Once upon a time, on the other side of midnight

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Rahul Dravid’s Indian team has landed in Calypso country. To play against a team whose cricketing forefathers had names like Lloyd, Greenidge, Fredericks, Richards, Holding, Roberts, Marshall, Sobers, Kanhai, Kallicharan, Garner…. Immortals all.

How much joy they gave us when we were excitable young boys in the 1970s! What magic, what natural grace, what mystique, what mystery they exuded in times when the television set in the drawing-room corner had yet to rob us of our imagination.

When we all gathered around an old ‘Bush Baron’ transistor with a soiled sticker of Donald Duck and Scooby next to the dial, mostly in the house of a friend, whose parents were the least interfering and who said “you should all study at this hour instead of wasting time like this” the minimum number of times during the evening!

When the radio waves crackled to life with the unstoppable enthusiasm of an error-prone Suresh Saraiya, with his singsong tone; trailing sometimes, rising sometimes and ebbing as well—“Back agaaaain, Roberts in to booowl to Gavaaaaaskar and Gavaaaaskar quickly on to his back foot pats it away to mid on. No ruuuuuuuun…”— and Anant Setalvad with his dignified, steady baritone.

When we hung around the radio with our ears straining to catch every word, every expression, every single description of the game in progress while memorizing inwardly the team’s score and also Gavaskar’s.

When the radio waves mostly behaved like ocean waves on a full moon night; rising, ebbing, heaving, subsiding, going silent and then striking again forcefully against the rocks of our imagination.

As all of us trying our hardest to follow the commentary and keep in touch with what had been said just a while ago in our desperate quest for maintaining a sense of continuity.

When the noise in the background rose, we imagined the ball had been hit for a four or six. And secretly prayed that the spectators weren’t rejoicing at the fall of an Indian wicket.

Glancing at each other nervously, ears pricked in the direction of the radio, gesturing silently, closing our eyes in anticipation and jumping animatedly if our prayers had been answered.

Or slumping down in dismay if Suresh Saraiya said “Gavaskaaaaaar is goooonnne. Caught behind of one that rose from just short off good length. Gavaskaaaaaar trying to drive in the region of cover getting a thick outside edge to Murray behind the stumps…. India are 45 for onnnnne.”

Our world looked so low, so morose, and so down and out. It seemed like it was all over. And then the next batsman would come in and play the first ball. And hope would spring up like grass from parched earth.

And the night would wear on… yes, it would be night, all right. West Indies was on the other side of the planet after all. Seemingly a million miles away from Saraswathipuram!