Friday, October 09, 2009

This is Not an Obit

In the early 1970s, I used to be a resident of the YMCA Hostel on Chowringhee Road in Calcutta. I had just been transplanted from Kerala and knew as much English slang as an Austrian knew Ayurveda.
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My roommate for a while was Ramu Salivati. (Then a sports journalist for the Statesman, he is no more.) He used to play cricket in the maidan on Sunday forenoons and kept his cricketing gear in the room. I knew nothing of that game then, I know nothing of that game now. (It was fifteen years later that my son, ten years old then, disabused me of my notion that the wicketkeeper is NOT the player standing behind the wickets, preventing them from falling when the guy in front of him swings the bat to hit the ball.)
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One Saturday afternoon, Ramu put on his windcheater and enquired. ‘KT, are you going out anywhere today?’
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I had no such plans. I had just bought a copy of Don’t fall off the mountain by actress Shirley Maclaine and had decided I would read it. I replied, 'No.’
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‘A friend of mine will come looking for me. Ask him to wait, I’ll be back in half an hour,’ said Ramu.
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A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. I did not have to open it, for a man under thirty walked in.
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‘Ramu?’ he asked.
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I told him what I was told to. He said, ‘Balls! He won’t be back until after 10.’
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If he really thought so, he should have gone away. Instead, he said to himself, ‘It’s drizzling and I don’t want to get wet. I’ll wait for him for a while and see if he comes.’
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He took off his jacket and parking himself on a chair, lit a cigarette. I sneezed. I have this allergy for cigarette smoke. He knew it the moment I sneezed. He opened the door to the balcony, went out, finished his smoke and returned to his seat.
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We got talking. Naturally, it veered round to cricket, a subject popular with youngsters. An Australian team was on its Indian tour and was scheduled to play in the Eden Gardens in a week. He asked me something about the prospects of the hosts or about Syed Kirmani or Brijesh Patel or some other player. I drew a blank. I told him I knew nothing of cricket.
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‘Balls!’ he said again.
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‘What was that?’ I asked.
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‘I said Balls.’
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'What about balls?’
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‘Forget it,’ he said, and asked me, ‘Where are you from?’
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After a while, he saw the book I was reading and said, ‘A cousin on mine had read this book and had recommended it.’
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Without a by-your-leave, he took it and put it in the pocket of his jacket. I could not even say I had not yet gone beyond the second chapter. (The book never came back to me. A few years later, I bought another copy and read it.)
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He went to the balcony, lit his second cigarette, puffed hard at it a few times and came back.
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He did not occupy the chair. Yanking his jacket, he said, ‘I told you the bastard won’t come.’
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Before leaving, he took out a book from his pocket and gave it to me, saying, ‘Read this. It will give you some idea about cricket.’
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It was a copy of ‘Kiwis and Kangaroos’.
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When Ramu came, later than predicted by his friend, he was sozzled. In a drunken drawl, he told me his friend who had came looking for him was the author of the book. He had written it when he was twenty-three. He was Rajan Bala. That was the only time I met him.
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Rajan Bala died yesterday.
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I never got to read ‘Kiwis and Kangaroos’. I don’t even know where it is now.
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5 comments:

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

Yours must be the only article on Rajan Bala written by a person totally innocent about cricket. Rajan Bala indeed had a colourful vocabulary! Enjoyed reading the unusual recollections about a man who I would have read thousands of times.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

wow!Rajan Bala! never guessed he was as colourful a character as you have drawn him here.should most certainly send this piece to some newspaper.
your indifferent relationship with cricket must have jerked the carpet from under him :-)
am sending this pice to all my cricket crazy siblings.

bmochan said...

sir, when I started reading this article and saw that it started with calcutta, I never imagined that it will end with rajan bala,sir, I used to know rajanda personally and then and still, being an ardent follwer of cricket,I used to read his views in the next days statesman to see what he has written about the game we saw yesterday , and beleive me after reading his articles only we used to realise what we missed yesterday.
but his only drawback was that he never used to listen to others point of view on cricket, it was his words which were to be counted.

But sir, I still consider him as one of the best cricket critic of all time.
sir , keep on writing like this
because it is not only good reading,but it makes people like us nostalgic.
regards

Eshwar Salivati said...

This piece literally brought a tear to my eye. I am Ramu Salivati's son.....and considered Rajan Bala as one of the greatest cricket writer

wannabewodehouse said...

Eshwar Salivati

Ramu was only a character in this story. I have published another episode titled 'Petrichor and Angostura' today in my blog with him in a more significant role and throwing light on an aspect of his persona. I hope you will enjoy reading it.

ktremail@gmail.com