Tarun and Kavita

On my deck, with my neighbour’s trees in the background..

When Tarun announced he was getting married, we were living in Lake Gardens, in the flat made famous by The Cantankerous Cat. This was the ground floor apartment where we dealt with Nosy Neighbours, Peeping Toms and performed Midnight Cooking Rituals to the consternation of our neighbours. Yes, that one.

Tarun was in school with me. Then Tarun was in college with me. He wasn’t what you would call a high-jinker. Nicknamed “Jaws”, after Richard Kiel’s iconic character in the James Bond movie, he displayed a dry and subversive brand of rebellion. Not for him were quips and wise cracks. His was a more subtle brand of weirdness. Let me illustrate.

In Grade 12 the signs of teenage rebellion in us took various forms. I took to deliberately and causally (at some other time, I may explain that. No, I did not mean “casually”. ), not adhering to the strict uniform policy in school. My grey trousers weren’t quite the requisite shade of grey, my maroon tie had a white pattern in the middle of it, which I successfully hid every morning by carrying my bag over one shoulder with my fist and forearm covering the pattern. This had the happy effect of also concealing the fact that my white shirt pocket did not have the requisite monogram expected by the school authorities. Others grew their hair long or had their trousers cut with ever widening flares. Flares were all the rage in the late 1970s. Eric Clapton even recorded a song called Bell Bottom Blues.

But Tarun? Tarun decided to bring in khaini for us all to eat in class.

Khaini is tobacco crushed and mixed with lime. A deadly and potent unifier of people. If you are ever in India and you see someone, it could be anyone, grinding their thumb into the palm of their hand, all you have to do is wait till they are finished and hold your hand out, palm upwards. You will be rewarded with a pinch of this lovely gum-rotting carcinogenic. It matters not a jot that you have never seen the generous person before in your life and will never, ever see him again, but for that one brief moment you are brothers-in-instant-gingivitis. Hygiene? Pshaw!

When the, mercifully very brief, khaini-gate was over, he moved on to those tiny blue-berry sized plums. This was more fun than the khaini and we would sit there, berry in mouth, placed there behind the teachers back, waiting for him to turn again so we could spit the stone out.

Tarun had a brief fling with the stage. The world of theatre lost a true master of deadpan dialogue delivery. My first play was written in Grade 12 as a tribute to the teachers for Teachers Day. ( It sounds very grandiose, but it was a rotten and highly plagiarized set of jokey and controversial one-liners. ) Tarun played the role of a teacher shooting the breeze with his colleagues. He had one line in that terrible play, which he delivered in a masterpiece of understated acting.

“Hot! You don’t know what heat it is!”, he said in a staccato monotone.

We, ( all of us directed… ) urged him to put more disdain and sneer into his line. He responded with a more forceful “Hot” before the monotone took over again.

Tarun, Suzy ( it’s a contraction of a boy’s name. Suzy is a middle-aged man, like me. ) and I all attended Ratan’s sister’s wedding in Allahabad; a winter wedding in north India. The nights in the plains of North India are cold, with temperatures in the low single digits, and even during the day there is more than a nip in the air. Late at night from a visit to a friend’s hotel, we hailed the only rickshaw we could find. There were, four of us, but only three could sit squished in as the rickshaw driver pedalled away in front. Tarun declined the offer of a seat. With encouraging cries from Suzy, snorts of laughter from Ratan and bemused amazement from me, he jogged along beside the rickshaw all the 2-3 miles home.

With long lines for bathrooms, it was his idea that we young guys bathe in the open with a bucket of water pumped from the handpump in the bottom of the yard. Cold water with an air temperature of around 4c is not the greatest way to have a bath. But we did it and lived to tell the tale! The trick is pour the bucket over your head in one fell swoop… Count 1,2,3, under your breath, lift and whoosh. Simple.

He moved to Delhi after qualifying as an accountant and we saw less of him. He then came to town to tell us he was getting married to Kavita, a girl we didn’t know at the time. It was a classic Indian affair. Lots of booze, lots of partying, spread over many days.

My Beloved Bangalan ( or to give her her real name, Rita) and I have many wonderful memories of the wedding and the late nights we spent in celebration. A few moments stand out. Around 6 am, Rita and I were at our front door fiddling with the keys when the milkman appeared on his morning rounds.

“Ah!”, he said, beaming from ear to ear, “Been out for a morning walk?”

Given the fact that I was in a tie and dress shoes and Rita was in a sari and jewellery, I wonder now whether he was being deeply sarcastic or profoundly unobservant.

One other memory really, really stands out. This was the night we almost got killed. Its a miracle we didn’t. We were, obviously, all very soaked in alcohol. Packed into 2 cars we decided to go for a drive. The two guys driving had pretensions of being race car drivers. Late at night, Calcutta in the late 1980’s slept the sleep of the just. Traffic was non-existent. The two cars raced down the street oblivious to the fact that Calcutta was in the middle of the Twenty Year Dig for the subway. Our car hit a mound of mud, jumped clear over on the other side and landed with a crunching, shuddering crash on the other side, in the best tradition of the Bluesmobile. In the shocked silence, we heard the quiet voice of Tarun’s quiet friend from Delhi, the guy with the quiet wife.

“Well, looks like my heart surgery has worked.”

We drove home at a snails pace.

For the big night after the wedding, someone found out where the newly-married couple were going. To a hotel. Of course, we all headed there before the couple could arrive, all dressed in our best clothes. It was thought that Rita and I stood the best chance of posing as the newly-wed couple, so we checked into the bridal suite. The rest of the crowd followed and we hid around the room waiting for the newly weds to arrive. We jumped out to surprise them and spent some time teasing them before heading down to the coffee shop. A quick headcount revealed we were one short ! Frantic calls were made to extricate Prasad from under the bridal bed before it was too late. We have not yet been able to get him to relate his tale.

Kavita, we found, was a bright and lovely character. I realize now that I’ve never seen her glum-faced or gloomy. A stranger coming into a closed group of barely-grown-up schoolboys, who’d barely grown up together, she took it all in her stride. I never once saw her stressed out over the two daughters, even when they were young. I don’t see her stressing over them, living as they do now thousands of miles away from her. I’m sure she must have stressed over something, sometime. I certainly have seen no evidence of it.

Tarun also featured in one other episode, the one where we attempted to schmooze with the school authorities to pave the way for our kids into our old school. You can read that shameful story here.

Now we’re on different continents and neither I nor Tarun are the world’s greatest keep-in-touchers. We know, though, that we can pick up where we left off when we do meet. ’tis enough. ’twill serve. It has all these years.

Happy 30th Anniversary, you two.

This was actually written for their 30th Anniversary, which was a few weeks (months? ) ago. Hey, my alter-ego is the SloMan, remember? 


RIP Richie Benaud

Richie Benaud took 7/18, his best return in fi...
Richie Benaud took 7/18, his best return in first-class cricket, to give New South Wales their first innings victory over the MCC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no secret that Richie Benaud was my first cricket idol. In fact, probably the last idol I ever had of any kind. For as I grew older, I stopped having idols altogether. Richie, thus, remains my first and only idol.

I took up legspin because Continue reading “RIP Richie Benaud”

Bats, batsman, batting

Folks keep coming over to read this on a regular basis. They come here because they’re searching for the answer to the question:
“Can I use mustard oil to season a cricket bat”. The answer is very simple. Please, do yourself a favour and don’t even think about it. Your bat will thank you.
This is a personal recollection of my career, a very poor career, as an amateur cricketer. I hope this helps.
There are other things to read such as some groundbreaking, earth shattering ways to improve cricket. Check the “Opinions” option in the menu at left.
Thank you.

Leggie Lefty

My two older, much, much older, brothers were already established stars in school cricket when I got my first cricket bat. A Gunn and Moore Nonjar, size 3, I believe. I was about 4 years old. And they took ownership of the seasoning process the minute it came home. Lacking the approved linseed oil as well as patience, they seized upon mustard oil, easily available from the kitchen as the means to

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How to bat

Your way through this blog.

It’s really very simple.

Check the offside menu (if right handed) or leg side menu (if left handed). All posts are categorized as either:

Opinions: Where I talk about radical new ideas for improving the game, selling it in new markets, provide personally viewpoints on players, rules, administrators and other elements of the game.

Personal Stories: These are just that. My personal recollections of my personal struggles and failures while trying to play cricket. Mathew 26:41 pretty much sums up my performance on the cricket field. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”

Now that you know where to hit the ball or click the mouse, read on!

A spell at last

3 or 4 years later, <after this story> I was in Canada, far removed from cricket. A chance remark by a friend at dinner found me searching out a cricket club in Canada.

Their first question “Do you keep wickets?”

“No, I don’t , but I bat a bit and bowl a bit.”

They were unimpressed by my bowling skill. Twenty years of rust were hard to shake off. Once again I found myself batting at #5, #9 and then, of course, #3. That old familiar state of affairs. I looked like a batsman, therefore I must be. I played for the club for 4 years and did not bowl a ball. I would get some action at practice sessions, 10-12 deliveries at best. Like giving a patient with a broken leg Continue reading “A spell at last”

Forward Defensive

< This is a continuation of an earlier post written many, many months ago. Why has it taken so long to get to this one? Well, TheLastWord outranks me in the office and he was off writing about trips to Nepal and France. This gave no one else a word in edgeways. They say I wasn’t motivated enough. I talked about opportunities and the fact that the LastWord was taking so much room in my head and a couple of stormy meetings ensued. So, anyway, we then had the divorce and I came here to run my own blog devoted only to cricket. 

Also, I’m not sure anyone is reading this. Anyway, it is here now. >

Batting was about survival, because I knew only how to play off the front foot. It was in my final year in school that I finally found my name on the board. This was it. I was on the school cricket team. This is how it happened. Continue reading “Forward Defensive”

Dedicated to Cricket


You may know by now that

  1. I used to blog at https://sloword.wordpress.com
  2. SloWord really had no place for cricket in that blog, which has become a more general purpose blog that shares nostalgic stories, essays, travelogues and poetry.
  3. The Slo-Man wrote a satirical post here https://sloword.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/sad-news/ announcing the separation of the cricket posts from the parent, SloWord. He took the opportunity to take a dig at the very messy divorce the ECB and Kevin Pietersen are going through.

You will henceforth find all the cricket related posts here.

Talking about Pietersen, here is a blog post that has a link to a video where KP talks about his batting.

Bats, batsman, batting

image: http://www.etsy.com/listing/127320996/vintage-cricket-bat-made-by-gunn-and

< For those who’ve found this post by searching for “mustard oil on cricket bat” or similar search terms, my advice is DON”T.

My two older, much, much older, brothers were already established stars in school cricket when I got my first cricket bat. A Gunn and Moore Nonjar, size 3, I believe. I was about 4 years old. And they took ownership of the seasoning process the minute it came home. Lacking the approved linseed oil as well as patience, they seized upon mustard oil, easily available from the kitchen as the means to season the willow blade. Willow and linseed oil go together like they were made for each other. Willow absorbs the oil thirstily, in a slow but satisfying way almost as if it was savouring a fine wine.

Mustard oil lacks the subtlety of linseed. It plays vinegar to linseed’s wine, the rough Punjabi to the cultured Bengali. The willow blade of my new G&M Nonjar choked and gagged over the harsh, brash mustard oil and refused to absorb it. The enterprising and resourceful young cricketers had an answer; a pair of dividers, to be found in every geometry box ever brought for a mystified child in school. It was the one piece of equipment in the set no child in my lifetime was ever taught to use.

But my brothers did. They seized the recalcitrant willow blade and scarred it with tiny holes. I waited patiently over the next few days for the bat to be turned over to me for my use as the blade was oiled and hammered to produce the finest “stroke”. Finally, the great day dawned when I was given the bat to use for the first time. The older brother said, “Put your left hand down and the right hand on top, close together. Now feet slightly apart, watch the ball and put your right foot as close as possible to the ball as it comes to you and keep the bat close to the leg as you move the bat through”.

Understanding little of what was said but glad to finally get the bat in my hand, I stood prepared to bat; the newest little left handed batsman batting for the first time in the front yard. The bat was heavier than I expected and when the hard leather ball, thrown gently down, underarm, hit it the first time, I felt the shock travel up the arms into my shoulders. Messrs Gunn and Moore were obviously guilty of some optimistic marketing when they labelled their product Nonjar.

I remember at an early age reading an article on why India produced so few left handed batsman but had many quality left handed bowlers. The author, maybe writing with his tongue in cheek, likened it to why Indians frown upon eating with the left hand. You will have to look it up or ask an Indian friend. The situation has changed now, the Great Bengali Cricketer leading the way, though he stills remain the most prolific Indian lefty batsman.

It was hard to find left handed batting equipment growing up. The outside of the leg guards were always missing the protective 2 inches and right handed batting gloves left your bottom thumb cruelly exposed to the crunch of the hard ball trapping it against the handle. Many a bleeding thumb ensued. Cracked bones, bleeding fingers, ripped nails were just a part of the game. Cricket was a hard game played by hard men with hard balls.

I was taught to play straight, watch the ball, keep bat and pad close together, play through the ball, , keep the right elbow high and keep the head still and tucked in with level eyes. Watch the ball in the bowler’s hand, watch the seam, cover the swing, go back and across or forward decisively, use my feet, get to the pitch of the ball and a countless other exhortations that would make me the greatest lefty the neighborhood would never ever know.

There were some who were impressed by my “copybook style” coupled with the left hander’s “natural grace”. I was pushed up the order, batting at #3, based on the prevailing theory that a batsman with solid foundations who was also left handed was ideally suited to the peculiar demands of that position. Batting did not come naturally to me. I was tense and tightly strung. I lacked the instinct to score runs and runs did not come. That raised the tension amidst the tut-tuts as another grim, dour innings composed of hard graft and body blows ended in another low score.

I was a failure as a batsman.

<to be continued. Why? Because this is my blog and I choose what I write about. >