NARENDRA K. writes: I was all of 18 years and Meera was 20.
Life had meandered on amidst the vicissitudes of destiny. “Anna” was no more and his absence both as a provider and bulwark of the family was being felt every single day.
“Amma” soldiered on. She put up an iron fisted fight in the unrelenting ring of every day existence; in the heat of abjectness; through the seething fire of an unmarked, untoward future and its uncertainty; amidst the misery of it all.
Meera had completed her MSc degree. Life and its various possibilities looked her in the eye. As a young girl she obviously didn’t quite grasp the various implications.
“Amma” was keen to see her married. But the process of a connubial union comes with a certain mandatory requirement- the money to solemnise the marriage! And that is exactly what was in short supply.
It was around this time, in 1978, that a sporting event of rare historical meaning was beginning to unfold in faraway Pakistan.
Beyond the Khyber Pass.
The resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan after a few decades of political hostility. If cricket lovers had to be grateful for the sight of eleven flannelled Indians putting bat to ball on Pakistani soil after a long time, so should Meera be!
Before you wonder how on earth, in the sheer improbability of such a possibility, Meera, of all the people, could have played a role in either Sunil Gavaskar or Gundappa Viswanath padding up in Lahore to face the menacing Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Nawaz, there rests a tale!
The cricket series had been sponsored by the famous Indian Tobacco Company (ITC), known the world over for its many cigarette brands. In conjunction with Sportsweek, perhaps the most famous of sports magazines in the country then, under editor Khalid Ansari, they launched a cricket quiz named, ‘Howzatt Cricket Quiz’.
Participants had to collect ten cigarette packs of the ITC brand, answer a few basic questions on cricket, pen a catchy slogan relating to the then fledgling concept of instant cricket and mail them to the company along with the entry form.
I hurried to Sundaram provision store in Vontikoppal, where Amma would always buy the meagre household provisions. I was on a mission. Not to buy rice or dal or soap but to somehow collect the ten mandatory packs of cigarettes, mercifully in their empty state. I had decided to participate in the cricket quiz.
“Sir,” I began hesitatingly. “Could you please help me with ten cigarette packs?”
Before the shop keeper could begin to see red in the rather strange and potentially damaging desire of a young boy barely in his teens in the conservative Mysore of the 1970’s for an item that bespoke an unholy pleasure, and that too in multiple packs, I blurted to him that I needed them only in their empty form to fulfill the requirement to participate in a cricket quiz sponsored by ITC.
The shop keeper, who obviously knew Amma, laughed and said, “In that case, why ten, take twenty!”
And so it was that two sets of forms came to be filled. One in my name and one in Meera’s. All the questions were duly answered, two different slogans were thought of, the cigarette packs were put in place in a big envelope and the post was on its way!
As for the slogans, unfortunately, their recollections are lost in the mists of time, although I vaguely remember writing something of a line which said, ‘Instant cricket is the embodiment of……’, the word embodiment, obviously coming to mind from the many spiritual sessions that I had been part of at the Vidyashala!
This was in September 1978.
The cricket series ended, so did the career of the great Gundappa Vishwanath, and there was no sign of any result of the quiz. Not that I expected to win.
As the days went by with their usual uneventfulness in our lives, Dwarakanath of the famous Srinivasa Stores at K.R. Circle, a wholesaler of ITC products, where even the renowned novelist R.K. Narayan shopped for some of his essentials, came calling.
He had some news to give us.
And the news he gave us was the equivalent of a tortoise outrunning a cheetah; of a lame man winning the Olympic gold in the 100 metre dash!
Both Meera and I had won prizes in the cricket quiz!
In July 1979, when the official letter did arrive from the ITC group duly type written on its letter head, we rubbed our eyes in disbelief; in a state of extreme astounded incredulity; in the throes of amazed joyousness.
To read the news that Meera, who incidentally had simply lent her name to the quiz with me having done all the hard work of filling up the form, not to forget doing the round of the provision store in desperate search of those vital cigarette packs, had won the grand prize of ten thousand rupees!
Also, I had won two thousand!
There were two options offered by the company. Either we could accept the cash or in Meera’s case, an Enfield Bullet 350 Standard Motorcycle.
As for me, they offered the cash or a quartz watch in lieu of it.
The leafy streets of Mysore never ever saw the amusing sight of Meera zooming around on a Bullet motorbike nor did anyone see me check time on a gleaming quartz watch then.
Cash it was, thank you!
Post script: Quite unbelievably, it was the very same twelve-thousand rupees that went into the financial corpus of Meera’s marriage. That my sister promptly sent back that amount in dollar form after her departure to the United
States is a testimony to her sweetness!
As I sit back today and muse on the serendipitous happening that changed to a large extent the family’s lot, my mind travels back to the time when Swami Jagadatmanandaji, in his book, Badukali Kaliyari, written in 1979, even made a mention of the incident!
Making a reference to a student who had unwaveringly, patiently and intently focussed on the sports page of the newspaper from the back for long, while the swamiji himself, spreading the newspaper in front of him, read the preceding pages which contained other news of varied kinds, he went on to say that any act done with single mindedness and sincerity went a long way in helping achieve the goals of young minds!
Mercifully, in my case, it surely did help. The twelve thousand rupees that came into my family’s kitty was indeed, Manna from heaven!
As told to SUNAAD RAGHURAM
(This article appears in Prabuddha Chetana, a forthcoming souvenir on Kyatasandra Jagannath, an illustrious headmaster of the Ramakrishna Vidyashala and a legendary mathematics teacher. The book will be released on April 8 by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice M.N. Venkatachalliah)