“Ladhkiyan cricket nahi khelti…” (Girls don’t play cricket!)

If you’ve heard a sexist statement such as above in your childhood, you ought to be born in India. I had a childhood full of sexist statements and eyes. I was reminded of being a girl when I played cricket with my residential-colony boys. My mother was looked down upon by other women, the proud gatekeepers of patriarchy, for letting me play a “boys’ sport”. One of them, I discreetly remember, made a call to my mother and puked venom on what and why she thinks I shouldn’t be allowed to be seen with boys, especially hers. And, oh, there were enough of such frustrated beings I’d rather not waste my brain cells and heartbeats on because this space belongs to a super soul who deserves every bit of those.

Without letting myself flow away with the nostalgia stemming from rotten ideologies, sexism, patriarchy and disgust (you don’t forget people who tried to choke your childhood 😊) any further, I’d just like to keep it straight, basically I allowed nothing to dictate the course of my life choices and hence, I ended up owning a cricket bat too. Yeah, girls weren’t supposed to ask for a cricket bat as a birthday gift in those days but as much as I remember, I have always come across as a surprise for my parents and they have chosen to resort to “Humne toh kabhi aisa koi bacha nahi dekha….” (We have never seen a child like you) in the times they haven’t been able to understand me.

So, I just didn’t play cricket, I also watched it with full vigour and enthusiasm. Those who know me, know my craze for cricket and how much I loved playing gully cricket with colony bhaiyas. I used to cry my lungs out if Team India lost any match, hated to see any other country win, picked up fights on being told that India is going to lose.

I don’t remember exactly when I developed my love for it but I know somewhere I had a crush on this cricketer who carried his raw good looks with utter simplicity, who didn’t smile often, who appeared to have a snobbish look due to his sincerity for the game and overall oozed with the vibes of a fine gentleman. I am proud of the fact that I could feel all of this about a man as classy as Rahul Dravid at such an early age on whom I not just had a crush in my teens but will have one for a lifetime.

I remember collecting posters, magazine cut-outs, personal info, his likes/dislikes, career statistics and possibly everything that I could. Whenever I visited PVR Priya, Vasant Vihar (quite frequently as it was nearby my place in New Delhi), I made sure I checked out on the new ‘Rahul Dravid’ stuff at the Archies store. Once I was gifted the only life-size Dravid poster by my brother and it was enough to ignite the eternity-like excitement in me. I think that was the real charm of the 90s – to put our heart into smallest of things and find happiness in simple nothings.

I was teased when Rahul Dravid scored a duck. I was teased when he was selected because my colony friends believed all he will do is slow down the game and score a duck and I was teased when he didn’t make it to the team because he would’ve anyway made a duck. This was when Rahul wasn’t in his elements, just before he cemented his place in Team India in late 90s.

It was also the time I wrote a letter to him. : ) Yes, I wrote a letter to Rahul Dravid when he was dropped from the team in 90s. I was heartbroken because I couldn’t see him often. There was no social media then and Television was the only source to have a glimpse of your favourite personalities. But my disappointment wasn’t just limited to that selfish reason. My concern extended to his career not taking off. I remember writing my heart out in it and asking him to keep patience. I expressed my feelings and claimed that one day he will be back in Team India and the world will notice. Today, I feel so good about having written those words to him simply because they conveyed my true feelings to a man I was so fond of, a man who’d turn a cricketing legend one day.

Of course there’s a huge possibility that my letter never reached him because it was addressed to Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore (now, Bengaluru). Those days, it was extremely tough to reach out to celebs, idols but I somehow found the stadium address in a magazine as a reply to one of the queries in the Q & A section. Yeah, crushing on a celeb was a lot of hard work then. : (

Continuing on the crush bit, oh, I have adored Rahul Dravid for shaping himself not just into an incredible, relentless cricketer but also having become one due to his inner qualities of perseverance, focus, commitment and passion. He is that school-sweetheart kinds who promises to grow old with you. He’s the kind who would have your face rest on his shoulder and let the sun set. He’s a man who thrives on principles and takes pride in the level of his commitment. He belongs to the rarest of rare species of legends who are okay not being recognized as one, who stands in a regular queue to vote or for his children as just another parent. He’s the kind you won’t find easily anymore.

Rahul Dravid doesn’t come from an era where people google-checked his words. They know if he’s saying it then it must be right. He has earned such immense respect because he gave that kind of respect to the game in first place.

My sports-journalist-friend Nitin Naik is a great weaver of words and I love reading his posts. On Dravid he writes today, “The best tribute, although a grudging one to him, was paid by Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar. He had once said, “I did not mind being carted around by Sehwag or Sachin because I knew at least I had a chance to get them out if they play a false shot. But it used to drive me mad when I came running in from 50 yards and Dravid just left the ball.”

Hear my words – Ladhkiyan cricket khelti bhi hain aur cricket ke legends ko dekhti bhi hain, unse seekti bhi hain… (Girls not just play cricket, they also see and observe the legends of the game.) I mean, Rahul Dravid and my love for cricket took me to my first two media jobs as a sports desk journalist in Times of India and NDTV that further laid the foundation of my career.

And, in 11 years of my media career, by God’s grace, I have met some of the most renowned celebs, leaders from almost all walks of life and interviewed them but I haven’t really met Rahul. I let go of a chance in 2010 when I decided to just watch him because it was the first time I was seeing him in person up and close.

Some day I will meet him, inshah allah, share my soul story, hear some of his and I cannot wait for that moment.

For me, Rahul Dravid is not a name. It’s like that teen feeling you don’t have an explanation for. A feeling that happens just once in a teenage life and stays afresh for the rest of it.

Pic courtesy: WallpaperBasti

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