May 6, 2012

Braving the Indian summer

Cricket fans not from the subcontinent come to realize - eventually - that cricket is most certainly not the summer game in the Indian subcontinent

Cricket fans not from the subcontinent come to realize - in the course of their cricket education - that cricket is most certainly not the summer game in the Indian subcontinent. It is the winter game. The modern extension of the cricket calendar has meant, of course, that more cricket is played at more times outside the traditional season than ever before but in years gone by cricket remained confined to the cooler parts of the year. The reasons for that should be crystal clear to anyone who has suffered through an Indian summer.

But the blistering heat of the Indian summer, and in particular that of the tandoori oven named New Delhi, never brought a complete halt to the playing of the game by youngsters. We just had to be a little more resourceful in finding appropriate timeslots and in evading the restrictions placed on us by parents concerned about possible heatstroke.

One perfect opportunity to play cricket, especially during the summer vacation, was early in the mornings. Delhi summers sent the temperatures soaring into the high 30s by 8AM, so the virtues of early rising, even if steadfastly ignored when its consequence meant successful school-bus catching, were rapidly internalised when it came to cricket-ball catching. Barely had one's eyes greeted the morn, that the race was on to get to the local park to stake out a pitch before competing teams showed up. The morning games were brought to a close by several factors: the sun, parents calling their wards back into the safety of their homes, back to alternative vacation day plans.

Bizarrely enough, none of us ever remembered to bring water bottles to these games; instead, we drank from nearby taps, and sometimes dunked our heads in the streams of water that were occasionally available from pipes laid out to water the park's flower beds. (These waterlogged beasts often gave our cricket balls a good soaking as well.)

The Delhi afternoon, unsurprisingly, defeated even the most enthusiastic amongst us. 45 degree heat seemed a little too forbidding, and besides, as already indicated, the elders of the community frowned on such reckless exposure to the elements. Included in these was the dreaded loo, that notorious hot and dry wind responsible for hundreds of deaths every Indian summer. (In Shame, Salman Rushdie described it as "that hot afternoon breath-that-chokes.")

But the evenings lay ahead. And so we waited, for a dip in the temperature, before racing out again to squeeze in a game or two before darkness closed in. Our desire to prolong these encounters often resulted in farcical finishes, which resembled nothing quite as much as the 2007 World Cup final. No one, it seemed, ever wanted to bring an evening game to a close.

The surfaces we played on began the summers promisingly; they had received a few showers during the winters, grown a few blades of grass, softened a little. But as the summers wore on, the grass was scorched, the grounds baked, the dust flaked, and ridges, grooves, and scars appeared. By the time the monsoons rolled around, we were, I'm sad to say, playing on those proverbial subcontinental dustbowls so beloved of cliche-loving journalists the world over.

The monsoons destroyed our grounds, drove us back indoors, and made us dream, even more vividly, and anticipate, with even greater fervor, the coming of the autumn, the festival season, and then, the winter, when international cricket would begin again, giants would stalk the land, and we could go back to emulating them, in our fantasies, and even in the parks, now suddenly greener and more inviting than ever.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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  • testli5504537 on May 10, 2012, 16:53 GMT

    You play till you can't flex another muscle and sweat till there isn't another drop left. There's actually a word that describes the excercise of playing cricket in summer, in India. It's therapeutic.

  • testli5504537 on May 8, 2012, 19:01 GMT

    Here are two vignettes of my cricketing summers in Delhi. For a Bombay boy it was a relief to get away from the narrow gullies, streets with tarffic, the few and overcrowded maidans/cricket club grouns and building compounds to see the wide open expanses available all over Delhi. It was also a relief to get away from the oppressive humidity of May in Bombay to the dry heat in Delhi though some may consider that a jump into the fire from the frying pan

    First I remember my Uncle driving me in his Car and using up expensive patrol so I could play a game at the Bal Bhawan. The heat was so intense that most people always wanted to bat leave alone bowl or field

    Second was the same uncle bowling to me and breaking my lovingly oiled bat first ball at Jangpura. We lived righta cross from the open green ( or should I say brown space) in front of the house in K block

  • testli5504537 on May 8, 2012, 4:11 GMT

    My mistake, Samir, sorry. But I stand by my point that IPL players usually look as if they've just stepped out of the loo after a particularly difficult delivery.

  • testli5504537 on May 8, 2012, 2:20 GMT

    Thanks for a lovely post! In Bangalore of the '90s, the battle was to find a park or ground to play on. And then, to defy parents and play in those parks located some kilometres away. Of course, playing within our apartment complex was also akin to defying a diktat.

  • testli5504537 on May 8, 2012, 0:56 GMT

    Samir, my fellow Brooklynite, I have to ask, did you never play night cricket in summer? Summer night games in Lahore in early 90s is still one of my best cricketing memories.

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2012, 20:06 GMT

    I did not play in teh Delhi heat,but the situation was no different in Baroda (now Vadodara)while I was growing up. Yes, we had to be indoors before some auntie shouted us to be go in! It was simple but so much fun. I think playing the "gully" cricket was was more fun than following the IPL circus (which is really a highly paid gully cricket) in the ungodly weather. Not sure how many years it will last...Commercialization is killing the game.

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    Man I remember playing in 40C heat in Bhilai. playing till 11.00am in the day. I still cannot figure out how I never got a sun stroke when the same would happen in 15 minutes today. We used to play in the ground between the two roads and the fielders would actually be standing on the roads. Playing in day was better as the traffic was non existent unlike evenings. It was fun trying to avoid the vehicles while fielding. Somehow the motorists then were far more indulgent towards kids playing cricket on the road.

    God those were good days. Now I am just worrying about paying my next EMI.

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2012, 18:32 GMT

    great imagery. While I never had the heat in england, it is the endless dusk of June that allowed us to play until 10pm that I remember. Then walking home in darkness.

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2012, 14:24 GMT

    Wow..u made me a kid again..a kid who just wanted to play his beloved game no matter what the problems might be..Ahhh,where those days have gone?

  • testli5504537 on May 7, 2012, 13:58 GMT

    Thanks, Samir for evoking nostalgia in me; I had almost forgotten this part of my growing up years. You have described the passion in exact terms as it was played out in those years.

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