Cricket, Radio and Music
As was our habit we were having our dinner listening to the nine o’clock English news. DeMellow was giving the headlines which ended with ‘There was a huge fire in Singapore. And Australia retained the Ashes.’That was De Mellow with the tongue in cheek attitude as usual and did we enjoy it and a good laugh over it!!!
The English team and the Australian Team while visiting each other used to come ashore in India and play three or four tests when their ships docked either in Bombay or Ceylon -- today’s Sri Lanka.
I was introduced to cricket by my elder brother when I was fourteen or fifteen. He was interested in the game and he also played the game with his friends, as a pastime. He was also interested in following the tests played between the world teams, and in knowing the final scores of the day. When he started working it fell on my shoulders to get the final scores of the day’s play, be it in England or Australia.
Poor me, unlike today’s children, or should I say toddlers, I had no idea how cricket was spelt or played. Since I held my brother in so much awe and respect he being elder to me by eleven years, I diligently listened to the final score of the day’s play read out at the end of the news and noted down the same for him. A ‘thank you’ from him meant a lot to me and my brother in his turn did a lot for me. He introduced me to Rider Haggard, Sir Walter Scott, Marie Corelli and Thomas Hardy and created the reading interest in me and discussed with me all the topical news, even if it was from the yellow press. We are friends even today.
When I came to Delhi after my marriage, I found not only my husband but his brother who shared our flat for seven-odd years and their whole circle of friends mad about cricket. They talked cricket, they breathed cricket and I am sure they dreamt cricket. My husband, that is Babuji, even started a cricket club in the Ministry of Home Affairs where he worked from 1940 till the day he retired. These people never missed a Test played in the Feroze Shah Kotla grounds.
Having no radio at home was a big handicap to Babuji. He was unable to afford one in the first two years of our marriage. To tell the truth we never missed one. Babuji depended on his friends who had radios to know the day’s score and for the detailed news there were newspapers. We, our group of friends, were a very happy-go-lucky type and never worried or brooded about what we didn’t have or could not afford. Our main entertainment was the cinema and a picture a week was a must for us. We never depended on public transport or the tongas. The men folk sat their wives either on the pillion or the front rod of their cycles and cycled to wherever we went. That was the way we visited Qutb Minar and many other places.
One shocking incident made us feel the absence of a radio at home and that was the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. That day, January 30, 1948 Babuji cycled to office as usual but came back home at about 3p.m. with a splitting headache. I gave him a painkiller with a cup of hot coffee, which he had gratefully and took to bed to sleep off the headache. After cooking the evening meal and feeding my eighteen month old daughter, Raji, I lay down with her and we too went to sleep. I was carrying my second baby, Bala, and I was naturally tired. Unlike some lucky women who breezed through their pregnancies, mine were always tiresome from the beginning, so any chance to have a shut-eye was very welcome to me.
Well I got up about 8p.m., and Babuji was still resting. We decided to wait for his brother to have dinner. He was late in coming home and we started worrying. Anyway he came home by 10 o’ clock howling, crying and weeping all at the same time and told us that some mad man had shot at Gandhi when he was going for his daily prayer meeting at 5 p.m. and killed him. We were shocked. The whole world was agog with the news in half an hour and we both were the only exceptions.
That day Babuji very much felt the absence of a radio at home and he very much wanted to get one. But our financial position was not all that encouraging with the monthly remittance to his parents and another child on the way. So we waited for his next promotion which came by the end of 1950.
So, on a Sunday evening -- 31st December -- Babuji announced that he was ready to get that long awaited radio and took us all to Connaught Place. I did not understand him. With only a rupee and 12 annas in the purse, how could anyone buy a radio? That amount was just enough for our bus fare and either coffee for us or cool drinks for the kids. I did not raise my doubts and decided to watch how one could buy a radio with just a khali purse.
We went straight to the well-known shop for radios and started looking around. There were many types--- all foreign makes naturally-- priced from rupees two hundred onwards. We both fell for the costliest radio there: an English make Pye encased in off-white and brown. It was lovely. It was priced at rupees five hundred and odd. Babuji said that was the one we would have and went to the shop owner to have a chat while I waited with the children outside.
After some time Babuji came and told me that we were taking the radio home and he had to pay for it in installments as and when possible. No signed papers, nothing. Such trust in people which is a rare commodity in today’s world!!
So that radio we had been wanting and waiting for was at last at our home. Babuji put one condition for me before inaugurating the radio. That was when ever the Ragam Kapi was played over the radio, whether Carnatic or Hindustani classical or light, filmy or instrumental music, he should get a cup of coffee whether night or day. He had such a weakness for coffee. I took the challenge in the right spirit and produced that cup of coffee for him whenever the Ragam Kapi was aired: I never let myself down.
There was and still is music in my life ever since the radio became a part of our household. Babuji is not there and the radio is also not there but all the Carnatic classical music Babuji had taped in those days is still with me and even after twenty years of Babuji-less life those tapes keep me company every day.