Once upon a time in Saraswathipuram…

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Reading Mohan in ‘Bricks and Bouquets’, took me back in time when I was a schoolboy myself.

In Saraswathipuram.

A suburb with a fine mix of intellectualism (a whole bunch of Mysore University’s professors lived there) and rusticity (good old KGK, short for Kanne Gowdana Koppal, being next door).

The annual Ramotsava celebrations in our own version of Shivaji Park, the Tengina Topu, situated between the 3rd and 4th main roads. Where we vigorously played Ais Pais (Hide and Seek) navigating between the groups of men and women who would settle down to listen to heady carnatic music or a flute recital or a harikathe, in the evenings, on the grassy knolls between the coconut trees, some of which grew at amusingly weird angles.

My childhood mate Jayachandra, a funny character, who could whistle with all his ten fingers underneath his tongue in one go or completely separately if needed. His hair-rising stunts on his Raleigh cycle, which he would accelerate almost half way up a particular coconut tree in our topu that had grown in an expansively wide arc, lending it a strange curvature.

And cricket.

On the streets.

In the fields.

The famous Balu team that played in a ground close to the 9th and 10th main roads. Getting into that team being somewhat like hoping to play in the West Indies team of the ‘70s under Clive Lloyd!

Gawky youngsters watching the games in progress, cheering lustily at the fall of a wicket; invariably clean bowled. With a wisp of red dust rising from underneath the middle stump.

Churumuri with a dash of lime; Venkatappan ice candy–‘inswalpa cream hakanna’–two cone sizes, 10 paisa and 15 paise; Mariyammana ‘batani’; coated in cheap, hideous red. The tiny explosions inside the mouth as we carefully manoeuvred the hard little bombs between our still adolescent molars.

Saraswathipuram!!!

Home to one of the greatest actors of the Kannada screen, K.S. Ashwath. Walking down the main road, wearing a fancy lungi, jubba and a pair of canvas slip-ons, he would make an imposing picture. Stern faced; brisk striding; slightly cold; with a hint of aloofness; he was a standard ‘puram’ sight.

And ‘coffee pudi’ Vasu!

Vasu, the owner of a famous coffee pudi angadi near Mr. Ashwath’s house. Portly, short and pot-bellied. Always in a tight T-shirt that accentuated the immensity of his girth.

Vasu, seller of Ganesha idols besides coffee powder–one of which, a massive, multi-coloured creation with the tiny ili in attendance, adorning his own angadi for ever, beside the vibhuti-smeared grinding machine.

Vasu. A passionate lover of cricket; a love often metamorphosing into fanaticism. Terribly concerned about the Indian team’s fortunes; always adoringly happy with the performances of B.S. Chandrashekar, E.A.S. Prasanna and G.R. Vishwanath.

Cricket as it was played in the ‘70s. No television. All India Radio commentaries. Waking up at 4 in the morning. Tuning into the transistor. A palpable flow of adrenaline; the right hand turning into a tiny fist which pumped the air as I heard Surinder Amarnath get a hundred on debut against New Zealand. My father seated on the ground and shaving. In front of a mirror with a teak wood base—a family heirloom—gifted to him by his sister on the day of his wedding, circa 1964.

Cut to ‘coffee pudi’ Vasu again.

A little after 1975 or thereabouts. My humourously whacky childhood mate, the humongously built Sampatha, he of the bison-like frame and the heart of a baby, asking Vasu what he felt about one of G.R. Vishwanath’s rare, cheap dismissals: ‘What do you think would have happened in the dressing room after Vishwanath got out and returned to the pavilion?’

Vasu listened. Intently.

He closed his eyes ponderously. A while later he opened them again. They looked grim. And angry.

And suddenly he yelled, ‘ Boli makkla, neev aadi iga. Aadi neevu. Naan adadnalla Madrasnalli. Neev adudra? Adudra neevu…’

Vasu’s right fore finger was pointing directly between the two of us, Sampatha and me.

We were transfixed.

Vasu was alluding to the innings of 97 not out by Vishwanath against the mighty West Indies in the Madras test of 1975, which even to this day, is hailed as one of the most courageous rearguard acts on a cricket field by an Indian.

Vasu was doing mimicry. Of G.R. Vishwanath’s assumed diatribe against his team mates in the dressing room even as was unfastening his pads!!

Those were the days, eh. Oh, how I love to ramble on and on. About Saraswathipuram and….

I sink into the beanbag on the balcony of my flat; the noise of traffic below dims for a moment as I play an old Jagjit Singh ghazal in my mind: ‘Lauta de mere bachpana…