Just as the planets of this universe revolve round the sun, for the boys of Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram in the 1980s, lives revolved round the Jaisimha Cricket Club. It was not difficult those days to locate this club, which claimed the grounds housing the local Government High School as its own.

For the many who played for the club, the cricket ground was the centre of their lives as they dreamt of becoming Kapil Devs and Gavaskars, much to the chagrin of their parents who thought otherwise — a waste of time meant for pursuing educational goals for securing a coveted government job. Balaji (not his real name) too shared this cricketing dream and didn’t care two hoots for academic achievements; the effort to notch up a “simple pass” itself was too much for him. His father despaired over his son’s obsession with the game and did everything to prevent him from frittering away time on the playground. A disciplinarian, Balaji’s father followed him everywhere in order to ensure that he attended classes, but the son had many ways of fooling the father and pursing his passion.

It was an afternoon in June and the sun showed up briefly between monsoon showers. As some of us were loafing around the temple at Karamana waiting for another evening of cricket, Balaji came by on his bicycle. “Include me in the team,” he hollered. “I will reach the grounds at 4 p.m. after my exams.” Siva, who was Balaji’s age, exclaimed: “But your exams get over only at 5 p.m.” Balaji merely winked at us and pedalled away. Soon after he left, a furious-looking man in his fifties showed up; it was Balaji’s father. Frowning, he demanded of us: “Did he go for his exams?” We gave a collective nod, but he didn’t seem to buy it.

At 4 p.m. sharp, Balaji arrived and another game of cricket began, with him behind the stumps. A few minutes into the game and a dhoti-clad figure appeared on the long-off boundary. Needless to say, it was Balaji’s father. In a jiffy, the figure behind the stumps vanished into thin air. Balaji’s father approached the pitch menacingly, and it was Siva again who faced him. “Where is he”? he thundered, to which and Siva replied innocently, “Paakkavae ellai” (did not see him at all).

This infuriated him further. He came menacingly close to Siva and said, “Don’t lie. I can see his cycle here.” We all stood around Siva fearing that the older man might strike him in a fit of anger. “Vilayadi Nasaama pongada” (ruin yourself playing this game), muttered the father and left. Balaji reappeared from nowhere, and the game continued as if nothing happened.

None could steal from us the pleasure of a game of cricket.

Years passed and I left to pursue my medical education. Balaji left for Chennai in search of greener pastures. The Jaisimha Cricket Club folded up as children at Karamana ‘discovered’ television, and parents ‘found’ private tuitions for their children after school hours.

Balaji struggled on, finally settling into a sales manager’s role, much to his father’s disappointment. The century turned, and one day Balaji’s father chanced to meet me at Karamana’s Hotel Annapurna. He poured his heart out to me as he narrated his problems with Balaji. He was anxious to find a suitable bride for his son, who had only a “sales” job compared to many boys his age who were IT professionals with handsome salaries and had jobs that took them across the world. “Girls,” he said, “do not like boys not having an IT job. How I begged my son to take up engineering. . I am growing old and I long to see him settle down in life. All this, because of his obsession with cricket”! I could only mumble a few words of reassurance as I left him to agonise over his son.

Years passed. One day I received a page from the Emergency Room of my hospital where I was doing my residency and I was surprised to see Balaji’s father there unable to speak and move his right side. He was brought in by Balaji’s friends, all members of the erstwhile cricket club. A CT scan of the brain showed that he had a stroke that incapacitated him. He was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit, and there began his prolonged hospitalised-care.

Balaji rushed to his father’s side and, along with his friends, took care of him as the latter required hours of physiotherapy and speech lessons to reverse the neurological damage. Weeks passed, and the older man made a gradual recovery, becoming independent for his daily activities. Balaji’s presence near his father was a huge help, as he played the role of a physiotherapist and caregiver.

I had almost forgotten about Balaji’s dad when one day he walked into my consultation room with a walking stick and beamed at me. I was pleased to see him having made near-complete recovery. The old man’s eyes filled with tears. With his residual speech difficulty, he mumbled: “It’s all because of my son.” I thought this was not the moment to mouth a “you-never-thought-so-earlier” line. “Good that your son was around and not in a faraway country, as it is happening to many parents these days,” I said.

Members of the Jaisimha Cricket Club are yet to make a difference to Indian cricket, but then some like Balaji can claim to have made a difference to people around them without fancy degrees and lucrative, globe-trotting jobs!

(The writer is Associate Professor, Dept. of Neurosurgery, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. Email: dreaswer@gmail.com)

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