My feet refused to move. It was as if my legs had a mind of their own, and they hated me. A wave of dust blew right through me. I rubbed my eyes and opened them to the captain of the Srinagar colony team alighting from his car like a Telugu movie hero: he gave a nonchalant kick to the door to close it, adjusted his Royban shades, surveyed the surroundings, and finally stood in front of me and cleared his throat. As if I was blind and didn’t notice this colossal personality. My legs were shaking and I wanted him to not see my fear. It was important to let the opponent know that I wasn’t scared. I wanted to tell him “I had nothing to do with it. You may want to talk to Partha.” But all that came out was “blahidjusta phobein. Igloo miyanka wrath.” Even my mouth had a mind of its own.
By this time, his entire team was behind him. I looked back to see if Partha was around. It was a very ambitious thought. He wasn’t. None of my other team mates were around too. It is amazing how people disappear when the shit hits the fan. It was all up to me now, to play the brave guy (that I was not!) and salvage whatever little pride I could: mine and the team’s.
There was a heated discussion raging between the captain and Srinagar colony’s team. I thought of escape but one look at the sheer automotive power at their disposal, the thought perished saying ‘oh nice try Albert!’ At 4 ft 5, I was not exactly the fastest sprinter in town. My opponent, the captain, stood a humble, imposing 6 ft 2. Game, set, match: genes.
He walked towards me, in slow measured steps. I could hear the mud crunching under his awesome Nike shoes. Gift from an uncle in the USA I was sure. I looked down at my Khelchandra shoes. They cost 100 Rupees. I had a theory that all the discarded truck tyres were used to manufacture Khelchandra shoes. I imagined a street-smart north Indian fellow living in a slum, right next to the yard where they dumped those tyres. One fine day he woke up with this genius plan and before long Khelchandra became a rage. Well it was a rage in Chittoor at least. I shouldn’t be complaining my dad said. ‘Always think of people without feet, when you think your shoes are shit.’ Years later, I modified it to reassure guys who complained they never got laid: “Every time you think, ‘god, why don’t you get me laid!’ think of all those guys without the equipment to get laid.’
“Where’s your team ra?” The captain hissed. His hands were in his pockets. I was waiting for the knuckleduster to fly out in a flash and effect a jaw smashing punch.
I closed my eyes and said, “I don’t know…” And all those interrogation scenes from Tamil and Telugu movies played in my head.
“…you will have to kill me to make me talk!” I added.
“Haaaan? Wha-aat? Do you losers want to play one more bet match or not, find out and let us know. Will you?”
I was stunned and disappointed that my resistance was not needed. Something was wrong here.
“Joolo hewaho?” I babbled. And continued… “A match?? bet match? Again!?” I said and started laughing and crying at the same time like Kamal Hassan in Sagara Sangamam.
The captain was not amused.
“You think this was a fluke? We will beat you, you want to bet??”
I paused. This was real. Not one of those day dreams that I suffered from, especially when i went to science class without finishing homework, and JK was about practice his right-hooks on me. This was indeed a miracle.
“Next match, will be a bat match. A brand new Tusker. Are you guys game? Are you man enough to rise to the challenge?” He said. I wasn’t sure if he was saying ‘bet’ like a north Indian or if he really meant ‘bat’.
I waited for his team, standing behind, to go ‘halleluzah’ and said “Again?”
“Wha- what do you mean again?” he said.
I clawed my way back to the right side of the cliff and managed “Bat- I mean bet match? again? Sure. Of course. Bet matches are healthy. We should do it more often.”
With that, he swiveled on his foot, opened his car, and before getting in, he let his Royban slide a little on his nose, looked at me, and said “Get used to losing… losers.”
I watched the caravan motor back to Vellore road. They disappeared in a haze of dust. And I said to myself “Sure.”
One week later, we played the bet match. Not with a Tusker, but with a BDM bat.
“God knows how it went missing. Mother promise, we were going to bring a Tusker but yes, this time you will have to make do with a BDM.” The Srinagar captain told Partha.
“No problem. It’s about winning ra, not the rewards.” Partha said, tugging at the BDM bat which the Srinagar colony captain had difficulty letting go.
As the crestfallen Srirnagar colony was ready to get back home, Partha shouted at the captain “hey how about a Tusker, next week?”
“What if we had lost again da?” I asked Partha.
“You really think we would have lost something that was ours?” He said, and winked.
We sold the two bats, Tusker and BDM, to Suresh used-bat-dealer par excellence. I made 100 Rupees. In the next couple of years, Partha and I sold close to 20 bats. Mostly Tuskers.