Sunday, July 28

Fragments of time


At first glance, this is a shot of something so mundane that you would dismiss it as nothing. What do you see? A water tank, a broken, tarred patch speckled with eucalyptus leaves brought down by the wind & rain, a spade & a levelling plank in repose, and creeping up on these, a neat row of determined-looking cinder blocks. That's about it. Taken from the balcony of a house on the second floor, the shot can be construed as a common, artsy attempt in an Instagram-driven world. And you wouldn't be far wrong because it is an ordinary photograph of a very ordinary scene.

To a very few though, this is a watershed moment, frozen for all time. It is testament to the end of something.

For 21 years, this tar ground, framed by the tank, two buildings and a gate, has been a cricket pitch. You can see three neat, parallel lines painted on the tank wall, but that is a recent development. For the generous width of these stumps alone would have some 30 year old gents scoffing. Once upon a time, motley bunch of kids used a brick to mark a realistic set of stumps. This was in the early 90s and I'd like to think those kids were very solemn and particular about the exact measure of the stumps, the length of the pitch and the tramlines.

The bright red stumps faded many times, thanks to the action of wind, rain and time but they were marked again and again, each summer, Diwali and Christmas. Aunties in the surrounding buildings would glance apprehensively at the games in progress, sometimes coming to the windows to plead, berate, threaten and banish the kids. And as sure as eggs are eggs, the kids would slink back after the tirade and calmly continue the games till their voices reached a crescendo of appeals, curses and cheers. Then they grew older, and had various demands placed on their time. New generations took over. 

In 2001, two guys on the right side of 20 who'd just started college that year, began what can only be now called a decade-long game. They certainly played cricket, taking turns to bat and bowl, but they also talked - about their hopes, dreams, principles, beliefs and ambitions. About who should or shouldn't be in the Indian test team, how we'd do in Australia, England and South Africa, and the horrors and ecstasy of the performances. Balmy spring days, scorching summer evenings, and pleasantly chilly winter afternoons marked the passing of the years and the fluctuating fortunes of the southpaw and the leggie. There were changes; moves to Bangalore, the U.S and Bombay, and even a marriage. Even the very nature of their friendship went through its own cycle. But any time the opportunity arose, the two would meet, gingerly stretch and test their muscles, mark out a middle-leg guard, and play and talk, about cricket and about life. And in a way, the scarred & wearing pitch mirrored life itself; there were patches of alarming bounce, skids and enormous turns.

Thanks to the logistics of distance, time and availability, these sessions slowly trickled to a close. It has been over a year since the southpaw and the leggie played cricket. It has been over 10 since the leggie and his colony mates played a match. Football became more popular and smart-phones did the rest. And today, piece by piece, the 21 year old cricket pitch is being levelled and covered. All that will be left is the photograph, and maybe, the faint echoes of two decades of carefree living. 

They say 18 is when you become an adult but 21 is when you grow up. Well, childhood is officially over. So the southpaw gets the final word in on this chapter - "Many... so many memories."

Song for the moment: The game of love - Daft Punk