have finished the chores of the day, had their customary evening shower, and have descended, goddess-like, into the streets for their shopping, or are looking out from their balconies, or are gossiping at doorways or are going to temples, smelling of jasmine and turmeric.
Madras absorbed the village evening, and reflects it every single day.
Dhoni is loved for this very reason as well. He wasn’t born in India’s major cities like Bombay or Calcutta from where most of India’s cricketing stars come from. He did not attend elite schools, which usually pave the way for young cricketers into the state teams and then into the national team. He was not rich, nor did he have any influential uncles. He served as a ticket collector when he played for the Indian Railways team. He was from the working class, a boy from the backwaters.
Dhoni is a small town boy, like most of Madras. He was born in the hinterlands of a bustling country and made his way up himself, through hard work and more of the same, like most of Madras aspires to do.
Of course Madras loves Dhoni. Of course he is one of their own.
I got patted down by the security people at Chepauk and was shown my seat. Two rows behind me sat an elderly woman and a little girl wearing her hair in ponytails. When the Chennai Super Kings theme song came on, the little girl broke into dance and the old lady laughed as she clapped and sang along –
“Enga ooru Chennaiku periya whistle adinga”
I turned around towards the game, singing with them.
What is it about sportsmen?
What is it about them that so enthralls us, like fixes of a drug we are addicted to, makes them idols, casts them as ‘heroes’ in our perceptions of life?
Why is it that they become parts of our lives, chapters of our own stories? Why is it that their feats become so important to us, immediately summoned from memory? Why is it that their achievements becoming statistics that we know to the decimal point, spilling from our mouths, as if numbers could personify what they mean to us?
I actually don’t remember when I first watched him play. From the time I have understood, played and loved the game, I have watched him bat.
That’s a long time.
The solidity of that forward defense, the exquisite cover drive, the straightening of his head when he took guard, that slight tilt of his helmet to let out the sweat borne from hours of concentration, I have watched all of it.
I have watched him 15 years. And watching him go isn’t easy.
Much has been written about the man. But I think one word describes him best – immaculate. He was a gentleman, a man of principle, someone who thought ideals were important, a cricketer who loved books.
Many overlook how tough he was. The second highest run scorer in the history of test match cricket was a fierce warrior, a fighter, who won battles with patience and wars with concentration. He single handedly took apart the tag the Indian team had of being lousy tourists. He did things for the team no one else would have even attempted. He kept wickets when the team wanted. He opened the batting when everyone around him failed. It tells you something that Harsha titled his tribute to him ‘The Wolf who lived for the Pack’.
He sometimes gave you glimpses of the storm that raged within. Have you ever watched him bat when he was out of form, when he was going through a rough patch? For me, that was when I saw test match batting at its very best. He would groan, he would grind his teeth, he would look like a person who was battling demons. The mere act of watching it was torturously intense and would leave me spent. But he would fight on. He would grind it out. And almost all the time, he would win. I always wondered how he did it, day in and day out, how strong someone would have to be to play like that.
He was the anchor for a dazzling team, a collection of champions, and he was arguably the greatest of them. His retirement signifies a changing of the guard unlike any Indian Cricket will ever see, an era which later generations will only be able to gape at and never hope to comprehend. We were lucky, weren’t we?
He gave the greatest singular gift to a proud nation – memories. Memories, which will become stories me and many others of my generation will tell later. We will talk of a sportsman who achieved much more than his talent was capable of producing, through sheer hard work and dedication, old world values, you see. We will talk of how he would wear down the best bowlers in the world, bit by bit, ball by ball, session by session, until he could stroke that one ball through the covers.
It still is difficult to get my head around. Will he not be there? Won’t that reassuring, confident walk of his calm nerves next time India lose the first wicket somewhere abroad? Won’t our beloved Wall walk out, all steel and resolve, take guard and bat the rest of the day? Where will we go to find someone half as good?
There will never be another like him.
India’s new no. 3, I really hope you know what you are inheriting, whose shoes you will be filling. The world will judge you against the greatest one-down the world has ever seen, or probably hope to see.
You will be judged against Rahul Sharad Dravid. I hope you know how big an honor it is that your name will be spoken in the same sentence as his.
It’s almost gone, 2011, and try as I might, I really don’t know what to label it as.
Eventful it has been, my masters is over, and I find myself working. I have changed jobs already, been lucky enough to find something I love doing. I have been distressed, I have been lost. I have been confused. I have walked for hours in the Hyderabad rain. I’ve earned real money for the first time in my life. I’ve made new friends. I’ve run away from love, hunted by the demons of my past.
I’ve tried to hide from myself, and at the same time found a way through it all.
I have lived in three different cities, each one special to me in it’s own way, each having a story of it’s own.
I don’t know what to call 2011, it has been a slideshow of emotions – mostly sad, sometimes happy, but always special. But this also means I’ve lived life, and I suppose that’s something.
I have discovered, or rather rediscovered things that used to mean a lot to me.
Music. I sang a lot this year. At parties, at friend’s places, at get-togethers, on my own. Among friends in Hyderabad, at joints in Chennai. Some times this year, music was all I had.
Cricket. I donned the red and white of the Amrita School of Business for my last university game. I bowled reasonably well, batted very badly & lost that game. It hit me hard. My final university game deserved better. I wasn’t sad about the loss – that’s part of the game, and of life. But I was certainly disappointed. At that point of time, my game could have given me some kind of solace. It didn’t. Even my beloved game deserted me.
But these won’t be the things that will say ‘2011’ when I think about them, many years from now. I will remember 2011 for something else entirely.
For abstractness, for meaning, for imprints left in the mind.
My love for the written word came back with a vengeance this year, and having nothing else to hold on to, I clung on to it with everything I had. Probably more.
It was “one of those days”, as we call them – evenings when existence seems to question itself and your heart lurches in the misty memories of times gone by. I was chatting with a friend. Nothing big, just your basic depressing gtalk chat about the futility of it all, when she said something that made my heart stop.
Sai. Love is terrible, in that one taste of it is never, ever enough.
I don’t know in what context she said this. I don’t remember. Maybe I was just being my usual cynical self, but that string of words is an observation so deep and so true, the meaning of it is enough to knock you over.
Words have a way of doing that.
I found refuge in my books this year. I read so many, sometimes a book a night. There have been nights when I’ve finished a book at 1am & started another. It has been my year of books.
I’m so thankful that I read, though. I of course don’t remember the exact moment I became a bibliophile, but it must have been something like Alberto Manguel describes here –
At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book – that string of confused, alien ciphers – shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.
I don’t think there’s a better way that can be put.
I was woken up one morning last month by a phone call which asked me simply this – “Do you remember what you tweeted late yesterday night?” I didn’t. I just knew that I was sad, & I was sleepy. “I have sent you a mail, check.” I woke up and did what he told me to do. I checked.
Twitter has become something of a diary for me, and of millions like me around the world. It records my moods, my thoughts, my opinions, my every move.
Those 140 characters sometimes can become mirrors, reflecting things from the crevices of your soul, things you try hard to keep hidden.
My friend had sent me a curation of my tweets from the last night. It must have been a godless, moonless nightfall. For the darkness in my own words scares me.
Her haunting presence in your every waking minute. The knowledge that you never were for her what she was to you. That.
The trauma of beautiful loss. Knowing that as she walks in your head, she tramples on your dreams.
The World went on. She has moved on. But your heart screaming out what you already know – You will never be the same again. Never ever.
The letters she never wrote. The kisses that never transpired. A love that never was love. What happened doesn’t matter. What didn’t, does.
When words are all you have left. And flashes. Of memories, that is. Distant, cold. And the laughter that once ruled your life.
When all I want is for my thoughts to fade away. The flicker of a lamp, the damp of the night, her hold on my heart, the time that flew by..
The songs she demanded you sing. The rains she demanded you bring. When all she loved was what you gave her. Not you. It was never you.
Where that came from, or where it went, I do not know. But there it is.
From the contemporary science and fiction of Richard Dawkins, Ian Rankin to classics from Wodehouse, to some heartbreaking Rumi and Neruda poetry, I have uncovered gems, but some of the most beautiful pieces I read this year were not on paper at all.
This one, from someone I know only as mentalexotica, is something I just cannot have enough of.
Why I will write you four letters in one night
Because I cannot keep away from you. Because my nights are yours in thought and memory of the morning before, of the unexpected detonation of desire beneath the sheets at 6:49 am. Because my days are filled with disinterest and wild distractions both. Because your lips keep the memory of my tongue pressed upon them like unwithering flowers. Because my skin is stained by the fingerprints of your craving. Because breathing reconciles itself only with short, sharp pulls and forgets how to exhale. Because writing to you is not writing but an accident of words; colliding, spilling, revealing. Because my body is sore but my longing goes un-neutered. Because the amber-gold highlights of your hair spilling across your face tease a wicked game. Because the white in your smile is a reminder of the bruise on my neck. Because love is a four-lettered word when we make it. Because I cannot keep away from you.
I cannot keep away from you.
If that doesn’t take your breath away, I don’t know what will. I will not try to describe the words above. I don’t possess the intellect to, and I will fail miserably. I’m only a guy who reads. I’ll just get lost in the turmoil it throws my soul into.
It’s time to end 2011 on my blog. What better way than a poem? But first, a small story.
There was a boy, in London. He loved a girl madly, hopelessly. She loved him too.
And then she died in a plane crash in Canada, far away from him.
It was Christmas, 1943, World War 2. He wrote a poem in her memory.
The boy, Leo Marks, was a cryptographer. In March 1944, he used that poem, to encrypt secret messages for the Allies. He used the words he wrote for the girl he loved, to fight Hitler’s evil empire. He was fighting for nothing less than the freedom of the known world. It’s only a few lines, but they do not betray easily the secret they carry or the emotions they were born from. Read it once, and then read it again. Then read it once more. These words demand it.
The life that I have is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours
The love that I have of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
It’s about 9 on a hot evening as I make my way from work to catch the bus that will take me back to my apartment on the other side of town. My throat’s been pretty sore since I moved here. I’ve no idea why, and I’ve given up trying to get my voice back. I’ve avoided my favourite drink for as long as I could, but what the hell, the throat hasn’t gotten better anyway! I open my can of Pepsi to its familiar fizz & gulp some down. My ipod drowns out the noises of the road with some Arctic Monkeys. I watch, as the traffic moves past me in a constant blur, and soon I’m caught up in its intricacies, in the boy speeding on his bike to God knows where, in the middle aged man going home slowly on his rather old scooter, in the lady buying her kids ice cream.
My bus rolls in; I get in & grab a window seat. That seat is essential. I suppose I’ll never grow up, I still fight for the window seat. And as has been every city that I’ve lived in, this city’s different from all the others.
This city’s Hyderabad.
The first thing that struck me as my train chugged in was the language. A South Indian, I was born and brought up in the North. Hindi comes naturally to me, but Hyderabadi Hindi is a cultural symbol in itself. The mishmash of Urdu, Sanskrit, Hindi & Telugu is an absolute delight to listen to, & very very infectious. By the end of my first week, I was saying “Ho” & “Nako” impulsively. If you don’t understand, they mean Yes & No respectively!
In my second week here, we had a store visit, and I slept off blissfully on the bus, crossed my stop and found myself in the confines of Hyderabad’s famed Old City, where the iconic Charminar stands. I felt like I’d been transported back in a Time Machine. All the signs are in Urdu, everyone is in the traditional Islamic garb of Kurtas & Purdahs, and the only eateries I can see around me are for Naans & of course, Tandoori cuisine. I had to catch another bus back home, but before I did, I had a glass of what they call Falooda here. I swear they must have it in Heaven; it was one of the best things I ever tasted!
I look out from my window & I see the swarm of humanity that is Hyderabad, where it almost impossible to discern an individual from another. If I’m not conscious, my mind will not even try. The people I see will be drowned out as noise, they would not even register. I would dismiss them as part of the picture, just another brush stroke on the tapestry!
And so would all of you!
But that’s so wrong. That’s not the way we should look.
Every person out there has a story. This guy must have people waiting for him at home. She could have her children waiting for their mother. His grandkids could be waiting for their grandpa to bring them sweets. This guy could be buying those flowers for his wife. How many people are out there, how many dreams, aspirations & lives are woven in that single frame I see out the window? Every person out there is so important and irreplaceable, as I’m. As you are.
My stop appears. I get down & walk home, stopping to throw the can in the dustbin. Pepsi has been among the few constants in my life, along with books, my ipod & cricket. They’ve been with me through my journey, and this leg of it has brought me to Hyderabad.
This is me, this is my story. You know part of it, of one guy in this huge city. I walk on to cross the road and am immediately engulfed by a huge horde coming from both sides. I merge into the multitude, and you can’t see me anymore.
I’m a small town boy in the big city, and for the moment, I truly am, lost in the crowd…!
For those who are coming in now, I’ll repeat the reminder – this post is a continuation of the earlier two. So if you’re new to Raghu & Priya’s story, read the earlier posts before you read this one.This is the third & final part of the story.
For those who have been following Glimpses from the beginning, Thank you, for all those messages and tweets and calls, telling me how much you liked & enjoyed the story. You guys were awesome & I hope my writing doesn’t disappoint you, now, or ever.
I got quite a lot of questions. The most common question was if I played football. No people, I don’t. I play cricket and if you can make it to Amrita University, Coimbatore on the 9th of this month, you can watch me play in the white and red of Amrita School of Business. I’ll be the guy wearing number 88.
I unlocked the door & walked in. My watch said it was quarter to six. My timing was good. 6 laps around the block in 45 minutes. I still had some football in me. Maybe I could’ve played a bit more. Maybe I should have gone for the job that Air India offered me, I’d have been part of their football team, played in the National League & maybe, just maybe, in National Colours.
I smiled to myself. I’d never have taken the job. Ever. There was a reason why.
The reason was asleep in the bedroom across the hallway.
The reason had a name. Priya.
I opened the door, as slowly as I could, and there she was. She never could wake up in the mornings. The only times she used to was to come to my matches when we were at University. There she was, at one time the girl I loved, now, the woman I call my wife. She was exquisite even when asleep, actually, especially when asleep. As if nothing could ever disturb her. As if she was just that, her beauty eternal, frozen in time and space, never to be destroyed, something perpetually magnificent.
I walked up to her, removed a golden strand of hair from her eyes, twirled it behind her ear, bent down and kissed her.
The grin never left my face as I removed my tracks and trainers and walked to the kitchen. You never could tell with her. Sometimes she would want coffee, sometimes she’d have none of it. Sometimes she’d want orange juice. Sometimes she even wanted my Gatorade. As I said, you never could tell with my Priya. She was always like that.
I took out the coffee from the refrigerator. It’d been a hell of a ride with her. But it’d been worth it, every step of the way. From the day it dawned on me that I just had to be with her all my life, the day we had told our parents, the madness after that, and the day we’d won, at last.
Wow!! We’d been through a lot.
Her father had been unconvinced. He’d looked at me once and went into heart attack style convulsions. He’d wanted an IAS or summat, you know, one of those guys who listen to whatever their fathers say, get straight A’s through everything, wear shirts and button their collars, hold a handkerchief in their hand all the time and when asked a question, look at their Dads for inspiration. Translated – he’d wanted a geek. What’d he get? Ummm. Me.! No wonder he reacted the way he did. I’d have been surprised if he hadn’t.
But in all that, he’d said just one thing that made sense, one thing that I knew he was right about. He knew I wanted to play football and that I would chase my dream. And he knew that it wasn’t a stable life. I might have to move a lot, travel a lot, and be away from home. The pay would be crummy. I had no idea if it would be enough to give Priya everything I wanted to give her. I couldn’t take her on that journey. It was the life of a travelling athlete. It wasn’t the life for a married couple. He was concerned about his daughter’s future. He was her father, and he was spot on.
I asked him for time.
My mother was another story altogether. You see, it’s easy to handle threats and harsh words. What cannot be handled are tears, high pitched wails, and statements like “Was this why I sent you to college? To bring a girl home and tell me that you want to marry her?”
This sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Well, it isn’t!
This would be accompanied by several spoken and unspoken insinuations that I’d somehow committed an unforgivable crime. “You want to spoil the family’s standing in society”. Whoa! Why would I wanna do that, of all things? Dad didn’t mind actually, but coz Mom’s performance was worthy of a Golden Globe, he too pitched in.
All this lasted till the day I brought her home. My sister was transfixed, with one look she was sure that I should marry only Priya and was on our side throughout. I’d expected that. Sisters are made that way. My mother, ever the headmistress of her school, grilled her, much the same way Priya’s father had grilled me. The difference was, Priya had the answers. I always knew that Mom would be convinced once she met Priya. I was right. It may be also because of the fact that by then Mom knew she had no choice in this whatsoever. That was tough, but we did it.
The coffee was almost done. She liked it black. I didn’t know why. I liked it with milk and sugar. I always had. We were both very different personalities, as I noticed sometimes, but it all somehow came together, like magic. But I suppose our love is exactly that – magic.
I took the two mugs to the bedroom. She was as I’d left her, peaceful, her tranquil face lost in a world of dreams. I tore my gaze away from her face and looked out the windows, at the light of an approaching winter morning.
I had had a choice. I could’ve chosen her and football, or I could’ve chosen just her. She’d have been alright with anything. But I couldn’t take the chance. What if something went wrong? One injury, one sprain could take down my career. She would have had to struggle through my early playing years, until I made it big. If I made it big. And that was a big If. She would have wanted me to follow my heart and she would have stuck it out through everything that came with it. She loved me. She would do it, happily. She would face it all. That I knew.
But could I do that? Put her through all that?
I loved her more than she loved me. Or so I like to argue with her.
I chose her. Just her.
Do I regret it?
No. I don’t. Not for one moment. Not ever.
No achievement, no accomplishment of mine, would ever be complete without her. When I had won the University Cup, I had searched for her piercing brown eyes in the crowd. When I’d got through the placement process for Caterpillar, I’d run to her like wild dogs were after me. When she’d got through her interviews for Tata, I’d been there outside, and held her hand when her name was announced. I don’t know about other people, but that’s the way we were. We still are.
My place was beside her. It always would be.
“What are you thinking?” said the voice I loved. She was by my side. She could do that. Walk through the house with no noise whatsoever. She looked up at me, with that gaze that could see through me. She knew what I was thinking. But then she always did. She shuddered. It was cold. I put my arms around her.
“Liar.” She said and smiled.
I passed her the mug. She snuggled closer to me and had a sip of the dark brown liquid.
“Are we going out today, Raghu?”
“Do you want to?”
“Then we are babe. Of course we are.”