Ramaswami Mudaliar was a kind man but he wasn’t too kind when it came to his Dyanora black-and-white television. In 1983, owning a television was the current day equivalent of driving a BMW with Katrina Kaif as your dinner date. Mudaliar probably hugged and slept on the TV, which was encased in a wooden cabinet; such was his love for the idiot box. As a ten-year-old TV really didn’t interest me: watching Chennai Doordarshan’s ‘Vayalum Vazhvum’ (a show for farmers that also educated us how to create a Gobar gas plant every now and then.) The only other frequently aired program was ‘Suveet, Kaaram, kaapi’ which carried a family planning message: the number of courses in your meal is inversely proportional to the number of children you have. Or some such shit.
But that day was different. It was 25th June, 1983. India was playing the mighty West Indians in the World Cup Final. Mudaliar, a huge Cricket fan himself, was getting ready for the grand finale. He dusted his old, wooden easy-chair, adjusted the coffee table on which he’d rest his feet, and ordered his wife to make Onion Bajji for the afternoon. And of course, a flask full of tea.
I climbed up the stairs just before the match started and sat outside waiting for Mudaliar to switch the TV on. He caught me sitting outside and snarled “This is not a marriage hall!” I didn’t quite get his sarcasm but I said “Thatha, I love Cricket. Allow me to watch today and I will never trouble you again.” He muttered something under his breath and said “Don’t enter the house. Sit outside and watch.” I was delighted.
So I sat on the ground in the open terrace, at Mudaliar’s door. The merciless Chennai sun tested my love for Cricket. My t-shirt was stuck to my back due to perspiration. Sweat poured even in places where the sun don’t shine.
Joel Garner made Sunny Gavaskar look like a Canary in a cat’s mouth. Sunny’s misery ended after 14 balls, which seemed like 1400. Mudaliar was shrieking with delight as Chika Srikkanth hit Andy Roberts for boundaries.
“Srikkanth is from Madras!” I said. Mudaliar poured more tea from the Flask into his cup, clucked his tongue and said “I know. I was a Cricketer. Don’t teach your grandfather how to cough.” I fell silent. I was always under the impression that the original quote was ‘Don’t teach your father how to make babies.”
Any effort to humor the man was getting stone-walled. I desperately wanted to move inside, where a ceiling fan was running at full clip.
Mrs. Mudaliar, emerged from the kitchen, took one look at me and yelled, “Can’t you see how the poor kid is suffering outside?” Mudaliar grunted and waved me in. I crawled in and sat on the ground next to his easy-chair.
When Srikkanth fell to Marshall, Mudaliar hurled one of the bajjis, which hit the ceiling fan, ricocheted, and knocked down an empty vase on the TV. I was positive that he was going to throw me out. Thankfully, Mohinder Amarnath hit Larry Gomes for a few boundaries a little later. Mudaliar was shrieking with delight.
“He’s the son of Lala Amar-“ I started and he cut me off “I know kid. Here take a bajji. Do you play Cricket?”
I was thrilled. “Yessir! I do. I bowl medium pace. Just like Amarnath.” Mudaliar laughter echoed against the stainless steel vessels in his kitchen. “My mother-in-law can bowl faster than him,” he said. He was right, but I didn’t want to agree too quickly, so I said, “Pace is not everything thatha, line and length…” and before I could finish the Doordarshan signal died on us.
Mudaliar was livid. “Should I climb up the roof and adjust the antenna?” I offered. He liked the idea. So I climbed up the tiled roof and started adjusting the antenna as I danced around it to keep my feet off the hot Mangalore tiles.
It didn’t quite work. So we waited for Doordarshan to give the signal back. He offered me tea. I was grateful. “Anything less than 250 is not defendable,” he said.
“Who’s your favourite Cricketer, boy?” “Kapil.”
“What about Gavaskar?”
“He is my second favourite. I like bowlers.”
By the time the signal came back, we knew that India was going to lose.
Mudaliar hurled some expletives at the Indians and said “Ngotha! Thaayolinga!! 183? They will finish the match in 30 overs!”
During the break, I ran down to my house. Seethammal road was business as usual. My uncle was smoking his Capstan cigarette and stuck to his ear was a radio. He was standing outside a kirana shop. “India made 183!” I told him. He nodded. The anxious shopkeeper, from behind the bottles that held cookies, candies and an assortment of other snacks, kept checking on the score with my uncle. My uncle told him “Konjam wait pannunga Saar, nothing can happen in a few seconds. This is Cricket, not ping-pong.”
I ran home, washed up and changed. My mother couldn’t understand my hurry and anxiety. “I have to get back quickly before Mudaliar’s mood changes! Can you believe it? He was actually nice to me. He spoke to me!!” I said and ran.
The match had started. It was dark now. The Chennai sea-breeze was working its magic. Mudaliar had just started eating his dinner. So I sat outside again. When Greenidge was bowled by Sandhu, both Mudaliar and I screamed with joy. Mrs. Mudaliar almost had a heart-attack.
When Richards walked in, Mudaliar said “Look at him. Look at him! Mayiraandi! Does he look like he is playing the World Cup Final? Huh? Such utter disregard! He looks like he is attending his nephew’s tonsuring ceremony!”
As Richards and Haynes steadied the West Indian innings, it appeared like it was all but over. And, the picture on the television went kaput. The charming Doordarshan folks were at it again. So up I went, on to the roof and started adjusting the antenna. After laboring for a long time, the signal came back on. I don’t know if it was because of me or someone at Doordarshan had an attack of conscience. I was getting ready to climb down when Mudaliar shouted “Don’t come down. Stay right there.”
I was confused.
So I sat there on the roof, as the stars came on, and through the tiny, square sunroof, and through the ceiling fan blades, I noticed that Mudaliar was clapping and shaking his feet on the coffee table vigorously. I shouted to him “Can I come down now?” Mudaliar said, “No way. Stay right there. You are bringing luck to us. West Indies are 66 for 4!” I wanted to jump down but Mudaliar’s words stopped me: “you are bringing luck to us”
When Michael Holding was out. Mudaliar ran out and shrieked something unintelligible. I jumped down and Mudaliar immediately hugged me and said “Thank you! You won the world cup for us!”
As I walked home that night, I noticed that nothing had changed and life was as usual on the street. ‘Why aren’t we celebrating!?’ I wondered. I saw that my uncle and the shopkeeper were in each other’s arms. They were doing a little jig too. So it was just the four of us that celebrated on Seethammal road. Probably the rich people, up the road, living in those big bungalows might have celebrated too. As I lay on my bed, one thought kept recurring ‘If I hadn’t stayed on the roof, would we have really lost the cup?’