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Madhurima Vidyarthi

  • Writer's pictureMadhurima Vidyarthi

The Other Eden

First Published in the Lifestyle supplement of The Statesman,Calcutta, Friday, 25th April 2003

The umpire was only seven years old, but that made no difference to the intense concentration on his face. Nor did it matter that the two wickets on both ends had a total of only three stumps between them, or that the torn rubber ball hurtling down the pitch had definitely seen better days. The pitch itself was a humble strip of asphalt, indifferently tarred, and the field limited on both sides by discarded tyres and leaky tube wells, but the matches played in this crumbling Eden were as grimly fought as those at the hallowed grounds of the MCC or anywhere else.

It was early on a cold foggy Sunday morning and the denizens of our neighbourhood saw no reason to wish the world a good morning before the sun did. It simply wasn't in the order of things. All except for a few like myself who were called to hospital; duty at indecent hours and our dedicated band of young heroes.

They were a motley bunch, toes poking out of cracked shows salvaged from some unknown rubbish heap. As a rule, they ran barefoot, the treasured shoes kept safe for state occasions like their annual visit to the zoo. Their caps were always firmly in place, however, and on each ragged back a bit of cardboard proudly declared the player's name and number. Not that they could read, but they knew their numbers and it lent them a certain air which they cherished. The cards had been made by me on special request a few weeks after we struck an unlikely, but sympathetic, acquaintance.

It so happened that their match had ended in its customary fight and one of the valiant warriors was bleeding a little more freely than he normally did. I saw him on my way home, cowering under a broken tin sheet, for all the world like a beaten dog licking its wounds. On an impulse, I called to him, half expecting a sullen refusal or a colourful expletive. But some unknown instinct must have told him I was safe, because he consented to crawl out from under the sheet and follow me home - ragged, tattered, extremely dirty, but for all that a very small boy in pain. He said nothing as I dressed his wound, not even when I knew I must be hurting him. I was wondering what to say to him, when I noticed the heads popping up at the window. Naturally, the rest of the team had tracked down its wounded member, reluctant to let him have a solitary adventure.

I invited them in, conscious of a sense of inevitable overtaking me. There were a lot of nudging and shoving before they finally filed in and stood before me. It was a solemn moment. My patient slipped off his chair and joined his mates, holding out his bandaged arm with pardonable pride as the team surged around him. There was a lot of curious whispering before one of the intrepid adventurers finally plucked up enough courage to approach me. The hand he held out was no cleaner than the rest of him, but a small cut graced his thumb. I looked at him for a fleeting minute, then obediently patched it up, That was the signal the team had been waiting for. They swooped down as one man, holding out an assortment of limbs with real and non-existent hurts, their hitherto silent voices raised shrilly in chorus. I administered to each of them in turn and it seemed natural to progress to a round of biscuits before we parted on excellent terms. After that it was just a matter of time before I was inducted as team doctor and close on this honour came the request for the cards, "like real players have'.

Had I known them what I was letting myself in for, I would have retreated unconditionally, because it soon became evident that I had been promoted from team doctor to general order supplier. I found myself supplying biscuits, water, bandages, cards as well as advice at frequent intervals. To be honest, I enjoyed their confidence. I even gifted them an old white hat my brother had grown out of. There was an instant scramble. I explained that since there was only one, they'd better let the umpire have it.

It was extraordinary how the expression on the umpire's face because immediately more gave and dignified. The general excitement became even more pronounced when I promised the, each a pair of sunglasses. Their practice was stepped up from the very next day, fierce determination on their grubby faces.

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