A game of cricket in the Mumbai afternoon by boys of different ages in the ground below was a welcome break for the spectators who belonged to various homes in this 72 tenant building. 3 boys have already gathered in the ground below after the lunch siesta, their homework for the day could wait till the evening. One of them has a old tennis ball in his hand which can withstand one more day of play or until it got lost.
There were occasions of the ball getting lost like while hitting it into the room of someone and the person refusing to give it back just because, as per him, it broke something fragile there, if not his head. There were umpteen excuses of not giving the ball back like it hit him or her, hitting the much savored curry while having a late lunch, or funny ones like it having startled them and they were still recovering from the shock and would now take much time to decide whether to return the ball or not. There were instances when one of the established players in the team would hit a six over the terrace of the 4 storeyed building and by the time the fielders reached the other side, the ball would have got lost unless one fielder was stationed at a vantage point, so that he could start running as soon as a lofted shot would clear the top. Every effort was made to ensure that the ball was not lost. There were times when the ball would land on the other side of the water tanks amid the heap of dried leaves and a lot of time was lost in retrieving it.
Getting a tennis ball was no easy joke, as around 10 members had to shell out at least 50 paise in those times to get a good one in those times. The rubber ball was 60 percent cheaper, but that would last a single session or would crack if it was dealt a good blow by the bat even sooner. It was risky as it could cut short their practice session and therefore the tennis ball was always preferred. There were times when the members used to heap curses and even get into a fight with the batsman if the ball cracked with a good shot from him, especially when it was just newly bought.
The trio are still waiting for one more participant who would bring his much sought out bat with him from his home on the second level. But the guy could not leave his dressing room, just because he has got his unit test marks in which he had fared badly and was given a dressing-down by his mother. The result had to come only today, he thought.
The boys below started practicing their catching skills as they were tired of calling the guy who was supposed to come down with his bat. The playing ground was between their building perimeter shaped like a single stapler pin and therefore it was a rectangular strip and had a barbed wire on the open end as the boundary that secured two huge water tanks that used to supply water to the housing blocks in that area. (Sketch is provided so as not to stretch your imagination).
Straight hits below 12 feet was fine. Anything above would be inviting trouble and therefore lofted shots were controlled even on the offside as well as on the onside. All such control would break loose when you had people looking from above floors asking you to deliver mighty shots.
Another boy now calls out from the third floor. He says he can bring his bat with him provided he is given a chance to bat first and also to bowl first after his batting ends. Well, there was no other choice, so his conditions were accepted and he came in a matter of minutes flying down the steps and the game started much to the satisfaction of a few people at some levels above who were wondering when the game would start.
Once the game was seen to start, other boys who were not much interested till now also came down, and it was a now field of 10 players. Those who came in last were uncertain of their chances to wield the bat since evening would approach fast. Some boys who were under age and were small enough to sneak through the barbed wire were positioned on the other side of the fence as ball boys. Sometimes when they were not careful, they would tear their shirt especially when they came out through it. There were times when the barbed wire would poke itself into the rubber ball as it was hit against it and play spoil sport.
The batsman was always an object of ridicule and praises alternatively heaped upon him from many who would watch him from their common balconies. It was difficult to concentrate especially when one could hear one’s mother telling what a nuisance this play had become for his studies. Most mothers would become hyper active the moment they saw their lads playing down, at least that is what these boys thought. Every 10 minutes they would appear on the balcony to call their wards and tell them of the consequences awaiting them if they did not come upstairs fast. The boys would wonder how come their mothers appeared to be having all the free time now, when just before coming down, they appeared busy at work.
Nevertheless they carried on, until the moment came when the boy who had got the bat was called back by his mother and he left the field obediently with his willow while the others left dismayed had to call it a day and eventually climbed the stairs each retiring to his own room not knowing the type of treatment that awaited them for their disobedience…