From Hyderabad, India: I cannot forget my memories growing up as a young boy playing ball in the neighborhood below a concrete bridge, Lakdi Ka Pul in Hyderabad, named after its wooden antecedent. The ball, initially, was bouncy rubber. The parents, in the multireligious, multicaste neighborhood, did not want the children to be injured. The bat was flat with a long handle and the clothes were shorts and shirts until we could grow up into pants. The game we played was cricket, as Indian as it was also colonial and British, its geopolitics rendered on the screen so well in an Amir Khan movie some years ago called Lagaan.
After leaving India permanently when I was 21, at 43 I am now back in the same city for a period longer than I visited in the past 22 years, to experience the theme of Lagaan being played out in every state capital and in New Delhi. India, independent since 1947 but more closed than open, is re-learning to play the game of learning to live better.
Cricket since I was a student in secondary school has changed. Patience has yielded to instant gratification. It is now played more during the night as much as it is during the day. There is more money in the game and in the country. The ball is now made of cork. Soft and hard. The parents want to take some risk with their kids. And the clothes, no longer the all whites with the spiked white shoes and cricket sweaters, but as multicolored as India.
In sports when rules are sacrosanct, skill and attitude makes the difference between winning and losing in front of spectators who are their cognoscenti, no matter which side you are on. Elitism derives from this orthodoxy of fair play.
As the ball gets harder and of professional grade, cork wound by rope and in a sewn leather cover, colored differently from the traditional red for days and nights together with the apparel, and the bat made of willow, a sport that originated in the collegial elegance of aristocratic women, turns into the black and white affair of baseball played by inelegant common men in hard headgear. The rules are played to the extent they can placate the social sentiments of the locals where cricket is played on earth.
The oak aged wine of the art of the game gives way clumsily to the reactive satisfaction of the crowds unschooled in the nuances of play, invoking nostalgia for the game of the Lords in whites, willows and reds.