From time to time we invite readers to contribute. This article is from Havovi Govadia.
To use an English phrase ‘cricket is not my cuppa tea’. But living in India, one cannot avoid cricket and being married to a cricket lover seals your fate. During cricket season, which has now become throughout the year, our routine goes for a toss and everything revolves around the match timings. The dinner or lunch time are shifted so as not to miss a single ball bowled, stroked played or wicket taken. Social invitations are accepted or rejected depending on whether there would be any opportunity to watch the match sometime, somewhere. Other programs are watched only if rain interrupted the day’s play! To compound my irritation, there are now more variants than Sachin look-alikes. There are the 5-day matches, the one dayers, the T-20s, the Champions League, IPL, SPL and on and on.
When I was growing up, cricket meant a 5-day Test match with 1 rest day in between. Since there was no TV coverage, matches were either seen live in stadiums or for most folks, heard live on the radio. In India, the passion for cricket was as much in those days as it is today. During a test match, radios would blare the cricket commentary from all shops, all nooks and all homes. If one was out on the road, the commentary seemed to follow you. When transistors started selling in the markets, one could not escape the cricket commentary even in buses and trains. In fact, radio commentators like Bobby Talyarkhan, Dicky Rutnagur, Damodar Mudliar, Vizzy, Anand Setalvad became legendary and highly respected, having their own fan following.
My school was in Dadar Parsi Colony and since cricketer Farokh Engineer lived there, he had a huge fan following in our girls’ school. Not to be left behind, we who were not from Dadar would argue that Rusi Surti was more handsome or that Polly Umrigar resembled The Duke of Edinburgh and even that Nari Contractor, looked like Omar Shariff. The intense arguments were not on the merits of the games of the cricketers but on looks!! When the Bombay Parsi Punchayat held a felicitation program for the 4 Parsi players, we all attended to see the foursome at close quarters. We all secretly agreed that Farokh Engineer was really the most flamboyant of the lot.
The opportunity to attend a test match came when I was in college. Temton uncle a senior volunteer at the Brabourne Stadium agreed to give us a free entry during a test match. To his surprise, shock and dismay, on the
appointed day, a gang of 20 of us landed at the stadium clamoring and pleading to be allowed in. He managed to get us all in with a mild warning
to behave ourselves, sit wherever empty seats were available and enjoy the first experience of seeing a live match.
Our excitement was palpable as we all trooped in. The huge crowds, seeing the debonair cricketers in whites making their entry onto the playing field amid shouts from the spectators, the cheers and jeers, collective elation and disappointment was all quite exhilarating and heady. These were raw human emotions on display. Not finding seats together, we sat on the parapet behind the back row of the stadium much to the annoyance of the policemen on duty. Since we were ‘Temtonsaab’s babalog’ nothing was said and we arrogantly sat there surveying the backs of people’s heads and the cricketers in the field ahead. Very generously Temton uncle sent us boxes of snacks. After we had finished with the bananas and the oranges, the peels were aimed at the spectators in the front rows. Many in the crowd were armed with balloons and when filled with water, these made good missiles too. In those days, all this was a part and parcel of watching a cricket test match. My uncle, who was a regular at these matches, learnt a trick or two to combat this menace. As soon as the match started, he wore his old solar hat and happily enjoyed his cricket. Even today, when I attend a cricket match, I unconsciously glance at the back to see whether some youngsters were aiming something at my back!!
After that I attended many matches with my friends. The fact that I could not understand what was happening on the cricket field did not deter me from attending. We just went for time pass and to do a little masti. Whenever a match was played at the Brabourne Stadium, we would pester Temton uncle to give us a free entry. Ever hopeful that one from among us would become a world class cricketer, he would see to it that we would attend the matches in turn. The girls would try and go and see the team which had the maximum number of ‘handsome’ cricketers. The boys of course had their own different preferences. There were some who wanted to see the Australian team sledging and wanted to see them thrashed whilst others wanted to see the fast West Indian bowling.
The women’s cricket also started when I was in college. Being the women’s ‘Gymkhana Secretary’ of my college, I was responsible for the sports
activity of women. We participated in the University hockey matches, sent players for badminton and table tennis as also for basket ball games. Then
one day, I received an invitation from one Mrs. Bamji who was planning to start coaching women in cricket at her own expense. My job was to enlist interested candidates from my college. At the first meeting about 100 women hopefuls from various Bombay colleges attended. Mrs. Bamji and other well known cricket coaches lectured about various aspects of playing cricket. We were asked to come for cricket coaching and practices at CCI premises wearing “padded bras” to protect the “protruding women body parts” from injury! Today, India boasts of a world class women cricket team which takes part in all the international events.
My budding cricketing career came to an end even before take off. In school, I had heard so much of the near fatal ball injury that Mr. Nari Contractor had, that I was mortally terrified of a ball hurtling at me like a misguided meteor. I dropped out after a few practice sessions when the coach and I realized that I winced and closed my eyes when a ball came flying at me.
There was not much money in cricket in those days. They probably played with 3 or at the most 4 teams in a year. Even though the cricketers were well known and familiar figures not only in India but also in the world, they lived simple lives like middle class folks all over. Hardly any of them had any fancy cars or ostentatious life styles. When not playing cricket, they would be busy with their various jobs. This incident took place before my marriage. Once when Shapur and I were traveling by bus from Bandra band stand to the station, we saw cricketer Ajay Wadekar and his wife sitting in the front of the bus. He was the Indian captain at that time. When Shapur pointed him out to me, I could not believe that the captain of the Indian cricket team would travel by bus just like other ordinary citizens. To make sure that Shapur was not mistaken, I went up to him and asked “are you Mr. Ajay Wadekar?” He looked up at me amused and said “yes madam, what can I do for you?” I was too embarrassed and also stunned to even ask for his autograph. Later, when he had won the series against West Indies in West Indies, all of India went mad. Along with thousands, I too lined the streets of Bombay to give the heroes a fitting welcome they deserved. It also reminded me of the poem ‘it was roses roses all the way, with myrtles mixed in my path like mad’. I also realized that like what was quoted in the poem,
it would not take the fickle public to throw thorns instead of roses if ever the team did not perform to their expectations.
Life came full circle when I got married. Shapur is not only an avid cricket fan but loved to play too. Once again I started frequenting the playing fields, whenever he played. I learnt the nuances and the finer points of cricket. The technical terms like leg bye, LBW, wide ball, off break became familiar. Sometimes his excitement rubbed off on me and I too got involved in the excitement of a closely fought match. But unfortunately he could not succeed in making me a die-hard cricket fan, who ate, slept, dreamt and breathed cricket.
Havovi Govadia is a 65 years old grandmother of 3. She was born and brought up in Mumbai and shifted to Nagpur after marriage. Was working in Empress Mills (first Tata enterprise) till it shut shop in 1987. Working now as an independent financial adivsor.
Havovi wrote scripts, directed and staged plays and various tableaux on Zarthushtra, Parsi fashions through the ages etc. mostly to acquaint the younger generation of their rich heritage from 1980 till about 2000 for the Nagpur Parsi Gymkhana.
Havovi started writing these little anecdotal stories at the insistence of her niece who is now 10 years old and living in USA and who was keen to know about her grand parents whom she would never meet and those days when “you and my Dad were little”.