Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Life's Most Inspiring Day - Part 1

I felt as if a thousand angels were dancing around me. It was a strange sense of joy that I was experiencing for the first time in my life ! It was a feeling of blood rush and adrenalin that had never happened to me before. It was a feeling that I am unaware as to how to express. It was all about a moment when, 16 years after my birth, for the first time ever, I was holding a cricket bat in my hand !

Like every average Indian, I was born with a mad, blind love for this game called Cricket. Unfortunately, my health conditions & disability, apart from the excessive affection and tender care my parents had for me ensured that i never got to play it till then.

That summer though, I had just finished my 10th board exams. There were two months of holidays ahead. And after one complete week of persuasion and emotional protests, I finally earned what I had been so desperately longing all my life. I had earned for one day - the permission to play cricket in the open grounds with all my friends !

Every second of that evening is still fresh in my memory. It was around 4 30 in the evening that day. I had dreamt of that evening all through the previous night. I had imagined all the possible shots that I would play for a given ball and the number of different ways I could get a batsman out. Much to my excitement, I also found out that I was a left hand batsman and a right arm bowler. “A rare gem I am”, I excitedly thought to myself. :)

I couldn’t sleep all night. I even visualized friends calling me up and saying that they would want me in their team throughout the summer after my performance in the coming evening. I thought with that one innings, I could change everyone’s life and attitude towards my playing cricket and spent all night imagining it.

The evening had arrived. Desperate to run away to the play ground, I was now gulping through the boiling horlicks that my Mom gave me. She looked more nervous today than I had ever seen before. Infact, the boiling horlicks was a deliberate tactic by her to delay my entry into the playground ! And as she ensured that every inch of my body was well protected & cared for, she was passing on millions of instructions to me on how I shouldn’t stress myself much and on how I should stay and play only in the shadows. She also suggested dad that he stay at the ground after dropping me there. I vociferously protested this suggestion of hers and won that protest too. It was a day when I was destined to win everything, I thought.

There were 15 players in all at the ground. Only a couple of them were known to me. Both of them were my classmates at school. Dad left after dropping me there and re-repeating mom’s instruction set. Much against my wishes though, he had also spoken to my classmates before he left and asked them to take care of me. He wished me all the very very best.

Although, it was just another evening of play, fun and frolic for 14 of those players it wasn’t the same for me. It was the biggest evening of my life. It was an evening that I had only imagined till then. It was dream stuff for me. And looking back at it today after all these years, dream stuff it certainly turned to be !

“Sai, you will be a joker”, said a tall lean guy. I hadn’t known him before and I didn’t understand what “joker” meant. But then, the authority with which he said I would be a joker and more importantly the very term “joker” made me feel as if I wanted to hit every ball of his over for a six right then !

I looked towards my classmate to explain what he meant.

“Sai, since there are odd number of people, one guy gets to play for both the teams. That guy is called a joker”, replied my classamate.

“Woww ! So, I play for both teams ! That’s so damn great ! The tall guy wasn’t bad after all. Guess I am the first guy ever in the history of the game to play a debut game in the same match for both the teams ! You really are a rare gem Sai”, I thought to myself.

“The condition though Sai is that a joker can only bat. He can neither bowl nor field. Additionally, he will be the last to bat for both the teams.”, added my classmate.

I felt as if someone had slapped me hard ! I cannot bowl ! And I cannot field too ! And worst of all, I bat last !! I wondered if Mom had prayed for this in the morning and wanted to talk to her about it immediately ! My heart wanted to scream a big NO to that condition mentioned by my classmate. But then I was scared of loosing even the little opportunity I had. I nodded to indicate my agreement.

As I played for both teams, it would be illogical to say that my team won the toss. Anyways, one team of 7 won the toss and decided to bat first. It was 10 over a side match. I was sitting behind the wicketkeeper and fervently praying that the top 6 get out in the first over itself ! That would give me 9 overs to play. “2 overs to settle down, 3 to consolidate and 4 to slog” – I planned mentally.

Much to my horror again, not even a single person got out in the first 8 overs. Inside, i was fuming like all those volcanoes whose names I had byhearted throughout the month of april. The score was a daunting 76/0. 5 more batsmen to come before I get to bat for this team. 2 overs left. Yet, I was hopeful.

In the 9th over, two wickets had fallen. And the score read 80/2. “4 balls 4 wickets and I get to play 2 balls”, I thought. I was hopelessly hopeful. I also wondered if my dad, during his talk with my friends, had fixed this match to prevent me from batting ! He was certainly capable of doing such things.

As I was thinking all such, the first innings was now done. Half of my dream was broken. The next team was set a target of 92 to win in 10 overs.

Since I neither got to bat, bowl or field in the first innings, I now thought the chasing team was my actual team. Infact, I mentally labeled the chasing team as India and the other team as Pakistan. I was now preparing to thrash the pakistani bowling attack when I get the chance. The question now though was would I get the chance ?

The chase of 92 runs began. And the chasing team had a start that I wanted them to have – They lost 3 wickets in first two overs with almost nothing on the board.

The match moved on.

32/5 in 6 overs. The score line read for my Indian team. 24 balls left. 60 runs to win. Two batsman left. And one of them was Sai – “ Now that is what you call a match,” I then thought ! Infact I wished one more wicket to fall, so that the match would really begin with my entry.

The wish had come true too. It really really was my day ! At the end of the 7th over, the 6th wicket had fallen. The dream moment of mine had now finally arrived.

It must have been about 6:30 in the evening ! The sun, as if to answer Mom’s prayers, was casting long shadows on me and the ground. 16 years after my birth and 17 overs into my debut cricket match, I was holding a cricket bat in my hand ! The entire team was dependent on me for victory. 3 overs. 54 runs. Sai at the wicket. I wished dad was there to see me play !

I was now gearing up to face the first ball ever in my life. Would it be a bouncer ? Would it be a Yorker ? What if I charge down the wicket ? Could I pull the ball on the front foot ?

And as trillions of thoughts were passing through my mind, I saw the bowler. I could not stop chuckling to myself on seeing him. He was the tall, lean guy who made me the “joker”. “God exists and he listens to my prayers too !” I thought on seeing him.

Let us see who is the joker now. 36 runs in this over no matter what, I told myself ! One of my classmates was my batting partner and the other classmate was my by-runner.

“Who the hell needs a by-runner anyways ? If at all something is needed, it is 9 new balls, because each of them is going to disappear out of the ground !”

I was waiting for the bowler to roll his arm over. “If its short – pull, If its a bouncer – hook, If its a Yorker – come down and hit it, If its length – just time it”, my mind was instructing me at a rate it had never done before in life.

And as I took one the most awkward stances ever taken in the history of the game, the moment of my life had finally arrived. But it was a moment that had left me shattered !

It was a moment which even after so many years I can never overcome. A moment that broke all my dreams. A moment that I watched with horror and helplessness. A moment which went onto change my very attitude, philosophy and outlook towards life. A moment which made Mom give me the golden mantra for my life later that evening !

In that life changing moment, as I was waiting for a short ball or a Yorker or length ball and was dreaming to thrash it out of Hyderabad, the tall lean guy had strangely and with a very casual smirk on his face did something I had never expected. Instead of bowling the ball properly, he just rolled the ball along the ground towards me ! He rolled it all along the ground, very slowly and in my direction so that I could hit it easily. And immediately after rolling it, he began speaking to my classmate at the other end as if he did not care what happened to the ball.

I was shocked ! I had lost all my strength in that single moment. Why would he not bowl a proper ball to me ? Is there no umpire here ? Why had he pre determined that I am incapable of hitting anything ? And why was only a ball that rolled along the ground considered fit for me ? ! To all these questions, I never got the answer. All of a sudden, my throat was now choking with pain and anger. The bowler had bowled underarm and rolled the ball along the ground like they do for 2 year old kids. It was the first time in life when so much hope, dream, ambition and passion for something all crashed in a matter of microseconds. The first time in my life, when someone had made a judgement and pointed out my lack of abilities.

And as if to make matters worse, I didn’t hit even that ball and was clean bowled ! I guess life is not only bad when its bad, its cruelly cruel ! My insides were all now imploding and I wished that I no longer existed or was visible to anyone in the ground at that moment.

I put the bat down and walked towards my house with tears in my eyes and questions in my heart.

- Continued below -

My Life's Most Inspiring Day - Part 2

I was back home much before the scheduled time. Mom was furious that I had walked all the way home from the ground. But I didn’t care.

“So, did the prince score a century and take a hat-trick ?”, asked my dad.

I wanted to stare angrily at him but did not have the courage to do so. It was as if everything and everyone around me were just adding to the pain and I could do absolutely nothing. I went down and sat in the balcony. As I sat down staring at the sun merging with the sky, I was wiping out the tears that my blank heart was shedding.

“Anna, did you score a century ?”, asked my Jaanu sis.
And as most of the people who are close to me know and for all reasons still unknown to me even today, she was the only person whom I would not show my bad emotions on. She was the only person with whom I would share everything. And she was the only person who was capable of making me see the brighter and lovelier side of things always.

She pulled a chair and sat down beside me.
“So anna, did you score a century or take a hattrick ? I bet you did both !”, she said affectionately ! Her sweetness felt like snow fall on the lava that was flowing within me.

“No preethu. I got out first ball. I was clean bowled !”, I said.
“He he he.. Wish I was there to see you ! Sai scoring a duck !” she giggled. “So you came running away from the ground after that duck ?” she asked.

Something inside me struck me hard. Her innocent question ripped me apart. What made her think I would run away from the ground ? And infact, she was right ! I really did not want to be there at the ground too anyways. It was just a coincidence that the match had finished.

“No preethu. The match was over. I was the last to bat”
“Oh. That is ok anna. You will hit the fastest century the next time !” said the soul of my life.

“No, I will never ever play this game again preethu. Infact, i will not even watch it from now on. I will be stone hearted towards it from now on. I regret having played it today too.”

It was then that my mom had joined me with her usual glass of horlicks ! I wonder how is that she always feels my hunger and thirst even before I feel it !

“So, why is that our prince will stop watching and playing cricket ?”, asked my Mom.

I had told her and my sis the events of the evening in detail. Dad too joined us. The sun and with it the anger in me had totally set.

After hearing to the whole story, Mom hugged me and took me and sis inside the house from the balcony. She insinuated dad to leave the place and he went on to watch T.V. And then she made us sit down beside her.

“Sai dear”, she said. “What you did today was one of the bravest and most inspiring things I had ever seen in my life ! We are proud of you for what you have done Sai ! You know its not about the score at all, but then the fact that you had the passion, the enthusiasm, the planning, the dream and most important of all, the hunger to be a part of the game and make a contribution to it that makes us proud of you. They are all the qualities that you need to score a century. You had them all and showed it too. We are really proud of you dear !”

“But then ma, why did that boy bowl underarm to me ? Why did he not consider me a normal guy like you all do I asked ?”

“Hmm, you see Sai. This life is very much like cricket. And as in cricket, there are all sorts of characters and balls in life”

“Huh ?”, I looked at my Mom puzzled.

“Hmm.. Sai, in life as in cricket, there are different types of people. And the actions that these people perform are like the balls in an over. Some actions are strict like Yorkers. Some are easy going like length balls. Some are full tosses. Some are unplayable like the bouncers. Why they bowl a particular type of ball, only they know. But then, people like bowlers are capable and do bowl different balls.”

“Hmm..”, I said.

“And as a batsman, what is that is your responsibility ?” asked my mom.

“Never ever get out. No matter what ball is bowled !”, I replied quickly.

“Yes. You should never ever get out ! You should never let the actions of people affect you. You should focus on the action as just another delivery and play as per its merit. Not only people’s actions. Even life’s situations demand you to do such things Sai”

“What does that mean ?”, I asked.

“Well Sai, the one life you have got is like the one opportunity you get to bat. You will be facing different kinds of people as bowlers and different kinds of balls as situations. We, your parents, and your sister would be sitting in the middle of the audience watching you play along with the whole world. We would have coached you to play and would be ready to be there after the match. Your friends and your loved ones constitute your team. Your dream is your target. Every day is a ball. The kind of ball is the situation. The people you meet and those who oppose you are the bowlers”


“And among the bowlers, there are people who would sledge. There would be people who would laugh at your stance. There would be people who would keep telling you that the target is impossible. There would be people in the audience who would chant against you ! Remember even Sachin has his haters and you are no exception to opposition !”

“And what is that you need to focus on ? Not the sledging ! Not the bowlers ! Not even the coach. You must focus only on the ball. You must focus only on the situation and how you will use it to reach your target. You will relentlessly keep working until you reach the target. No matter how many sledge you, no matter how many ignore you, no matter how many smirk at you and no matter how many don’t even think you are fit enough to play at their level, you will slowly, steadily be making progress towards your target. You have to stay there and play till you get out !”

“But what if get out ma ? I got out the first out ball today”, I asked.

“Hmm.. Yes dear. You got out the first ball today. But then, is cricket all about only one wicket ? 10 wickets have to fall before you are all out ! And in this game called life, you yourself are all that 10 wickets ! Isn’t that exciting ?”, she asked.

My heart was feeling a strange sense of inspiration. It was fascinating to have my angel telling me that the game I loved the most is the very game I will be playing for life. The game I loved the most can also be called as “life”

“And as I said Sai. Each ball is like a situation. And like balls, there are going to be Yorkers, bouncers, full tosses, length balls, wide balls and no balls. And there are going to be many ways in which they will get you out. People will sledge, people will chant against you, people will smirk at you, you yourself might chase a wide ball and get out, you might be run out due to lack of proper judgement, you might be caught in the deep because you did not hit the ball hard, you can be clean bowled too because you couldn’t have a clue about it. But the most important thing is to stay at the wicket and play the game till you reach your target ! Put a price on yourself as a batsman. Do not give your wicket away no matter what and never loose sight of the target.”

“Hmm.. But ma what If I get all out and fail to meet my target ? Won’t they all be laughing at me ? Won’t I have been a burden on my team ? Won’t I have broken all your trust and subjected you all to pressures and whims ?”, I asked.

“Hmm.. Sai, God had created this game and there are two ways to play it. One is to consider this as just a game and play it. And one is to consider it as every thing and play it. There is no wrong method as such. But firstly, it is very important that you play the game. And you must play it with all the passion. There are people who consider that God has already fixed the match and that they would score as many runs as God has willed them to score. Remember Sai, God is a bowler, God is the ball, God is the audience, God is the coach, God is even a friend and batting partner but then God is NEVER the batsman ! Its you and your own free will that is the batsman. And never ever blame him for match fixing. He is just an all round player who plays for you sometimes and who plays against you sometimes. He is like a JOKER. He plays for both the teams. But then he plays only to make you a better player”

“Is God too a joker ?”, I asked even as my heart laughed heartily.
“Yes. And a joker who can only field and bowl. But can never bat !”, said my mom.

“And what about the umpire ma ?”
“Well the umpire is what is called as luck Sai.. It will check if you are playing well. And will sometimes favour you and sometimes favour the bowler. All you can do is to accept whatever comes your way. Else, if you keep cursing the umpire for the decision, you will pay a heavy fine at the end apart from loosing at your wicket.”

“And who are the fielders ?”
“The fielders are those and that who oppose your dreams and ensure that you fail to reach your target. The fielders are not only people they are things too. Money is the best fielder of all in the opposing team. It is the wicketkeeper fielder. It always is behind you and keeps distracting you. You also have criticism fielder, sledging fielder, the bad neighbours fielder, the bad relations fielder, the fear of failure fielder, the overconfidence fielder, the “I will make you tired” field and many others. You have to overcome them all”

“And so you must have a great team too Sai. You will have your best friends as your batting partners. You must have confidence as the bat, self respect as the batting gloves pads and attitude as the helmet. You must exercise self control and most importantly learn that the target will be achieved as team not alone. So play for yourself as well as play for your friends and team. Play to achieve the target. But most importantly play.”

“And ma, what if I loose inspite of all this or what If I play a bad shot ? Should I regret it ?”

“Sai, you first to play to have fun. And then you play to win. The only important thing is that you should play and play no matter what. You should chase the target. You should chase your dreams. There are many people in the world Sai who because of the fielders around them, a bad team sometimes, a bad technique may times regret playing a particular shot and refuse to play ever after. They would never ever play after a wicket has fallen or a bad shot is played. But then Sai, it is the greatest insult to God if because of one bad shot, you refuse to play the game altogether and give the opposing team “win declared”. It would be insult to the audience. It would be a let down to your team, your friends and your beliefs and values. It would be a gross injustice to the batsman who is partnering you and who trusted you with playing the game throughout. So, at least for a fellow batsman and for a fellow human you are not supposed to loose to the fielders, a bad team or a bad shot. They are there all to distract you from getting what you want."

"Remember Sai, it is not courage to regret a bad shot and it is not courage to stop playing the game you love altogether because of it. Courage lies in playing the shot again after you looked ugly playing it once. Courage lies in trying to score till you win. Strength lies not in never regretting but it lies in supporting yourself, your beliefs and the people who believed in you and are playing for you ! Strength lies in playing, playing and playing till you win. So remember Sai, never ever give “win declared” to the other team. Loose but still play. Look awkward but still play ! It is an insult to God to give up and say “win declared” to the opposing team half way. What is that you get by giving a win declare ? Nothing more than an opportunity to sit and watch the game ! You would either become the audience of the game or do the pitch report all life or worse be a commentator. You would become one of those who would consider that toss the only factor that will decide the match. Remember Sai, it is ok to be a looser. But very important to be a player. It is of the utmost importance that you played this game of life with your heart, soul, mind, qualities, friends, family, god and against tough fielders, awesome bowlers and superb balls to achieve an impossible target. Remember Sai, as a player, when you were given a chance - you took the bat and walked out on the ground. You choose to entertain God in this game that people say he created. And to entertain God with your game is the greatest victory you can ever have. Even if people call you a looser after trying, the very fact that you tried, opposed the fielders, played the bowler with the limited ability you have, supported your friends, cared for your beliefs, valued your strengths and stood by them and for the very fact of having played the game passionately and entertained him, God would certainly give you a standing ovation irrespective of the targets you achieved and that is all that matters.”

“Hmm maa.. I cannot say how inspired I am feeling now ! I promise you maa.. No matter what, I will keep playing and playing and playing till I drop dead.”

Mom slapped me on the face. The word “dead” has never been the word she liked, especially when it came from my mouth ! :)

“Remember another thing Sai ! Never use bad words. Never sledge. Never ever discourage a fellow player. If you edge the ball and are caught, walk ! Play hard but play fair. Trust your friends. Give them space. Remember, it’s a team game ! And there are times when friends loose their wicket too. Do not show your emotions. There are times when you run them out or they run you out. Remember, its all part and parcel of the game ! The objective is to have fun, win and entertain the audience. Not to show you are the only best player the world has ever seen. Talk to your coaches called teachers from time to time and learn the game from them. Always be enthusiastic to learn. Do not loose focus and do not get carried away. Remember Sai, You are just a player and God is watching not only your play but also on how you play. So be on the alert.”

“And maa.. one stupid question”, I said sheepishly.
“Yes dear”, said my mom.

“Who exactly is the pitch then ?”
And my mom smiled at the question.

“The pitch is the country you live in dear. It is your very own India. It is your soil and motherland. People will tell you that a true player is one who can and will score more runs abroad and in foreign conditions. But then dear, to play in your country with the support of your home crowd is a fun and experience that is something totally different altogether ! It is the joy, bliss and a blessing of a lifetime ! And it is something you will miss when you play abroad even if you score tons of runs.”

As mom finished thus, that night, I was the most inspired soul on the planet. We all moved to have dinner. And my jaanu sis said that she wanted my autograph and she will be my fan throughout my life, no matter what ! I took her autograph too :)

Almost 10 years have passed since that day. And everytime I face an overwhelming situation I look for an analogy not in the Bhagawad gita, not in the Quran, not in the Bible, not in the movies, not in the people around me.. But I look for an analogy in this game called cricket – the religion of India.

And thanks to my ever inspiring Mom, everytime I look into it, there is an answer. I began playing the game i loved the most.. A game called LIFE !