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May 2, 2014

My Caribbean friend

Samir Chopra
The World T20 triumph in 2012 brought plenty of smiles to the Caribbean in an era highlighted by defeats  © Getty Images
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I belong to that unfortunate subset of academics who teach at the same universities where they earned their doctorates.

Thus, despite having graduated more than a dozen years ago, I cannot shake the feeling that some of my "colleagues" - who are former professors of mine - still think of me as a graduate student of sorts, one who has hung around just a tad too long. And then, of course, there are the folks in the library who send pitying looks my way, their expressions clearly suggesting they are worried whether I will ever graduate. (It doesn't help, I'm sure, that I still dress like I can't afford a tie, suit or dress shoes.)

There are some advantages to this state of affairs, of course: many old friendships continue to prosper and thrive in these old haunts of mine. Some of those friends - most notably those on the university's staff - have grown old too; their ageing over the years has provided me with many moments of melancholic reflection on the passage of time. Among these friendships is a cricketing one: with a Jamaican security guard, I shall call him H here, whom I first met in 1994.

H is now well into his 70s; his back has hunched, his shoulders droop, his voice has lowered and weakened, his hair is white. When I met him first, 20 years ago, he stood straighter and stronger, his lilting accent betraying its origins in the Caribbean. In those days I sought to talk about cricket with anyone who seemed to be from cricketing lands. So one day, after showing him my ID for entry to the university library, I struck up a conversation with him. A few minutes later, we were talking about cricket.

It turned out that H had seen many, many Test matches in his home town, Kingston, before he moved to New York City in the seventies. He spoke glowingly of India's tour of the West Indies in 1953, when Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar's batting had so impressed him; he still admired the wily bowling of Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte, their unflagging adherence to line and length; he had been impressed by the swift fielding of the Indians; and he remembered the pride of the Indian population in the Caribbean in the Indian cricket team that was touring.

His memory of the tour and its cricketing feats was clear; his face lit up as he remembered them. We talked about many other cricketers and teams, of course - the great Australians of 1954-55, Lindwall and Miller particularly vivid in his memory. And then there were the three Ws: H found it hard to believe any of the modern greats had hit the ball as hard as Weekes and Walcott did. ("You saw it in the way they waited for the bowler that they were going to smash it!"). Despite this kind of claim, H was not your average fuddy-duddy living in the past: he admired the modern greats too and said that he thought limited-overs cricket was a damn good idea, just because it got more kids interested in the game.

Talking to H was a form of transport to the cricket of days gone by. He was a cricketing griot of sorts; I was talking to a man who had seen many greats in action, cricketers I had only read about and seen in black-and-white photographs. He was my means of accessing a history that seemed distant.

H had lost contact with cricket, of course. He received spotty updates from friends and family back home but that was about it. ESPNcricinfo was just starting up then, and I told him about it. I think he had a hard time understanding IRC and live scorecards and text commentary but he was enthusiastic in any case: all these new-fangled methods of keeping in touch with cricket scores? Bring it on! Or rather, since he would not learn new tricks now and go online, he welcomed dispatches from me, brought to him via the net.

Over the years I brought news to H about cricket elsewhere in the world. I informed him, sadly, of the Windies' loss to Australia in 1995, and unfortunately the news just got worse after that. Brian Lara's 153 and the epic win it produced brought him joy, of course, but silver linings like that were becoming increasingly hard to find and they have remained so. I delighted, though, in bringing him news of Chris Gayle's triple-century against Sri Lanka, West Indies' chase of 418, and their wins in the Champions Trophy and the T20 World Cup. His reactions were gratifying; sometimes I wish West Indies would do better just so I could bring him better news.

I don't know how much longer H will stick around; he seems increasingly frail, and I worry. Perhaps he will retire soon; perhaps his failing health might draw his life to a close. My conversations and encounters with him were a little oasis of cricket in my workplace desert; I will miss him when he is gone.

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

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Keywords: Nostalgia, Socio-cultural

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JJKim on (May 3, 2014, 23:00 GMT)

The second paragraph is so funny and ingenious that it makes me laugh for long time. Hoping all is well with you.

Posted by humanity1 on (May 3, 2014, 19:14 GMT)

Great human article Samir.Your friendship with H is bringing him more than cricket updates. You are taking him back to his youth, where his soul will forever remain. His aging body does not show it and only the spark of light in his eyes will. Back to a time when the victories and dominance of his team were an extension of the vibrance of his own youth: in his life, community, romantic adventures, young family, kids, etc. All in the past now with the passage of time leaving its indelible mark and resetting the ego ever so lower as slowly but surely the illusions crumble and thoughts about mortality creeps into the mind. We all know our H's and time moves that way for all. Let's all do our bit for the H's in our lives.

Posted by Insightful2013 on (May 3, 2014, 16:33 GMT)

Enjoyed this article.It says more about you than anything else.Everyone has a story, even the cleaners. Too many people ignore the life around them, forever seeking the sun. I find that my fellow professional colleagues are actually quite boring. Their conversations revolve around which new car models to get or where to invest or is Fiji the place to be? The ancillary staff on the other hand, come from generally, third world countries or lower income neighborhoods and their stories are vibrant, interesting and always entertaining. They eat much tastier foods, have wildly entertaining children and families, are much more friendly and far less judgmental. Their life stories are lessons in how to be happy. They don't expect much and are contented with their lot. My colleagues are unhappy and traumatized. All their possessions and responsibilities weighs them down and significantly, do not understand cricket. I think, this might actually be their problem!

Posted by Atul on (May 2, 2014, 13:43 GMT)

Beautifully written, Samir. Cricket definitely is the 'language' to communicate with anyone from the commonwealth. Most Caribbean taxi drivers in US are delighted if someone brings up Cricket in the conversation. One distinct difference I found in the Caribbean followers is their deep knowledge of the technical aspects. They are not merely arm chair experts. Most are good players themselves.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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