This incident happened somewhere in February 2008.
I was woken by the shrill ringing of my dad’s alarm clock. I jumped up in bed and rummaged around to silence the annoying ring still wondering why the alarm was ringing in my room. I finally managed to find it tucked under the bed covers in the most inaccessible corner of the bed. Silencing it I rubbed my eyes looking at the time that it displayed. 4:00!! Never in my 12 years of schooling, 2 years of high school and 4 years of Engineering did I ever wake up at 4:00.. This was absurd. I shook the damn clock, picked up my mobile phone and checked the time again. It showed 4:04 AM, but the 4 additional minutes towards another lazy morning didn’t warm my spirits. I chucked the clock on the table in some far reclusive corner under a pile of programming books and slumped back in the warmth of my bed, sinking in its soft clutches stretching my legs as far as they would go in the depth of my bed covers. I had just pulled the pillow over my head when the door knocked. I ignored the first 3 knocks but then they came harder. 6 knocks in line, loud and resonating, probably produced with hands the size of dustbin lids. Wondering if there could be a mountain troll standing out ready to nail me at this unearthly hour, I reluctantly pulled myself up, heaved my drowsy legs on to the floor and swayed towards the door muttering under my breath. The energy required to walk across my room to the door was devastatingly colossal. The knocks sounded again, louder this time. I prayed it wasn’t my youngest brother playing another of his out of the box tricks on me. If it was, I would drown him in the tub. I turned the knob and yanked the door a bit.
My father pushed the door open and half walked, half ran in. Jubilant and with twinkling eyes, as though he had won an argument with my mom, he put on the lights and starting rambling something incoherent to my drowsy ears. “Are u even listening!!??”, he was almost towering over me. “Haan dad, what happened, its 4:00 in the morning…. (yawn..) for heaven’s sake can we like talk at 10:00 or something… (yaaaaawwwwwn…)”.
“My son this is not the time to sleep, this is the time to exercise, to keep yourself fit, to work out, to play…” I looked at him, “What are you saying dad?? Exercise?? Play?? I come to Goa so that I can escape the monotonous and hectic life of Bangalore and sleep peacefully, and you wake me up at 4:00 in the morning, no prior warnings, nothing, and half expect me to exercise?? What’s got into you?” I wasn’t rude, but was satisfied that I had put my point across firmly. I thought that this argument would silence him. “Son, my dear son you do not understand. You are naive. Your company is manipulating you. You don’t have to worry about Internet and Web Security, there are loads of people out there who can take care of that. I understand it sounds all cool to be called a Hacker, but son you do not see the long term consequences that your job might offer you.” I looked at him mouth open, with an absurd expression. He had found 4:00 AM as a convenient time to express his opinion about my career?? I slumped on the chair nearest to me and looked at him. He took it as a cue to continue. “There are bigger things out there. What all do you expect to do with your salary, that does not even suffice your needs back there. Times are changing son, and it’s in the books that you have to flow with time.” I still couldn’t see where he was going. I didn’t protest this time, but looked at him awe struck allowing my pupils to dilate and stare beyond him. “So dad, what do you want me to do? Tell me quickly so that I can find some of my lost sleep.” I didn’t want to look at my bed. My skin crawled with nostalgic memories of the soft feel of my bed, pillow, the sheets and my pyjamas… “I have a gift for you” he suddenly announced. I wondered what it could be. Was silently hoping it would be Raymond Chen’s The Old New Thing or Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows in hardcover. “Go, freshen up first, we have a long morning ahead.” It was less of a request and more of an order. I reluctantly obeyed.
The hands obscenely gestured 4:35 on my wrist watch by the time I was ready. I took a last loving longing look at my soft bed, the pillows, the sheets and my inside out pajamas, locked my room and walked down to the living room. Both my brothers had already donned tracks, tees and sports shoes and were smiling triumphantly. The whole house had gone mad, I presumed, I looked appealingly towards my brothers, who just smiled stupidly. I missed my mother. Wished I could teleport to Mumbai, to my cousins, and sleep there, in her lap. That Jumper guy was fabulous. I was shaken out of my psionic stupor when my dad called out to me and placed a long heavy object concealed inside a thick plastic covering, in my hands. I looked down at it. With my brothers gasping and ooohh-ing in the background, I pulled the object from the depths of the cover just like Hrithik Roshan pulling out his sword out of the scabbard in Jodha Akbar. There I was holding a gleaming willow bat!! I ricocheted under the shock and irony of the whole situation. My dad wanted us to play cricket at this unearthly hour. What next?? I stood there, emotions of mutiny rising from every inch of my body. My youngest brother let out a war whoop similar to the one George of the Jungle lets out occasionally in well, George of the Jungle. “Dad, for all my forsaken years that I have lived, I haven’t played cricket. I haven’t even been on a pitch. For God’s sake I haven’t even lifted a bat before!!!” My father calmly replied, “Of course you have lifted a bat before. Don’t you remember when Santosh’s dog had chased you?? I could vaguely recollect that incident that had happened 3 years ago. But I had used the bat defensively, that to on to the dog for heaven’s sake. And I remember missing the animal by miles. “Dad I couldn’t hit a Labrador with this” I said lifting the bat “do you expect me to hit a ball?? That too when it’s thrown at me at 60 odd mph!!!” I swear I could hear my brothers making fun of me. My father was nevertheless adamant. And pushed us out. I had never seen my brothers happier then this. I walked in silence holding the bat over my shoulders like a mace. It was almost dawn now. The place where I live is beautified by the silence it envisages occasionally to be broken by the chirping of birds or kids playing Ring a Ring o’ Roses…
I opened the gate to my house, with my brothers tearing off in short sprints across the lawn to the common ground that we shared with 24 other houses in the locality. I was surprised to see the ground crowded with people. Kids of all ages and sizes. I saw several familiar faces. There were even mothers feeding sandwiches (or something similar) to their wards while they wielded bats. India is gone crazy I thought. I stood there watching everybody, the tantrums that some were throwing on becoming out. I was even surprised to see Nikita standing beautiful as ever, a pretty girl I vied for when I was in college.
Somebody tapped on to my shoulders from behind. I turned around to see another cricket enthusiast in complete field attire. He put forth his glove wrapped right hand. Out of instinct and base sanity I shook his hand and helloed him back. At this he removed his heavy, constricting looking helmet. I faltered where I stood. There stood Imran, a renowned bully and my brother’s old pal. Having strict parents were no consolation to him. I remember how the entire locality would stand in their balconies at precisely 9:45 on the Saturday that our results were declared when in school just to see his reddened report card fly out of his balcony and land on the road below. Then came the usual hollow “Aai ga, no dad I’m sorry… agli baar aise nahi hoga… sorry dad sorry… aaaaaaaaahhhh.” The tortures by his parents were constant reminders to us. He was bad, no, bad would be a mild word, disastrous would better define it, at studies. He was already 17 and was still to appear his 10th Standard Exams in March. My friends said he was caned every night before going to bed just because he didn’t study and played a lot… Those stories would send shivers down my spine and God knows where else. But today he appeared vibrant and fresh. I searched for words to console his condition and to put some sense into his big fat head. Before I could speak, he asked me “Bhai for how many days are you going to be here??” I was defensive on that. I thought what were his ulterior motives involved. I wasn’t related to him or his dealings in any sort of way. The truth would be harmless I assumed. “Another 2 days probably” I replied. “How come you are out playing today? I thought your parents forced you to study and stuff.” I tried to look as innocent as possible, but with my drowsy eyes and lopsided body it wasn’t easy. He smiled at the question and delightedly replied “I don’t know what got into my father yesterday. He went and bought me a full cricket kit and asked me to play as much as I want. Wants to make a Dhoni out of me. Told me I could grow my hair as long as I wanted.” I wanted to laugh at him, but considered my situation; I too was in the same boat. He donned back his helmet and gestured me to come along.
My brother, it so happens, is pretty well known in the local fraternity. Kids kind of rally around him. I wasn’t surprised though with him being good friends with Imran. I walked to the end of the pitch and sat down on the grass boundary behind the wicket while my brother gave orders to 12 or so other kids. I had just started to visualize myself in my bed back at home when suddenly two pairs of arms lifted me off the ground and somebody pushed a helmet onto my head. Gloves were thrust into my hands, I looked around for help and noticed around ten boys, several of them my age standing looking at me. I imagined myself with a helmet and gloves on, must have looked funny because most of the boys snickered at me. Nikita too let out a gasp at seeing me on the ground probably realizing I wasn’t meant to be there. My brother came forth and pushed my new bat into my shivering hands and directed me towards the wicket. I faltered. God was this The End. Could it all be happening?? Give me a hundred application modules to write in Visual Basic, I’ll do it. Ask me what the full name of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is, I’ll tell you. Order me to check some Russian Banking website for SQL Injection and Cross-Site Scripting, I’ll gladly do it, Ask me to parse Nessus XML files using C# and .NET and create Database Insert statements, I’ll really really do it… but don’t let me go on the pitch… please God… please…
I walked with all my courage, I’ll be honest I didn’t have any, to the pitch. A sudden silence had fallen over the place. I turned to look at Nikita, she was standing with her hands folded looking upwards expecting Gabriel to intervene. I faked a smile at her, even though she wasn’t looking at me. Her beautiful eyes were closed, I assumed she was praying or she did not have the heart to see me hit by a projectile moving over 60 mph. I turned around to see who was going to bowl me over. I wished I hadn’t seen him. It was a boy over 6 feet tall, heavily built and almost bald. Those dudes from Resident Evil looked milder. I gulped the last ounce of strength I had. Time seemed to slow down. Voices went all hoarse and electrified. A droplet of sweat from my forehead appeared to defy gravity and fall the length to the ground in what seemed like eternity. The bowler rushed up with all his speed, even in slow-mo he was faster then usual. It was then I realized I hadn’t worn my guard!! I panicked and dropped my bat and raising my right hand signaling the bowler to stop and with the left covering my possessions. Too late. The ball came at the speed of light and whhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaammmmm…
I woke up with a scream… I felt around my bed and body sweating profusely. My room mate woke up with my cry and put on the lights wondering whether I had seen Jigsaw or Lord Voldemort himself. I returned to my senses. One scary nightmare that was. Damn the IPL, damn the cricketers, damn the auction and damn 20Twenty. I’m happy doing what I do. My room mate wore a concerned expression. I looked at him and smiled and giving no explanation told him to sleep. Poor chap he hasn’t slept the whole of last week. His parents want him to come down to Goa for the annual State Cricket Selections threatening him with dire consequences if he refuses. I identified my nightmare with his reality. Hope he and his family survives his appraisal in one piece. Then I turned around and went back to warmth of my soft bed, the sheets, the pillow and my pajamas.