Sunday, October 27, 2013

It all helped us pull on

My grandfather was an avid follower of the game. So were my father's peers. Since ours was one of the rare households with a television set, they would gather to watch matches. Those were the initiation ceremonies.

Shashtri's Audi is one of the earliest memories I have. Maybe the famous victory lap shown for several years to come is what actually I saw because in '85 I must have been too young to seriously appreciate such celebrations and rewards for individual cricketing brilliance. 

In 1992, I was aware that Pakistan had won the world cup, but the first tournament I actually watched was Hero Cup in 1993. The last over going from Kapil to Sachin was a brave decision but also symbolised what lay ahead for all of us.

By the 1996 world cup, I was mad about the game, playing for hours, worshipping Sachin like millions others. I skipped my intermediate exam, failed in the next attempt but couldn't shake the madness off. The arrival of Rahul, Saurav and VVS and later Sehwag provided more glue.

People talk of cricket and they talk of joy. Some say when Sachin scored, India slept well. Some found it a source of national integration when India won.

But for those torn between warring parents, suffering family feuds, fighting unemployment, the good results, though very few then, helped them pull on. Cricket also gave me a career.

I never covered cricket as a journalist, barring for a brief period in Ahmedabad. It helped me earn a living in a different way. I listened to AIR's running commentary that came alternatively in Hindi and English. Trying to make sense of the English bit was, perhaps, the toughest thing I then did. But I had to know the scores at all costs.

Later, developed a liking for Radio Pakistan, ABC and more classically produced BBC commentary. For better pictures and graphics, I slowly switched from Cricket Samrat to Sport Star. With some heartbreak, I dumped my favourite writer Charanpal Singh Sobti for the likes of Peter Roebuck. 

But all this needed a helping hand. Sahni Shabdkosh [from English to Hindi] made room for [English to English] Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

I was surrounded by people who didn't know English. Even I passed class 10 exams without English --- it didn't feature as a subject, thanks to Lalu Yadav's magnanimity. Since I picked it up to some extent, I stood out when HT was looking for a reporter for our area in 2001. But that's a different story. 

We had our mini battles in the neighbourhood. Initially, fights happened to prove Sachin was better than Kambli. When this became ridiculously irrelevant, we kept fighting for years to prove there's no connect between Sachin's centuries and India's defeats.

I began having to ignore cricket as I got busy with work, which I got to do because of cricket, and kept changing cities, my interest going up and down. But, Sachin Kitnya Banaya -- remained  a constant query. And praises for Rahul's solidity, VVS' selfless service and Saurav's captaincy were never hard to come by.

Slowly, they started leaving the scene one by one. The void being felt is not only because Sachin is retiring, it's because all the greats we grew up watching are not around. It's more because the game that meant so much is suddenly not that important to me.

I can't be in Kolkata or Mumbai. But I want to be in Lahli. It won't be possible, I guess. I can't claim I won't watch cricket now, I will follow Kolkata and Mumbai. 

But for me and many of my generation who saw the blitz and the poise from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s,  the fun is surely gone.

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