“I was seventeen years old, playing cricket for my school and had set my goals to play for Mumbai first and then India. My hero like other young boys was Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble. We played cricket at the Azad Maidan, a 25 acre sports ground next to the CST railway station.
“When batting, we’d face the leather ball which is hard and deadly when thrown by a fast bowler. We had a protective gear to cover our head, arms, face and testicles. But while fielding, we had to be more alert because the ground has over twenty cricket pitches and different groups played all over. Suddenly a ball could come crashing down from anywhere and take you by surprise. Our reflexes got really good, and that’s why it’s said those who survive the war field of Azad Maidan grow to be really tough cricketers.
One afternoon as I was fielding close to the pitch, the batsman ran a quick single. The fielder threw the ball at the wicket keeper who in a hurry to dismiss the runner grabbed the ball and instead of merely removing the bails, he pulled off the stumps. So sudden was the pulling that the keeper hit the wickets right into the eye sockets of the rushing batsman. It all happened right in front of me, and in seconds I saw the pitch cascading with blood. Amidst the panic and painful screams, I felt jolted. Hours later I learnt this young boy, a budding cricketer like me had permanently lost both his eyes. The incident left me devastated.
That night I couldn’t sleep. The next time I came to play at Azad maidan, my stomach recoiled and my heart nervously skipped beats. I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. I kept wondering about life; why such accidents happen and why death came so early to so many and what is death after all. This question bugged me for days while externally I continued my life as if nothing had happened; I went to the movies, smoked and drank at the local bar with a few friends, and got drunk occasionally but internally I wasn’t there. And then another reality hit me. And that was the turning point of my life.
“Oh My God!!” Venky exclaimed, “You actually smoked and drank. No one would believe it; you seem to have popped out of the spiritual world; from a world of childlike innocence and spiritual purity as if these habits were unknown to you. I also can’t imagine you saw such a ghastly accident”
“For me your playing cricket itself was far out”, said Kishor wryly and then he smiled, “I thought I was the only smart one in our ashram who played cricket and had girl- friends and knew the world. But I must confess you have stunned me with this story. Wow! This is far out”
Shyam’s eyes were moist and for a few moments, no one spoke.
Aki broke it, “What an irony; in this crazy, crowded and noisy Sunday evening local train we are silent”
“I am speechless”, Kishor interjected.
“I am sorry I am sharing my own long story, but I have to end with this one”, Shyam continued.
“Wait”, Aki said, “Oh Kishor, you had girl-friends, uh?”
“Yeah, but …”
“But what?” Venky’s eyes beamed, “Guys, I can smell a juicy scoop coming up. Can’t wait to hear more of it”
“Who was that unlucky girl you left crying because you wanted to be a monk?”
“Oh, nothing so exciting”, Kishor said. He didn’t like to be the centre of discussion.
“I am sure all of us want to know more about your adventures with the high profile glamour girls of Mumbai” Aki said unemotionally.
“Venky held Kishor’s hand, “You had a steady girl-friend, then why did you leave her; what happened?”
“It must have been love; but it’s over now..”, Kishor hummed nodding his head and smiling away.
“That was my favorite, Pretty Woman soundtrack, a ballad sung by the Swedish Pop duo Roxette”, Aki smiled blushingly.
“Oh, You too”, Venky flustered, “You know these pop songs, I thought you were a born saint who had nothing to do with Pop music and Hollywood”
“Remember every saint has a past and every sinner a future”, Aki was now echoing Kishor’s buoyant mood.
To be continued…