By Aftab Khanna
One of the most endearing images of this World Cup came in the India vs Bangladesh match on July 2nd when television cameras captured an elderly lady passionately blowing a vuvuzela after an Indian batsman had hit a boundary. The television producers were quick to spot the potential of that image and evidencing the rapid social media driven age we live in, Charulata Patel, the 87 year old woman in question, instantly became an online sensation. Someone in the Indian team contingent spotted her and Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli walked over to meet her after the match as well. Reading about Charulata Patel the day after the match, my wife remarked how she reminded her of our own grandparents. And that kindled many memories, particularly those forged while experiencing the joys of watching cricket with them.
I was around 8 years old when cricket fan in me was truly stoked and my paternal grandfather had an instrumental role in that incubation process. My parents and I lived in a nuclear family but around that age we were spending a fair amount of time at my grandparents’ house as my father launched a small business in that local area. My paternal grandfather had been a lifelong banker and more than the technical aspects of the game, it was the numbers that fascinated him. He was the one who educated me on the nuances of cricket statistics and gave me a language to assess the game. My earliest memory goes back to the Wills Cup of 1991 in Sharjah where we saw some games together and I recall him explaining to me how run rates and strike rates were calculated and what they meant, how a batsmen or a bowler’s average was determined and how to interpret them, what a ‘Manhattan’ represented and why a ‘wagon wheel’ was important to analyse a batsman’s scoring areas. Although he was well into his retirement by this time, his mental maths ability had not diminished, and he could easily determine current and required run rates as well as a batsman’s strike rate by just looking at the score. He also liked to play amateur scorer and noted down the runs scored of every ball in a notebook as well as counting the number of overs bowled by each bowler. I remember him joking once that Ravi Shastri relaxed him a lot while batting since he played a lot of dot balls reducing the task of scoring to simply marking a series of uninterrupted dots on paper.
In contrast, my maternal grandmother was a simple soul who searched for honest intentions in all human beings and struggled to comprehend the fuss all the men in the family created over a game. She would sit quietly and chop vegetables or do her needle work while the excitement of a cricket game and its associated emotions passed unnoticed in front of her. She looked at the cricketers through a lens of a doting grandmother – to her, they were a bunch of boys, trying their best while the forces of the whole world were arrayed against them. I distinctly remember the sympathetic tone in her voice when she lamented after one of India’s losses in chaste Punjabi, “Ki karein? Jithey saadey mundey maardey ney, utthe hee dujeyan nei bandey rakhe hoyen ney” (What to do? Wherever our boys hit the ball, the other team has a player standing)
My maternal grandparents though were much more invested in the games they saw and did not hold back in expressing their preferences. My maternal grandfather was a retired army man and had played hockey at the regimental level. Quite often, a happening on the cricket field would remind him of a random story from his playing days and he would then go on a narration that would stretch easily for the next 5-6 overs. While the story itself would be inconsequential, it did help provide a distraction from the boredom that would settle in between overs 15-40 in those days. He wasn’t also averse to making a fairly public display of his criticism, especially when India played poorly. While he liked Tendulkar and Kumble, he thought Dravid played too slowly in ODIs (a debate that raged for long between him and me) and wasn’t too impressed with Ganguly’s skills against fast bowling – “darda hai” (He is scared), is what he would often say. He would also quite often display the fickleness that many Indian fans possess. Once it looked like India were out of the game, he would get away from the TV and find other things to make better use of his time with, leaving me to watch the last rites.
However, it was my maternal grandmother with whom I have the most cherished experiences. For her, cricket on the TV was another element in the perfectly running clockwork that was her house. She was the embodiment of the fan on the fringes. The person who stands at the corner of the circle gathered around the TV. The person who would casually ask the score, make a mental note of the situation, continue their chores and come back again in a few minutes to get an update. My grandmother had only studied till the fifth grade and that too in Punjabi. She could not read or comprehend English but she could read numbers and somehow she had taught herself to read and interpret the score of a game. As the game would go on, she would walk in and out of the room where the TV was situated while carrying on her activities. On every lap, she would pause, peer close to the TV, read the score and instantly pass a comment on whether India was in a good situation or not. Her standard question to me, if India was batting, would be – “Tandoolkar khelda paya hai?” (Is Tendulkar still batting?) The only time she would show any emotion during a game was if this question was answered in the negative. “Aai haye!” (Oh no!), she would remonstrate loudly. Of course, it was a sentiment millions of other fans shared with her. Even though she could not understand English, she somehow took a fascination to Ravi Shastri’s voice (yes, he is a common thread amongst that generation of elders). When he would be on air, she would recognize his voice and ask me for an affirmation – “Shastri bolda paya hai na?” (This is Shastri speaking, right?), and would then add, much to my amusement, “Changa bolda hai” (He speaks well).
Two cricket matches whose conclusion I saw with her stay alive with me. The first was a game between India and England in the Natwest Series in 2002 at Lord’s (not the final) where Dravid and Yuvraj stitched together a partnership to guide India home after they were in a spot of bother. My grandfather had declared India dead and left to go to bed but my grandmother watched the last hour of play with me. She would chide my grandfather the next morning for giving up too early and not having faith in the team! The other was the all-time classic semi-final from the 1999 World Cup between South Africa and Australia. Once again, it was only me and her watching the conclusion with my grandfather having prematurely declared the Aussies as winners. Towards the end, my grandmother struggled to keep pace with the game before finally catching her breath in the last over when the scores were tied. Then the run-out happened and all she could do was look at me quizzically and ask “Aai ki hoya?” (What happened there?) I wish I could tell her that it is a question that South Africa have been asking at the end of every World Cup campaign ever since.
Both sets of my grandparents are now residing in a better world but watching a Charulata Patel on TV brings back a realisation that cricket is still a game that spans generations. That it is equally easy for a fan from the Gavaskar era to like a Kohli or a Rohit. That enthusiasm, passion and interest are bound not by the limitations of body but those of mind. That in every elderly person out there still resides a child who gets excited, stressed, and emotional and possesses their very own unique love of the game. I wish the Charulata Patels of this world good health and hope to see many more of them on our television screens!
Lead image from here