Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Darkness, cricket and masala mandakki

The final rays of the tired sun slowly retreat out of the muddy ground that has now become their temple. The boys, all in the age range of 10 – 14, have been sweating themselves insane since 4pm as they mercilessly whack the slightly misshapen bat around the abandoned patch of dry grass peppered with sharp and tiny stones. With their hands smelling of burnt rubber and their trousers reeking of the blackish slug from the nearby gutter – a spot quite favorable to well aimed shots by left handed batsmen in the ranks – the boys yell and curse at each other over every lose delivery and each taken run. The hurriedly applied Ponds talcum powder’s fragrance is now long gone from under their armpits and necks as they await, red faced and dry lipped, as the final ball of the 11th match is about to be bowled. The opposition team – comprising of four taller and slightly well built boys – has won five of the matches already so this match is supposed to be the ‘tie breaker’. Of course, this is the third ‘tie breaker’ that has taken place in less than an hour. The skinny young bowler flings a direct Yorker to the equally skinny batsman who swings it wildly on to the onside. The ball, wrapped in the dull envelope of a dying day, sails over the head of another skinny fellow before being captured, suddenly, in his roughed up and unprepared palms. The sound it makes on the impact – ‘Smackkon!’ – immediately results in absolute cacophony as the fielding team realizes that they have won the game. With the opposition needing just two runs to win, this unexpected gift of absolute randomness has brought them euphoria colored in a hundred shades. Unprecedented yet definitely much appreciated.

Just when the batsman, now out, is trying to negotiate with the winning team into playing another ‘best of 13’ series, one of the lads’ mother calls out to him from the noisy metal gate of their grandmother’s ancestral house. ‘Enough! Come on! It’s dark now. I told you…no more playing after dark. Enough for today. Come and wash your hands and legs everyone!’

The lads use this wonderfully placed call as an excuse while mocking the opposition that the next day of the ‘championship’ will hopefully bring them better luck on the field. They scamper out of the ground, bruised and panting, only to be pounded with instructions on entering the gates by the elderly woman. They are told to go in and wash up, comb their hair, change their clothes and walk down to the end of the street to bring a few packets of masala mandakki (spicy puffed rice with roasted peanuts, tomatoes, coriander, green chillies and red onions). The boys, on hearing this delicious assignment, chase each other in a short lived race to get to the bathroom avoiding hitting the rest of the dozen odd members in the house on the way. Needless to say, by the time they reach the bathroom it is already occupied by some cranky elder who refuses to open the door despite their incessant pleas. They then start heading to the tap in the garden instead where they intend to hastily wash their faces and feet. Another short lived race ensues only to result in a potted plant being smashed out of its place and into a few large pieces with moist mud overflowing on the haphazardly shaped chips of clay. The masala mandakki feast now stands threatened.

Many such random episodes made their welcome appearance as I spoke to my maternal cousin Sudhi (my mother’s third elder sister’s first son) today. The single most tragic highlight of the talk was the fact that we were speaking to one another after a wide void of 8 long years. It was hard to say why, but somehow a vacuum of inexplicable silence had settled on us. Somewhere down the lane the daily battle to make it to the end of the day painlessly had taken priority over other trivialities like wanting to keep in touch consistently. A warm sense of blatant complacency only family members are capable of. A wave of undeniable nostalgia flooded me as I suddenly realized how time had managed to hoodwink us just by being its natural self. It was then that he mentioned the kind of fun we all used to have when we were kids during our annual visits to our native Shivamogga. We spoke of how our maternal uncle – Madhu mama – would tell us that we would get chocolates if we could stand up straight on a football. We would then spend an hour, like absolute fools, trying to get on that darned ball that refused to stand still. We recalled rainy afternoons when the older cousins in the house would give meaningless tasks to the younger ones just so we would end up pressing their legs as they vanished into deep siestas. Ah! The tricks that were pulled on us as kids! How much fun we used to have back then, I thought, without even having heard of a computer or a video game. All we had was the zest to be active and the unstoppable urge to have unlimited fun during our limited summer vacation. With our hands overflowing with deliciously wicked masala mandakki we would jog back to the house to supply everyone with a large packet each. We would then chomp them down greedily in unabridged glee while coaxing each other to share some of theirs with us! This would then lead to refusal, more insistence and a small chase again resulting in the masala mandakki being peppered across the clean floor. Oops! Another assignment would be handed out which involved getting down on all fours and cleaning up the mess. Oh what fun all this used to be – innocent, guileless and harmless fun.

I sat back with a sigh today lost in these thoughts as I disconnected the phone. That play ground where we had created so many cricket records in my native of Shivamogga is now no longer there. A large house sits prettily on top of it covering all the memories we, as kids, had once created tightly under it. That small shop that sold our delicious masala mandakki too is gone. Now there is a kiosk that sells cigarettes to anyone who has the money. The large Alsatian dog that was constantly tied to a large tree in the neighborhood Shetty uncle’s house is now long dead. Oh…the number of times we have jumped across the compound wall to retrieve the ball from under its watchful gaze! Of course, anyone who connected that shot was automatically qualified as out. So it took a master batsman to place a shot without letting it hop into Shetty uncle's yard. An art we perfected with each passing summer break.

And the darkness? That much envied enemy and much beloved friend who had bailed us out of and put us into such amazing loops back then? Well, that still exists. It comes and goes each day without fail but somehow, its context has completely changed. It no longer is something we think about. It is no longer something we are reminded of. No more calls to come into the house to wash our legs and no more trips to get more masala mandakki. All that is left is this darkness of growing up into someone else...someone we no longer recognize from our younger versions.

But then something else hit me too which I found quite ironic in my present circumstance. Now that spring is here in Denmark, even darkness is becoming a tad scarce to enjoy what with sunlight seeping into sleepy rooftops as early as 4am these days. Sigh, I thought, so much for memories that can never be recreated, isn’t it?


2 reflections:

Anonymous said...

good read! thankyou. ^_^


ShaK said...


Thank you. :) I am glad you enjoyed it.