More than a game
Cricket is a religion in India, it is said, a national obsession and for many, a ticket to the good life. For poor ( and not- so- poor) parents across India, a son breaking windows in the neighbourhood is no sorrow. It’s a cause for celebration, for it ho
Mohan Kumar had grown up in the poorest end of a poor taluk: Ratnagirihalli in Alur, in the foothills of the Western Ghats. As a boy, each morning at four, he stood on the back of an open lorry that took him to a coffee estate. There he signed his name in a long green register. Then he cleared twigs, dropped sunna from his forefingers in white circles around the plants, and watered the bushes, taking more care of the Arabica, and less care of the Robusta. At ten o’clock, the man supervising the estate paid him three and a half rupees, and he climbed back onto the open lorry. There was school for the rest of the day. He learnt to read and write. This was something new for his family. His dowry went up. Sex: with a prostitute out in the fields; marriage: to a girl from his own caste; employment: to the landowner who had hired his father; pilgrimage: to Kukke Subramanya, in the mountains of the Western Ghats, as soon as his wife fell pregnant. All this was as it had been for generations in his family.
But one morning a neighbour yelled, ‘ Who is going to pay for the window?’ The window that had been broken by Mohan Kumar’s son in the most recent game of cricket.
Mohan looked at the broken glass and remembered what a boy in Mumbai had done to the windows in his neighbourhood. A boy named Sachin Tendulkar. Now Mohan Kumar stood by passing trains and trucks and saw them in a different light. He observed highways and mighty things in a different light. He saw the sun, high over the peaks of the Western Ghats, charge from cloud to cloud like a soul in transmigration. Mohan, Mohan – how people laughed. Why Mumbai? Take your son to Bangalore to learn cricket – it’s closer, cheaper!
Bombay it had to be. Mohan Kumar put his wife and Radha and his second son Manju into a bus and then into two trains before they descended into VT station in Mumbai to take a third train to his cousin’s small tin- roofed hut in a slum in Dahisar that was famous for its mechanical flour- mill, which ground wheat early morning and red chillies late morning. ‘ Anything I touch in Mumbai turns into powder like that flour- mill makes,’ Mohan wrote to his brother Revanna back in the village. He had tried photocopying books, binding them, and selling them near the station; the police arrested him and kept him in lockup for a night. Ten lakh books are sold in black in Mumbai every day and he has to be put in lockup! Big Thief Walks Free. Small Thief Gets Caught.
A year later he discovered his wife was fucking a Christian man near the train station. He waited for her, and bolted the door behind her. Never tell your mother lies, never tell your wife secrets. That was a golden proverb, why had he ever forgotten it? He made up for it with his hands. Nothing more than a man’s natural right, but next morning the social workers – six of them – barged in and told him to stop hitting his wife, or else go to jail again. Can you believe what they do to a man in this city? One night he returned home, and found that she had run away with his money and his honour. So he had nothing left; he lay in bed, and stared at the ceiling, and thought, I should just kill myself.
‘ Get up, Mohan,’ a voice said. Though there was no one else in the room, he heard fingers snapping in the dark. ‘ Why?’ he asked. The invisible fingers snapped a second time: ‘ Because I say so. Don’t you know who I am?’ Destiny, I suppose, he thought, and rose, and breathed in the crisp, energizing air of crisis. Taking the bus all the way to a spot in Bandra where one could observe the new skyscrapers of Prabhadevi and Lower Parel, Mohan Kumar clenched a fist and held it over the kingdoms of Mumbai; after closing an eye to perfect the illusion, he brought his fist down on the city. Except to grow a thin black moustache – a ‘ statement’, he declared, of protest against his ill luck with women – he never complained; he never again looked back; he simply transferred all his hopes in life onto young Radha Kumar. Old Sharadha came in every day to do the cooking. She made chutneys from green mango, lemon and raw guava, and Mohan Kumar tried to sell them. This meant that every day he cycled around Mumbai swallowing insults more pungent than any chutney he took with him; yet every night when he lay down to bed, he could say: ‘ Today my son has become a stronger and better batsman.’
Mohan made Radha hold the cricket bat low down on the handle, exactly as Sachin had done. At the age of five he made Radha grow his hair long and pose with the bat for a black- and- white photo exactly as Sachin, Bacchus- haired, had posed at that age. At the age of seven he took Radha by train to Shivaji Park to listen to Ramakant Achrekar, exactly as seven- year- old Sachin had been taken to sit at the great Achrekar’s feet to learn the science of batsmanship. Around this time, his second son also began to break windows when he was playing cricket. ( Reproduced with permission from the
publishers, HarperCollins India).
Aravind Adiga’s latest, Selection Day, is a gritty, yet amusing take on India’s obsession with cricket