“Look at straightness of his elbow!” exclaimed Raman, slapping his six year old son on the back. Swami smiled gleefully as the little man on the screen punched another good length ball to the boundary.
Swami was introduced to cricket by his father on a rainy Monday. He did not want to attend school and his mother would hear none of it. Raman, however, reasoned with her.
“Let the child rest. As it is I am not going to office today. I will take care of him”.
“So, what was his score overnight? “She asked.
Raman grinned sheepishly and went out to get the morning paper.
The bond between Raman and his son started because of one man – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. That Monday changed the relationship between them as Sachin (thirty seven not out overnight on a tricky Mumbai wicket) went on to score a memorable century. A bewitched Swami fell into the world of Sachinism and, like millions of Indians, became its permanent occupant. His father was a purist as far as cricket was concerned and regarded Sachin as the most complete batsman. The expansive extolments by his father coupled with the string of breath-taking innings that Sachin played ensured that Swami matched his dad when it came to worshipping Sachin.
As the years passed Cricket and Sachin were the only topics that bound a rather fragile father-son relationship. Even after this mutual interest, the two of them found very few topics on which they were comfortable conversing with each other. Discussion regarding Sachin’s innings or India’s victory would last for hours after which there would be periods of awkward silence before both of them went their respective ways to mind their businesses. Further, College outside hometown and a subsequent job in North India meant that the relationship between Raman and Swami grew even more dysfunctional. Whenever Swami called home and Raman picked up, there would be uneasy pauses before either he asked for mother or Raman passed over the phone to his wife.
Fifteen years went by like this before Swami got an unexpected transfer back to his hometown. This meant that suddenly he was forced to spend more time with Raman. Like Swami, Raman had also changed. His conversations were now limited to Jaya and his need for companionship made him irritable on many occasions. When he got to know that Swami was coming back, he felt a surge of happiness mixed with a small dose of apprehension. What if his son carried the mannerisms he exhibited over the phone into the house? It had been more than ten years since they had had a decent one-on-one talk. When Swami arrived home and smiled at his mother while giving a perfunctory nod at Raman, his fears were confirmed. His son had almost become a stranger to him.
Swami’s views and outlook had changed a lot in the years he had stayed away from home. The same laidback, joke-cracking Raman who he used to look up to was now a source of annoyance to him. He despised the conservative attitude of his father and his insistence on following rules and regulations, even at home. Raman’s constant jibes at Jaya for issues of inconsequence irked him. When Raman tried to impose these rules on him as well, Swami’s attitude towards his father went from bad to worse. He gave a deaf ear to Raman’s pleas and appeals and refused to even look him in the eye.
Swami felt thankful for Sundays as it was a holiday for him and both his parents. This meant that he needn’t be alone with Raman. Saturdays, though, were a nightmare as Jaya went to work while Swami and Raman had holidays. Swami tried to avoid staying home on Saturdays by planning meetings with school friends, colleagues and even cousins. Another significant change in Swami was the fact that cricket had lost its charm on him. Sachin was no more the boy wonder who drew Swami to cricket and made him bunk school and college lectures. He was a tired old man trying his best to leave the cricketing scene with dignity. It had been three years since he had scored a century. Naturally the cricket conversations between Swami and Raman had become almost non-existent.
It was a usual Saturday morning and Swami was getting ready to flee the house as quickly as he could. The TV blared in a volume high enough for the whole apartment to hear, which was typical of Raman whenever he saw TV. Swami felt a bout of irritation creeping into him.
As he crossed the hallway he caught a glimpse of the TV. Live cricket was going on between India and Australia. He wanted to get across and out of the door quickly, but something held him back. The moment he slowed down, a wicket fell. India was now two down. Sachin Tendulkar walked into the ground. Swami cast a sideways glance at Raman and was surprised to see the familiar glint in his eyes. After all these years, the expectancy had not reduced one bit. He felt somewhat ashamed at his own loss of faith while his sixty year old father’s enthusiasm had not diminished at all. He looked back at the screen as Sachin took guard. The all-too-familiar body language of the champion had not changed. The fuss with the sightscreen, the adjustments in the groin area, the slight nod of the head, they were all intact. There was one difference though. The twinkly eyes had given way to a look of steely determination. He faced the first ball with a decisive forward movement and defended with a full-straight bat. Raman smiled eagerly. Swami knew that the old Raman would have immediately made his trademark comment – “Ah! The forward movement! He looks good today.” There was no comment from his father though. That moment threw open a floodgate of memories for Swami. He felt a pang of guilt at having side-lined the two men who had made sacrifices in their own capacities to nurture the love for cricket in him – Sachin Tendulkar and his father.
He pulled up a chair and sat down. The next ball was just short of good length. Sachin went back and punched it down the ground. The ball raced to the boundary.
Swami looked into his father’s eyes for the first time in many years.
“Look at the straightness of his elbow!” He exclaimed.
And thus began their second innings...