Pleasant Summers

India lives on farmers and middle-class runs it, thou no one gives a damn to both of them. Middle class values, often considered as gaucherie and mocked upon by haut monde, who consider themselves way above the rest.

However, this middle class sends the maximum number of engineers, doctors and civil servants, who literally run the country. I come from the same fragile yet strong middle class. This is from the chapter of my life, which was full of struggles yet was pleasant. I am sure, many, with middle class small town roots, can relate to it. 

Shivsagar, a newly built colony during the decade of 1990s, built over the dampened barren land, primarily occupied by water and water hyacinth, a plant with expansionist's mindset, which occupies every inch possible, once get itself rooted in a water body. The colony was built by explicitly filling up sands brought from outside. Situated in the northern part of Bihar, city named Darbhanga, the administration of which is located in its twin suburb, Laherisarai, Shivsagar is an extention of Laherisarai. More towards the  south Eastern edge of the town. Bad roads and sewers lousily built, hardly any trees, and those days lots and lots of open spaces mostly on the Eastern side, means, free fresh air coming from far east villages. Most of the open spaces  were filled up with water, mixed of sewer and rain and occupied by the obnoxious hyacinth family, giving it the texture of different shades of greens .

Late 1990s, the colony has started filling up with young families. We were one of them. The large section of the inhabitants of the colony was formed by teenagers. The colony was also dominated by middle class and mostly upper caste. Thou, I am not a casteist, but there is a reason to mention it here. 

The upper caste families are often obsessed with their kids getting into IITs or medical entrances. Mostly due to reservations curtailing the number of seats for merit, the competion for premier colleges of India are even tougher for these unreserved categories. So, as most of the upper caste, middle class people are, this entire colony was possessed by IIT or medical obsessions. There were competitions within the parents too, and I have witnessed some parents breaking down for their kids not getting selected. Thou I felt, the pain was more due to someone else's kid got selected.

I too was one of those aspirants, but there were more fanatically involved souls. The obsession of the competitive examination was such high, that everyone was nonchalant about anything except studies. 

There were living calendars of competitive exam dates, living question banks, living information brochures of almost all the related courses and thou GPS was not yet developed, there were living GPS' who knew about the location of each and every colleges, of worth, across the country. You won't believe these were the topics of 10-15 minutes of get together of that colony used to have in the evening. 

Luckily, my parents, thou were well wishers, were not as fanatically obsessed by the bookworm methods of studying. In fact, by then I had my father's permission to play cricket in local clubs, which I got obsessed with, post matriculation. His only demand was to return home on time and not let the studies suffer. 

Hence, I was the only "student" from the colony, where sports was a sin for students, who played sports seriously, and remained the only one to play for a sports career (which eventually never happened) , till I left the place. My father once jokingly shared an instance, where one of our neighbors, complained to him, about me going to somewhere with cricket kit, that too during afternoon, the second most auspicious period to study. He may have considered my father an irresponsible guardian, when my father replied that he knew it and himself has given permission for it. I wonder, if my neighbor would have committed suicide, if he knew it costed money too, that too weekly.

However, not all were as fanatic. I can credit myself to take out a lot of sportsmen from the sport dead colony, too obsessed with books. 

The bookworms were excellent in many sports. Football, Badminton, Cricket and make-shift hockey and table tennis, we played during the leisure. Chess and multimedia games were also the other obsessions.

The revered and the coveted
India, we have winters as cricket season, which starts as late as in October in our part and ends around March or April. The end of district leagues mark the end of the season. However the obsession for the sport continues around the year. Post April, when the district leagues are over and days are longer and evenings are hot, I utilised to study, mostly to stay ahead of the syllabus, so that I can play next season. 

Like me, the engineers and doctors of future also used to utilise their afternoons on their study tables during summers. The future IAS have same routine throughout the year thou. 

Summers are really hot in this part of the world, which means the damp spaces slowly dries up and become walkable. Thou the hyacinth stays in dried form, sucking whatever it can from the land and maintain the dampness. The land below remains dark and blackish.

Once I and few friend agreed to use these dried open spaces to create a simple cricket pitch for practice during off season. But we required intensive labour, that too free, to dethrone the colonial plants and takeover the land. After an hour or so, we understood one thing, labour should never be cheap, forget being free.

Just before we were about to give up, we were overwhelmed to see the bookworm volunteers turning up for help. It was like they were waiting for us to collapse. Anyway, with the collective effort of all ov us, the twenty two yards were cleaned up, patted and left open for sun to do the rest.

As soon the pitch dried a bit, the most loved sport of the country, in tennis ball form started. It started with 8/10 overs and as the time progressed, innings cricket became popular.

The quality, the competitiveness, the zeal and enthusiasm were nothing short of competitive sport. The newly built houses, especially double and tripple storeys, worked as stands, often filled with spectators, mostly kins of us or study obsessed parents. The ground, during the full moon looked like a real cricket ground, with white strip of pitch shining and dark dead water plants covering the rest.

The bunch of bookworms had great swing bowlers, excellent slip fielders and needless to say great batsmen. 

Sticky Game
Cricket was only possible till the rains arrived. Once the heaven opens up, the open unoccupied lands were filled up by rain water, it never dried until next summer.

But now the bookworms have already tasted the goodness of sports and they craved for it more than ever. If not cricket what team sport can satiate the craving? 

A shorter version of hockey was a makeshift adjustment for entertainment during the evenings, post rain and pre cricket season. We used the hard and heavy plastic balls. Hockey sticks were too costly for the makeshift arrangements, hence we used bamboo or other wooden sticks. Believe me, it was hell of an entertainment, which has its own set of spectators too. The venue for this sport was a nearby filled up plot, which belongs to an aged contractor. The 2500 sqft plot was enough for this short version.

The foot soldiers
During monsoon, hockey in the evenings were irregular, then football, another popular game, which has its own charm, used to take over. When the world cup nears, and after the cable channels were introduced, the middle class used to get hit by the soccer fever.

The only problem with football was, the proper ground. Hockey can be makeshift, but football need plain and large ground. A school ground was identified and we got the early morning slot for it. Everyone has to put up the alarm, to reach the nearby football ground, just couple of kilometres away from our colony. Most of the future engineers learned how to lie a boss during that phase, they used to lie to their parents, else there was no way they were allowed to play during auspicious study time. .

Football fever, thou didn't lasted long. A fractured hand of one of our partner in crime, Kunal, alarmed the study obsessed parents, and we were pulled off the ground.

The feathers
Badminton, was organised with the help of friends from the adjacent old colony. However, this old colony, thou consist of silar upper caste, middle class families, our colony looked down upon them, because there were kids who enjoyed their lives.

These life enjoying students were the untouchables for our noble colony, which rated itself high in knowledge and studies. And hence, the sight of their own kids playing with them were unbearable for them. On their complaints, the badminton Court was shifted to old colony, where it was a hit. I personally hold a record of 8 consecutive wins in doubles, with my partner, an Oriya medical student, Devdutt Sambhal. The core studs never became part of it thou. Badminton outdoor is always dependent on weather and wind.

Chess and Media Games were other attractions of those summers. We lived a good teenage life, with small little struggles in a study friendly, study obsessed and sport hating environment. We succeeded to convert some of the parents to believe in sports too. We enjoyed, learned, cherished those summers. 

Those parents, were not completely wrong, by being tough on their kids over studies, most of us are having a better life, due to the studies. None of us made it to IITs thou, and I hope sports were not the reason. Some of us did made it to some of the great colleges.

I would like to believe, that the sports made us more open, more competitive, more adaptive, more successful in some ways. Those summers of late 1990s and early 2000s, are some of the memories, I'll cherish lifetime.


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