I remember Babuloo like it was yesterday. I met him a few years ago and he had become a bit shy, introduced me to his children and I was happy to meet them. He has a decent job but could he play!
Babuloo lived in Angada Basti with many others who like him, had been dealt a rather meagre hand by life. Unlike them he wanted to play cricket. And he could play.
Sayamma lived there too. She worked in our house and having married early had a daughter who soon grew to have children of her own while Sayamma wasn’t through with producing hers. One of her grandchildren was older than his uncle but that wasn’t unknown in those parts. Sayamma’s daughter was called Lakshmi, so was her goat, and that wasn’t unknown either. Every morning she mixed the freely available cow dung with water in an old bucket and sprayed it outside her house. It formed a hard enough crust. Sometimes she did it outside our house as well.
A few yards away lived Suramma, who sold us vegetables and a little further away was Shukkur miya who sold cheap boiled sweets and occasionally eggs. In the Diwali season, he stored a few crackers and when we got the odd rupee we could buy quite a few from him. In the centre of this collection of huts was the village tap. It was underneath a tamarind tree and that meant people could chew on the leaves while they waited for their odd collection of utensils to get filled. Mallayya came there too. He was the local milkman and he told my neighbour, and this is completely true, that he was late with the milk because the tap had run dry.
It was such an area that Babuloo lived in. His family was better off than anyone else’s because they had a few buffaloes, had two rooms to their house, the roof seemed more stable and he went to school. Or so he claimed because I suspect he spent more time watching cricket and hanging around a ground hoping he could get to play a bit. He went to Mahboob College, once a proud school that produced a lot of cricketers but which was by then a pretty rundown place.
Babuloo, his real name was Madhusudhan, sometimes came and played cricket with us. He hit the ball hard and he could bowl quite quick. If you didn’t have pads, gloves or an abdomen guard and played on pretty rough surfaces, anybody would look quick. A couple of times we, children of university teachers who lived on the campus, would play matches against Angada Basti. Forget the fact that it was a mismatch, it wasn’t even fair.
Babuloo would organise a collection of kids, only a couple of whom could swing a bat and hope to connect. And we, in our stupidity, flogged the ball around for that was the only time we could score runs with certainty. Babuloo had to get all his wickets bowled for there were no lbws; if a cork ball hit you on the shin or knee you were gone anyway! And he seemed genuinely disappointed if catches were dropped. “Yemiti Mallesha (what is this, Mallesha)” he would say in Telugu as if he expected Mallesha to hold a catch. Mallesha and Gopal and Pandu were little kids whose shorts we recognised as having worn ourselves at some time and which they would struggle to hold up. When your hands are sometimes being used to prevent your shorts from dropping to the ankles, it is very difficult to hold a catch.
But Babuloo kept trying, bowling every alternate over and scoring ninety percent of the runs that his Angada Basti made. Often the batsman had the only bat, the non-striker held something that might once have resembled another. If they got a single, they walked down and exchanged what they held. That didn’t happen too often.
I sometimes wonder if Babuloo could have played much more cricket if he had the opportunities. He was certainly much better than us and while we weren’t strutting around with fancy equipment either (my first bat cost fourteen rupees and it was a beauty!), he made better use of what he had.
I don’t know where he went because as I went into high school and college, from shorts to trousers, from cork balls to proper leather ones, from a patch of ground that served as a pitch to a matting wicket, from my little bat to a Vijay Manjrekar Super, I never saw him. Then last year, twenty five years later, I went back to take a look at Angada Basti. It was like a little jungle and Babuloo’s house was unrecognisable. He didn’t live there anymore.
I stopped there a moment, thought of Mallesha, Gopal and Pandu and wondered if Babuloo still thought of cricket.