LIFE BACK THEN – CRICKET, NEIGHBORHOOD AND A HAWKER

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He was sitting on his knees and looking at the passersby. He was not asking for anything; there would be zero point in asking. But his eyes were still asking…..would any of you…please? You may call it ‘hope’, or maybe ‘irrationality’. I would call it ‘one of THE most depressing sights I have ever seen’.

In my small hometown, dusk was always psychedelic. Until 10 to 15 minutes before the evening prayer call, the entire neighborhood was a playground. There were football and cricket matches in all the backyards, gardens, street corners and any identifiable open space for that matter. Even on the streets, rickshaws were making their way through the cricket pitches and goalposts, with an angry-but-forgiving look. The kids, who were too young to play any organized sports (like football or cricket), were inventing and experimenting new types of sports.

The only (seemingly) unhappy group in the entire neighborhood was the ‘grandma group’ and they had a valid reason. Their gardens and rooftops were being continuously bombarded by projectiles in many shapes, otherwise known as tennis ball, cricket ball, football or basketball. Let’s say a kid hit a cricket ball too hard and the ball landed on the tin-made rooftop with a thunder-like sound. The moment, the grandma of that house realized that some foreign object just had hit her property, the grandma stormed out of the house. She then started looking for the ball, and yelled at the trespassers (although the trespassers could not still be seen). ‘The ball has to be seized or those kids will never learn’. On the other hand, the players knew that, the only way to get the ball back was to climb up the wall ASAP and find the ball before grandma reached there or saw them. It’s the happiest chaos you could ever see.

Don’t think that only kids were playing. In most of the matches, not only the grownups outnumbered the kids, they also took the match three times more seriously. There was screaming, and shouting, and honking, and running. But as the dusk/evening prayer time approached, the noise started getting dimmer. Some matches stopped and abandoned midway, as one team found the other team to be totally unfair. There is no point in playing with cheaters. They vowed not to play with these guys EVER AGAIN (until the next late-afternoon). As the dusk fell, winners, losers, cheaters and victims started heading back to their houses, and they had to be at their houses before the prayer call from the mosque.

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When I was a kid, I always preferred to say the evening prayer in the mosque. After a long day and a tough cricket match (!), it felt so good to stand under the ceiling fans running at full speed in the mosque. The light bulbs were dimmed. The imam was reciting verses from the Quran with all his heart. Somehow the atmosphere became something, something that I cannot explain, only feel. You are bound to become spiritual and feel close to Allah. That day,  when I had just finished my evening prayer and stepped out of the mosque, I saw the hawker.

He was selling fruits in two small baskets. Fruits in one basket were sold out but there were some left over ones in the other basket. But in his eyes, I could read that whatever he sold was not enough to financially survive yet another day in life. The left over ones were not in good shape. He knew he could not sell them. He knew he started the day with a small capital and stock. Yet, his eyes had still had hope in them. And in that hope, I saw one of the most depressing sights of my life.

I don’t know why it touched me so much. I have seen, experienced and suffered thousand folds more depressing things in my life. But I don’t know why I cannot get over that one instance. Maybe, I just misread his eyes. Maybe he was just fine that day, maybe there was nothing depressing about it….I don’t know, I will never know.

It’s a mystery what really touches us and what does not. Going back to the playground, one day, I hit a SIX and the ball landed in another house’s garden. Scared and worried, I ran to that house to look for our cricket ball. Suddenly, I saw the grandpa of that house standing a few meters away. He said, ‘it’d be difficult to find the ball in this garden, it’s so bushy, let’s look for it together’. I don’t remember if at the end we found the ball, but I will always remember his words, his smile at that moment.

Like that hawker, we inflict negative experiences on people without even being remotely aware of it. It’s beyond our control. But can we be that grandpa?

PS: Last time when I visited my hometown, I found that the entire generation of grandpa and grandma in our neighborhood were now gone forever. It was even more saddening to not see kids playing till the evening prayer time; instead I saw them going in/out to/from their private tutors house. And, all those places where we used to play, there now stood tall buildings. The neighborhood’s grandma/pa generation is dead, and the new generation is living a dead life.

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