Imagine if you will, a strip of greyish tarmac 34 * 18 yards in dimension. One side of this area is taken up by metal gates. Facing them, on the other side is a large, oft-painted water tank. This being India, time and again the wall of that tank has had a set of three lines scratched or painted onto it. Buildings tower over the remaining two sides of this area. If at any point in your life you have played cricket in Kumar Classics Housing Society, your mind's eye will have conjured up an image of the pitch.
Kumar Classics or KC for short, is one of the older societies in Aundh. At some point of time in the misty past (or about 20 years, give or take), KC was the first set of buildings you would see if you were making your way from Bombay to Pune. Only a blind man could miss it because the buildings were painted in an interesting combination of pink and white. Keeping with the trend of the 80's, the builders did not make any provisions for a club-house, pool or any of the other la-di-da amenities being desperately hawked today. There were a few patches of land that might or might not pass off as the 'garden area' but KC gave you the unmistakable impression that it was a society for people who would rather reside than live.
Kids, being the resourcful lot that they are (or rather were... I get the feeling dumbness is no longer a malady and has taken on the proportions of a full-blown epidemic where tiny-tots are concerned. But that's another story), did not let the lack of any specific playing area deter them. We simply went ahead and designated suitable empty spaces in the society for various sports. Ergo, the space between G & H buildings was reserved for 5-a-side football or games of cricket with very few people. The area between C2 and D buildings took on the role of our tennis court. The parking lot of C2 was used for baseball. That between C1 and C2, the badminton court. The last available space, between the B and C1 buildings, we used for cricket.
That patch of land was destined for cricket. From the water tank, we measured out 22 yards and found that we still had enough space left over for even the most ambitious, Thommo-type runups. Of course, the presence of cars and house windows was a problem. Every day, without fail, irate aunties and raging uncles would beseech or threaten us to stop putting their property at risk. We would nod our heads, despondently slink away and then resume play after a respectful period of time had passed... generally about 20 minutes. To curb the pinch-hitters amongst our motley group, we came up with strict rules of play. The ball hitting the buildings, 1st floor and up, was out. Hitting a car directly was out. Hitting outside the gates was either out or a 6, depending on how adventurous we were feeling. If by now you are wondering exactly where we managed to get our runs from, all I can say is, you had to have been here to understand.
Many summers and Diwali vacations were devoted to playing cricket on that pitch. Evenings, weekends, the odd national holiday... each instance saw us congregate without fail and play. Long-suffering residents in the vicinity marked the passage of months and years by cringing at the increasingly colourful cusses that emanated from that spot. Often passers-by would find only 2 people playing... honing skills by faithfully taking turns at bat and bowl. A certain left-hander and I spent many an hour just playing and talking, caught up in both the discussion of ideas and the emotions associated with a bad ball bowled, a beautiful hit or the deception of the bat with that perfect Jaffa.
Some moments and memories are frozen in time; watching a 6 being hit where the ball arched over the 4 floors of C1... hitting the winning run off the last ball in near-darkness and having that incredulous joy flood over limbs knowing you have pulled off the impossible... scoring 3 runs to win on a pitch where 3s are unheard of... bowling that perfect leg-spinner to pick up the one wicket that mattered...
Those were just my personal memories and I know that others, many of whom have moved out of KC, out of the city and out of the country, will have their own precious moments. Childhood was not easy... home-life was not easy... school was not easy... but in those fervent times on the pitch, yelling ourselves hoarse, we forgot everything else. And played the game.
The years are drifting by and we have grown up and moved on. Our cricket pitch, our tennis & badminton courts, our baseball field... stand empty and forlorn. If we strain our imaginations, perhaps we can hear the echoes... of victory cheers and anguished howls of defeat. And sometimes, no imagination is needed because a passer-by stops by the gate to see two scruffy-looking men in their late 20s spend a Saturday morning revisiting the past. The two men look at it differently...
They never left.
Song for the moment: Carry on my wayward son - Kansas