When people get older, they tend to repeat the same things over and over again. Perhaps it is to do with forgetfulness. Or may be it stems from some kind of insecurity that they are not really being heard.
Madras Thatha is always repeating things. Depending on the mood, the listener will alternate between feeling annoyed, amused or feel mildly indulgent. Madras Thatha has three stories that he notably likes to launch into:
1. Something to do with cycles
2. Something to do with cricket
3. Something to do with mathematics
And then there are occasions when the lines blur and he combines all the three topics.
Madras Thatha fancied himself to be a bit of a mathematician. He also fancied himself to be a stylish middle order batsman. However, his ambition in either of it was killed, and he ended up spending his entire life selling BSA bicycles. Whenever he would begin to tell us about - Birmingham Small Arms aka BSA, we would look to escape.
Madras has some cricketing history. And having had several upper-middle class Iyengaar and Telugu batch-mates and friends from college meant that, Thatha developed a taste for the sport.
However, two things worked against his cricketing aspirations:
1. There was after all a living to earn. Also, in spite of the thriving league and club cricket during thatha’s youth, amateur cricket still remained the prerogative of the elite
2. Then there was also the matter of wearing flannel in the excruciating Madras summer
What becomes elusive for you, one tries and makes up for it by vicariously living it. That must explain our cricketing obsession in general and thatha’s in particular. He began to manically follow every possible cricket match that ever happened in Madras.
Mine is a somewhat delicate Tamizh family. We really don’t care very much for the sweat and glory of sports, unless it involves mathematics. The clan was part horrified and part embarrassed with thatha’s obsession with the sport. Given that thatha spent a large part of his life with my family in particular, we saw this obsession of his most closely. Appa barely understands the game. Amma has over the years developed some liking for it. Though, the only cricketer she truly liked was Marvan Atapattu, whose ‘broad forehead’ reminded her of T Anna.
Unlike most boys, T Anna has a very limited liking for cricket. As a teenager, suffering from asthma and the resultant poor lungs, cricket was not the stuff for him. And there was Brilliant Tutorials that kept him occupied for the most part anyway. Madras Thatha was disappointed that his progeny seemed so untouched by his interest.
And this lack of choice made him adopt me as the person to pass on his legacy to. So, I had to endure a number of his cricket trivia stories and accompany him to watch several matches. I used to find cricket itself boring. Watching matches and finding myself always cheering for the losing team did not appeal. But then, I at least escaped from home and appa’s efforts to make me a mathematician and amma’s efforts to make me a good Tamizh ponnu. And if I got really lucky, I even missed school. I used to also enjoy catching little glimpses of parts of the lovely Chepauk Palace, built in Indo Saracenic styled architecture. And most importantly, thatha always took me to Rathna Café to eat stuff and escape from amma’s murungakka sambhar for one day at least.
Thatha also fed me several stories and theories about cricket. One thing that surprised me was, why Tamizh men en masse didn’t make such an impact on the sport, at least in the modern day. This especially given that, it seemed to be the sport that required minimum amount of athleticism. It baffled me and in a way disappointed me too. So, one began to adopt players. I and thatha concluded that Sachin Tendulkar was actually a Tamizh boy. No. Really. The two of us witnessed three centuries of his in our dear Chepauk stadium, including one in the celebrated-over-hyped-gooey-and-mush-inducing test against Pakistan that we lost.
Thatha felt that Tamizh boys were not made to run and that hampered any chance that they had in the modern day format. So, while we might have the MRF Pace Foundation, it would be the height of bad form to have a Tamizh fast-bowler. The only option then was to have:
… Elegant, yet almost lazy top-order batsmen
… A Gada Munuswami
… A crafty spinner
The first has no place in the short and still growing shorter modern formats of the game. Almost everyone today fits into the second lot. And the third is a skill that does not seem to require a specialist anymore.
So on the rare occasion that one spotted boys from Madras in this game, the heart swelled with pride. Even if it meant briefly professing love for Iyengaars, one did it. I even liked Nasir Hussain because he was from Madras. And I even cheered for Sadagoppan Ramesh (who apparently migrated to Kerala) when he had to play against the Pakistani fellow with funny hair.
The last six years thatha’s health is frail, and his interest levels to watch the game has dropped. He seemed to have let go of his erstwhile love. And he talked lesser and lesser about the game. I suspect it is mostly because he has forgotten. There was a time when he knew about the batting averages of Ranji Trophy players and similar inane details. Now he barely remembers if paati gave him lunch.
Thatha has not been well again and I took some time off to spend with him. He has been particularly chatty, annoying and difficult the last few days. The antibiotics given for his fever have somehow enhanced his memory and he has begun talking about Buchi Babu Naidu, his clan and their contribution to cricket in Madras.
Frankly, it is all just a little boring. I must have heard the story at least a million times, but I pretend to be interested again. He tells me and S, for the nth time about a match his team played against India Cements where he was victim of a poor umpiring decision. Yes thatha, S nods sympathetically while I roll my eyes.
Thatha looks at me accusingly and says I should write about the bastardization of cricket and about the conspiracy of the non Tamizh folks taking over the sport. I tell him that I am not a sports-writer -- partly by choice, but mostly because of the lack of ability.
He looks rather crestfallen and heart-broken.
Meanwhile amma appeared with a package from T Anna. He has sent a book for thatha called - Buchi Babu and His Sporting Clan. Thatha’s eyes light-up as always, at the mention of his favorite grandson. Thatha does not read anything beyond The Hindu obituaries these days, but in that moment of fuzziness, it is forgotten.
As always, I can never win - mediocre and doomed for having made all the wrong choices.
Who cares about a stonewaller anyway?