Before Xbox & Wii, it was ‘aatakkuntu lekkakilla’

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: A recent discussion between commentators during a Test match on whether substitutes should be permitted to wear the “official” cap of the country woke up a long dormant childhood memory.

The commentators were talking about whether the substitute was “aatakkuntu lekkakilla”.

Roughly translated, it means “you can play, but you don’t count”. Yet somehow, like a lot of translations, it doesn’t capture the full range of meaning that those words carry.

Mostly it would be used by the older boys of the neighbourhood to humour and/or grudgingly accommodate the youngest (and unless you are Sachin Tendulkar, most inept) of kids in the neighbourhood in a game of cricket.

Mostly the younger ones would be so glad to be allowed to play with the “big boys” that they wouldn’t mind having to field far away (usually at the boundary, wherever it is) and patiently await their turn at batting (bowling was mostly out of the question) that never came.

Of course as we, I mean, those kids grew up resentment would set in, and the threat of complaining to the others’ mothers would usually ensure that they got into the “teams”. That of course would not prevent the same kids from carrying forward the system to the new kids on the block when they were old enough.

With the closing up of open spaces (mainly construction on empty sites that we used as cricket fields), and the all pervasive influences of the TV, the X-Box and the PC, it remains to be seen how much this phrase remains in common use.

Still, “aatakkuntu lekkakilla” seems to have been a fairly robust concept as people in my parents’ generation seem familiar with it, and though there may be local variants with differing names, the concept of including someone for the sake of form, but with participation only on your terms (this seems to happen mostly in cricket for some reason) seems to have been around for quite some time.

I don’t know if this phrase is unique to Kannada, and would be glad if someone could enlighten us to similar phrases (with similar import) in other languages.

However, it is not just in the playgrounds alone that we see “aatakkuntu lekkakkilla”.

“Aatakkuntu lekkakilla”  was the way international cricket was run for a long time. India and other non-Australian and non-English nations were the new kids on the block who were only allowed onto the big table because excluding them would have meant a scolding at home for being a bully.

When it came to decision making, Australia’s and England’s veto effectively meant that the rest of the countries were aatakkuntu lekkakilla.

Except now that we are growing bigger and taller than most of the “big boys” in the colony, they didn’t dare deny us our batting for too long. As of know we have taken over the bat, ball and wickets, threatening to take it all away and go home if they don’t play by our rules.

Increasingly, it is Bangladesh and Zimbabwe who are now reduced to “aatakkuntu lekkakilla” status, proving that the “carry forward” aspect of this policy is true as well.

In the international scene as well, India’s “observer status” in the G-8, the WTO and many other international fora was actually a fine case of “aatakkuntu lekkakilla”. Right now we are at the whiny stage where we are tired of being in the outfield, consider it unfair that we never get a chance to bat, and want to bat for sometime before we go home.

Some of the big boys (US, UK and France) are OK with us batting since they want us on the team against the boys from the other colony (China), and we aren’t too bad with the bat either.

It is in politics of course that the true meaning of “aatakkuntu lekkakilla” be put to maximum effect. Especially if the ball has been lost in a gutter and the only one who has another one handy is the kid who is usually “aatakkuntu lekkakilla”.

Batting on both sides, only wicket-keeping (a privilege considering it involves little or no running) and no fielding for both sides would usually be part of the quid pro quo that would have to be worked.

Of course any change in the agreed terms of compromise would mean complaints about the how late it is and “my mother is calling” and threats to go home and take the ball with oneself. In politics this is usually translated into what will henceforth be called Deve Gowda-style politics.

The Communists have a completely different take on this by introducing to us, lekkakuntu aadakkilla, (they count, but they don’t want to play).

Maybe they were too busy reading Das Kapital and Imperialism: The Highest Form of Capitalism to play outside, but they seem to have an imperfect grasp of the concept and have, unfortunately, tried to apply it to politics, with disastrous results (at least for them).

Historians and political scientists of the future will spend centuries trying to figure out what it means if a party is supporting the government but not part of the government; if it has a veto over policy but does not actually make any policy; it and brings down the government at the moment when the Opposition has the best chance of sweeping the polls.

Maybe, they’ll figure, the Left had gotten tired of being made to play “aatakkuntu lekkakilla” for 54 years.

Or maybe they got the translation into Chinese wrong.