The Son ExtraOrdinaire

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Sports  |  House: Booksie Classic
The coach of a local cricket team feels delighted to have at his disposal a prodigal talent. But, there are other reasons behind this strong attachment. However, in a span of a week, things turn sour

Submitted: October 19, 2016

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Submitted: October 19, 2016

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Clad in a milky white trouser, a matching half-sleeve shirt, sporting an unshaven beard which is bordering on turning prematurely white, wearing a spectacle having thick-lenses , Someshwar ,a lean man of medium height having a long face, sitting on a chair, casts a pensive glance at the make-shift scoreboard placed at a distance, 30 degrees to his left. The 2 short men busy changing the numbers in the scoreboard  aren't painting a bright picture for him to see. Being pitted against a rival cricket club Laboni Boys',  in a final match whose winner will be crowned the Champions of the Annual Salt Lake Twenty-Twenty Cricket Mela, EC Cricket Champs, the team coached by him, is staring at a hope-smashing defeat on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Having put Laboni Boys in to bat first in a wicket on which they thought the ball would seam in the initial half an hour, Someshwar had to watch the horrible sight of his bowlers getting smashed all around the medium-sized cricket ground situated in the middle of the sports park named Central Salt Lake Krira Udyan. Right now, while chasing a formidable target of 187 runs, which has to be scored within 20 overs, he feels furious on seeing his team lose its way at a critical juncture in its reply. Having started their innings on a roll, courtesy the staggering stroke play from the blades of his team's opener Prabir, whom coach Someshwar refers in private as 'The Biggest Champ among EC Cricket Champs' -- a signature expression of Someshwar which reveals the special place the prodigal Prabir has in his heart , his team has lost 4 quick wickets between overs 10th and 12th, a mishap which has put the Laboni Boys'  in the driving seat in this all-important final.

All-important it indeed is, at least for Someshwar. The 40-year old Someshwar had dreams of becoming a professional cricketer in his teens. That's nothing unusual for a young starry-eyed adolescent boy growing up in India of the 80s, a time when legends like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev lorded over the Indian cricket landscape and virtually had copyrights on the fantasies of teenagers like Someshwar. But, in Someshwar's case, that dream had got  translated rapidly into life-defining resolution, thanks to his own prowess with the cricket bat in hand. Geared with his own ability as an aggressive yet dependable opening batsman, Someshwar dived deeper and deeper into the ocean of cricket. Practise was followed by more practise, long hours spent at the net were followed by even longer duration of hard work dedicated to perfecting the art of batting. He forsook his studies for the sake of playing cricket, a brave call to make for someone like him who belonged to the lower middle class section of Bengali society during the communist-ruled 80s and 90s. That he was an orphan, growing up in his uncle's house, helped though. His uncle Kartik and aunt Kamala, themselves parents of 2 and perennially bothered over stretched family resources,  couldn't care any less about Someshwar's future. They had left Someshwar to the whims of fate. For them , Someshwar was a piece of wood floating lonely on the muddy waters of life. Life's own course was to determine Someshwar's destination. But, Someshwar, without confiding to them, because of their not-so-hidden indifference towards him, had chosen his destination -- The Indian National Cricket Team. The India Cap, which every cricketer earns on making his debut for the Indian National Cricket team, which is blue in colour and has the Board of Control for Cricket in India's logo at the centre in the front, was an object of hypnotic lust for him. That cap also has a number emblazoned on its sides. If a cricketer's India Cap has the number 200, it means he is the 200th cricketer to wear this special cap which also means he si the 200th cricketer to make a debut for the Indian National Cricket Team. Someshwar wanted THAT number, more than anything else in this world.  He was fixated to making it big as a cricketer and inscribing his name in golden letters in the history-book of Indian cricket. While the cricket world pondered over who will replace Sunil Gavaskar post his retirement in 1986, his tender mind knew the answer-- Someshwar Ghosh.

He had made a promising start too. After leaving his uncle's home in BarrackPore,which is located about 30 kms away from Kolkata, he shared a room with an elder player named Rashid in Kasba area of Kolkata. He joined the coaching classes of Ramchandra Banik,a Cricket coach whose nickname in the Calcutta Maidan was 'Mr.Hitler' ,earned because of his hard taskmaster style of teaching cricket to teen-aged wannabe Gavaskars. As the most promising colt in the Cricket stable of Ramchandra Banik, Someshwar had blazed through the various under-age state-level cricket tournaments. His consistent run-scoring, accompanied by his penchant for tearing apart bowling attacks, which not only was good-value entertainment but was also a refreshing departure from the dominant Gavaskar-inspired defensive style of batting in vogue throughout the country, made people higher up in the cricket hierarchy take notice. Murmurs of him being Bengal Cricket's 'Special Boy' were increasingly heard in different corners of the Maidan. Soon, at the age of 18, Someshwar was picked up by Mohan Bagan Cricket Club, a heavyweight in the domestic cricket set-up of Bengal, to represent them. That day, the local newspapers had run special stories on how the Maidan was reposing it's faith on the prodigy named Someshwar Ghosh. Someshwar, though, had remained unfazed by that increasing adulation. His target was clear -- THE INDIAN NATIONAL CRICKET TEAM. Nothing less would have done.

Alas, fate didn't reserve anything more for him.

50 runs are required in 5 overs with 4 wickets left -- that's what the scoreboard reads. Someshwar looks behind towards his players. Most of them are seated on a mat, right under the blazing sun, while Ranjib, the next batsman, a medium-to-tall lanky fellow, is standing beside, shadow practicing with full concentration.  Someshwar, though, is quick to cast his glance back at where all the action lay, i.e.,on  the 22-yeards long pitch. He knows hope doesn't lay on his backside, rather on his front -- on Prabir who is still batting and batting very very well. No matter how high his other players score in terms of sincerity, passion for the game and zeal to learn it, Someshwar knows they just don't possess the talent which God has endowed Prabir with. This 15-year-old shortish kid having roundish face,medium-to-fair complexion, big teeth and even bigger eyes has special powers when it comes to wielding the willow -- Someshwar, a man whose life has been dedicated to the sport of cricket can't mistake that.  Ahh! the tender twist he gives to his wrist to glance the ball past leg gully. Ahh! That lightning quick shift of his weight behind the crease to square cut the ball past point. Again,on the very next ball, if pitched up, he doesn't falter in first, middling it and then, with an effortless push towards his front, sending the ball racing to the fence through the gaps between fielders. AND THAT STRAIGHT DRIVE!! Pure Tendulkar !! That minimum backlift, that straight offering of the bat's face,  that lightest of punches and off it goes --to the fence, as straight as an arrow. Uff!! Terrific!! Spectacular!! Incredible!! Someshwar just loves him; loves him to no end. Hence, the knowledge, embedded deep into Someshwar's psyche by now, that if EC Cricket Champs has to be the Champions today, Prabir has to be the man to win it. Yet, Someshwar feels a bit of unease when he looks at Prabir from a distance. Hope hasn't been his most trustworthy friend in  life. It has only proven to be a deception, a harbinger of heartbreak. Is Prabir's talent too a mirage? Someshwar knows the next 5 overs would provide some hints towards a definite answer.  That's why this match is all-important for him. It's not about the trophy even if it will  be the first trophy won by Someshwar as coach. It's about the question, is he, the wonder kid on whom Maidan once reposed its faith, right in reposing his own faith in this little teenager, "The Biggest Champ among EC Cricket Champs"?

The next 2 overs sees EC Cricket Champs lose 2 more wickets. Ranjib got bowled in the very first ball he faced. They still need 40 runs. Hope is quickly fading away, but this maybe true for the entire team but not for coach Someshwar. He still believes in his special pupil Prabir. Yet, the sense of unease, born out of a lingering lack of faith in fortune, doesn't leave him. Sensing this, Someshwar's friend Pinaki Ghoshal, another spectacle-wearing man having a square face, sporting a sizeable paunch, wearing a grey shirt and a loose blue jeans, who was standing to Someshwar's right near the boundary ropes, creeps towards him and asks, 'What happened, coach? Are you too losing hope?'. Someshwar, eyes fixed on Prabir, slowly moves his head in disagreement.
----
Prabir, meanwhile, standing on the batting end of the wicket , scouts the field with  the eyes of a hunter. What Someshwar knows, he knows too. That on his slender shoulders rests the fate of this important match. Important it is, for Prabir too. In spite of being not much aware of Someshwar's past life, except that he was once a very promising young opening batsman and that he has a son named Siddharth whom he loves very much,  the MS Dhoni-aficionado Prabir has seen the same dream which his coach Someshwar had seen all those years ago, i.e, to make the cricket bat his chosen friend in life. Those 22-yards is the only distance he wants to cover, the boundary ropes are the only constraints he wants to clear, the sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot of his bat the only music he wants to hear, the Indian National Cricket Team the only place he yearns for. And he knows he has ability-- loads of it. Yet, today offers to him challenges he has seldom faced before. First, there is the challenge of proving that he is a big-match player because this is the first meaningful final he is participating in. Then, there is the challenge of grabbing an opportunity. In the opponent team Laboni Boys', there is a player named Subham who is a close friend of the son of a Selector of the Ranji Cricket Team of Bengal. Ever since he heard of this , Prabir hasn't been able to disassociate himself fully from the realm of possibilities that Subham's propitious presence might portend. What if, Prabir thought frequently, he plays a heroic innings and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat! Would Shubham be impressed enough to talk about him in the presence of his esteemed friend, the son of a Selector of the Ranji Cricket Team of Bengal? Would that son then be impressed enough and generous enough to talk about him to his father -- the selector of the Bengal Ranji team? How many 15-year old budding batsmen can claim that a selector of the Bengal Ranji team knows his name!! Possibilities, they are just too hot to handle! Who knows when the doors of fortune hear those magic words, uttered by the thieves in the Arabian tale of "Ali Baba and 40 Thieves" 'Khul ja Sim Sim',  and decide to obey ? It isn't just the title of the Champions of the Annual Salt Lake Cricket Mela which is up for stake here. A life, it's trajectory maybe too.

But, that's for the future. The last, which in fact, is the present challenge for Prabir is to score the 40 runs in 3 overs. That's gettable in a not-so-big ground like this one against a bowling attack bound to tire under the impact of the heat. 3-4 sixes and 2-3 boundaries would do the job. The real concern is the inability of his teammates. Already, 8 wickets are down and there are just 2 wickets in hand, both of the remaining batsman are tailenders with no ability in the batting aspect of the game. One of them Dipankar, a wannabe Shoaib Akhtar who has similar long-hairs and bulky biceps, has just made his way to the crease and the first thing he told Prabir in the middle was that tickets for Salman Khan's latest blockbuster Sultan is available in Inox City Centre, a multiplex cinema hall located inside City Centre -- the favourite go-to spot of young men and women in Salt Lake . Prabir knows Dipankar and the last batsman Tapan are just 1-ball guests. He not only has to score all the runs needed by himself, he has to do that by shielding DIpankar and Tapan. The more he thinks of this, the more he curses the other batsmen in his team for throwing their wicket away as nonchalantly as sons of billionaires throw their money around. They just don't care, he rages.

What complicates the already tough equation is the decision of the captain of the opponent team Ranjan, a tall, fair chap with a chiseled body, to not hold back the ace up his sleeve till the last. It seems to Prabir that Ranjan is in a hurry to finish the game. Otherwise, why would he ask his main strike bowler Pradipta, who is as tall as Ranjan but not as athletic,  to bowl the last over of his allowed quota of 4, right now? Normal calculation suggests that Pradipta would have bowled the last over. That would have given Prabir 2 overs to repair the damage before going for the ultimate one-vs-one showdown to the finish with Pradipta, one of the best bowlers that he has faced till now and who troubled him a lot in the initial phases of this innings beside accounting for the mini-collapse in the middle stage of their innings. But, the unforeseen calling of Pradipta by Ranjan changes the complexion suddenly. Now, instead of repairing the damage, Prabir has to ensure that Pradipta doesn't cause more trouble. Who said cricket is just a game of the bat hitting the ball! Rarely is a player's reading of the game tested more in any other sports! This move by Ranjan will not only test Prabir's batting ability, but also his cricketing intelligence. Another test before the doors of fortune respond to 'Khul ja Sim  Sim'.

Pinaki turns his concerned face towards Someshwar . 'Someshwar, if this guy gets Prabir's wicket, the match will end in this over itself.'  Someshwar, while taking hold of a water bottle kept below the chair, rebuts Pinaki's concern. 'Prabir is smart. He wont do anything foolish. Who else is left for them to bowl the final 2 overs? Prabir knows if he sees off this over, the match is his to win.' His lips may have uttered those words of comfort steadily, but, inside, his heart kept on pounding at a frenetic pace. He feels powerless, all he can do is to clutch onto the fragile strands of hope. Pinaki, one of the rare friends Someshwar had made on the cricket ground, who doesn't lack faith in Someshwar's reading of the game, remains unconvinced, though. He doubts whether Prabir can think so calmly and clearly in this torturous July heat.

Prabir forms his strategy, which is, safety first. He will see through this over from the threatening Pradipta, then feast upon the lesser bowlers in the last 2 overs. Pradipta, dressed in his team's whites, runs in to bowl. Prabir defends the first 3 balls of the over. 40 runs are still needed, now off 15 balls. Self doubts appear inside Prabir's mind. He is unsure of his strategy. Is he right in seeing off Pradipta or is he committing THE cardinal mistake in Twenty Twenty cricket of wasting balls? Prabir looks towards his team lodged just outside the boundary ropes. He seeks validation of his strategy from them. But, what he sees doesn't warm his heart. Among his teammates, all dressed in white shirts and trousers with matching sport shoes,there is Sukanta, his opening partner, with his fingers pointing loosely at the centre of the field, whispering something into the ears of Rabi, a middle-order batsman. Immediately, Rabi lets out  a chuckle. Prabir can fathom very well what is said, that it is a damning taunt of his strategy. It's as if he can hear it himself; Sukanta telling Rabi that Prabir is afraid of Pradipta! Among the rest, some are busy seeing something in the screens of their phones, while others chat away nonchalantly. Only Ricky,captain of the team, is watching intently. 'Fuckers, bloody fuckers. Irresponsible, non-committed arses', Prabir's inside seems to scream out. Prabir turns a desperate glance towards coach Someshwar. What has happened to him? Prabir wonders. Someshwar looks as still as a statue! Such nervousness! Such inability to absorb pressure! Is this what his club EC Cricket Champs all about, then? A bunch of careless fuckers, coached by a man having no nerves? How much Prabir wishes that Subham recommends his name to his friend -- the son of the Selector!

Prabir is afraid of Pradipta! So, that's what Sukanta and Rabi think? Huh? A wish of revenge engulfs Prabir.  He decides that he will smack Pradipta out of the ground . That should be enough to reassert his dominance both in the ground and within the team. Prabir, taking guard, grins while thinking about Sukanta's and Rabi's reaction when they see him hit Pradipta out of the ground. Classic egg-in-the-face! Ha Ha!
 
Pradipta rushes towards the bowling crease and releases the ball. Prabir has a wild swing at it. His eyes look at the sky hoping to see the red ball fly towards the white clouds and then descent slowly outside the boundary ropes, finally landing on Sukanta's head sending him collapsing into the ground!  Nothing is happening in the sky though. Actually, nothing came out of that ill-planned daredevilry. He has missed the ball by a huge margin. In his zeal to make Sukanta and Rabi look foolish, he himself acted idiotic. What's more, the instant he sees Pradipta stand in the middle of the crease at the top of his follow through, with his hands on his head and a frustrating smile adorning his face, Prabir knows that he was centimeters away from being bowled out. As if on instinct, he looks at his team. Most of his teammates have sprung to their feet, a few of them are mimicking Pradipta's hands-on-the-head reaction without the smile part of it. Most attention-grabbing though is the reaction of Someshwar. Prabir sees him leave his chair as if his bottom has made contact with a high-voltage electric wire, smash the water bottle into the ground and then go onto kick it out of his sight. Prabir realises the scale of the shock that his mindless attempt at heroism has caused in his coach. Next moment, Prabir sees Someshwar wave wildly at him and instruct him to keep calm through hand gestures. Prabir returns a thumbs-up sign signalling his comprehension of his coach's instructions. Someshwar returns to his seat. Prabir takes his guard again. Again, the strategy ought to be safety-first .

Fortunately, Pradipta, that ever accurate swing bowler, tries too much in the next ball. The Dale Steyn of Laboni, that's what he is called by his teammates, pitches the ball on the leg stump in the hope that it will swing back in and take out Prabir's off stump! Wow! Another attempt at heroism! Another failure! The ball doesn't swing in, rather disobeys the bowler, holds onto it's line and races straight to Prabir's left pad. Prabir laps up this unexpected gift. He gives his wrists that light twist, something that Someshwar loves, and glances the ball past the wicket keeper's left side and onto the boundary. 36 runs are now needed off 13 balls. More importantly, Prabir starts believing that runs can be scored against Pradipta.

Next ball, which is the last ball of the over, Pradipta attacks Prabir's off stump. But, Prabir , buoyed by the last boundary, plays it smart. He waits for the ball to come and then offers a cheeky late cut. The ball deflects towards the first slip position, where no one is fielding, just escapes the gloves of the diving wicket keeper and slowly trickles towards the boundary. 4 more runs scored with minimum risk taking. What's  more, Pradipta has overstepped! As a result of his folly,  one more run is added to the chase and Pradipta has to trudge back to his run up to deliver again.

Outside the field, Someshwar smiles proudly at Pinaki. Pinaki smiles back and says 'Well done Someshwar, you have not only taught this kid how to bat but also how to apply his mind! Great stuff that'.

Prabir cautiously drives Pradipta's last ball to long-on for a single.  Prabir has managed to prevent Pradipta from causing further damage. In fact, he has taken 10 runs off him! After joining fist pumps with Dibakar in the middle of the pitch during the break between overs, Prabir walks confidently towards the batting end. He can't wait to finish this game and walk up to see the face of dumb Sukanta and dumb Rabi.

While adjusting his gloves, he casts an accidental glance at that side of the ground which is opposite to the end where his team is seated. Just one man is standing beyond the boundary ropes, few metres to the left of the fielder stationed there by Ranjan. If he is just an anonymous passer-by who happens to station himself there temporarily out of his love for the game of cricket,then  Prabir could ignore him and focus on the job at hand. But, that man, in sky coloured shirt and grey pants, is Sukhomoy, a vastly experienced coach having won a record number of trophies in club-level tournaments played in the Maidan and who is the present coach of EC Cricket Champ's principal rival team FC Masters. Prabir sees Sukhomoy, a lean and fit man in spite of having turned white on his head, keeping a hawk-like focus on him. He knows that Sukhomoy is studying his every move. Sukhomoy always does. Prabir doesn't know why, but whenever he sees Sukhomoy, he seems to be noticing Prabir with a monkish concentration. Is he up to something? Prabir doesn't know because Sukhomoy never comes up to him and speak. Neither does he himself feel any push to speak to Sukhomoy. What's the need? Someshwar is doing a fine job coaching him. Ever since Someshwar became the coach of EC Cricket Champs, the improvement in Prabir's batting has been in geometric progression. Irrespective of this, the doubt lingers on in Prabir's mind. Why does Sukhomoy look at him so minutely?

After a lot of deliberation, involving long chats with the team's vice-captain, Ranjan hands over the mighty responsibility of bowling the 19th over, often the match deciding over in Twenty-Twenty Cricket, to spinner Bittu, a short guy having wavy hairs, stiff upper body and a lanky nether . The sight of a spinner coming to bowl this crucial over makes Prabir's tongue salivate in delight. Oh! Not many 15-year-olds can loft spinners beyond the boundary as effortlessly and as frequently as Prabir! He knows it, therefore feels a strong sense of certainty with regards to the fate of this game, that it will be in his favour. Prabir's teammates know it too, That's why Ricky, also the the lead spinner, Bittu's counterpart, in EC Cricket Champs, a fair-skinned, spectacled, thin fellow, can't stop himself from going up to Someshwar and giggle, 'Sir, now you just see. It's sixer time! Prabir will send Bittu to Mars'. Pinaki lets out a hearty laughter, but Someshwar presents a poker face to his team's captain Ricky before telling him to go back to his seat and not celebrate prematurely.

Bittu starts the 19th over. By the time, Bittu finishes the over, EC Cricket Champs are 5 runs away from the target. Prabir has smashed Bittu for four sixes in the over, two of them were Dhoni-type lofts which made the ball disappear into the roofs of the buildings situated beside the ground, one was an exquisite inside-out loft over extra cover which brought out a standing ovation from Someshwar and the last one a fierce pull that sent the ball just behind his teammates outside the boundary.On his own, Prabir has put EC Cricket Champs in the driving seat now.

A dejected Ranjan brings himself to bowl the last over. He has given up. There is no hope for his team now. He pitches the ball in the middle of the wicket. Prabir pulls that hopeless bouncer over the mid-wicket boundary for a six. EC Cricket Champs are the Champions of the Annual Salt Lake Cricket Mela! They are the cricket kings of Salt Lake, a satellite township in Eastern part of Kolkata. And They have just one payer to thank -- Prabir!

The moment the ball flies past the boundary line, Prabir drops the bat to the ground, takes off his helmet,throws open his arms, turns towards his team and lets out a triumphant roar. All of his teammates start rushing towards him in ecstasy from beyond the ropes . Within a minute, all of them swarm him, some feverishly pat him in the back while others keep on repeating 'Well done Champ'. When Ricky starts chanting 'Prabir, Prabir, Prabir' he is joined in swiftly by the rest. In the middle of this rain of adulation, Prabir gathers himself and looks around for his coach Someshwar. Prabir cant find him near. Prabir pulls away from the crowd for a moment and looks beyond the ropes. There he is!! Standing outside the boundary, clapping gently. Why is his reaction so subdued, Prabir wonders. Nevertheless, the crowd of his teammates escort him to their coach. Pinaki runs towards him in no time. In excitement, Pinaki kisses Prabir's forehead, runs his palms across hiss sweaty and displaced hair, looks into his big eyes and congratulates him. 'Very Very Good! Well Done, you will do wonders.' Before Prabir can return  a 'Thank you' to this man whom he doesn't know, Someshwar comes to him and smiles warmly. After patting Prabir's back through a measured display of affection, he orders the team to stand together in front of him. When his colts has finished following the instruction, Someshwar speaks aloud 

"Well done, EC Cricket Champs. We are the Champions".

The round of self-appreciating applause following this triumphant declaration arising from the team gathering of EC Cricket Champs can be heard even by the despondent players of Laboni Sports Club who are resting at a distance.

Someshwar continues, " Each and every one of us deserves equal credit for this victory. Even those whose performances weren't good deserve equal credit. We are a team and team spirit is the oxygen for any team in any sports."

The players of Laboni Boys can now hear another round of loud applause which has the same point of origin like the previous one.

"Still, team, we have areas to improve upon. Our bowling wasn't fantastic and most of our batsmen didn't choose the right shots to hit. Therefore, we need to practise more. Is that clear?"  asks Someshwar. The players of EC Cricket Champs cry out 'Yes. Sir.' in unison.

No sooner had Someshwar finished speaking, one of the organisers of the tournament comes towards them, congratulates the team, picks out Prabir for mouthing special words of encouragement and informs them that the award presentation party is ready and they must make their way towards the dais. Someshwar thanks him and signals the team to move towards the dais.

While the awards are being distributed, Prabir keeps on wondering whether what Someshwar said few moments ago is indeed true. Is it true that each and every one in the team deserves equal credit? He has scored 95 of the required 188 runs, that's more than half of the team's total; it's he who has batted from first to last in this unbearable heat; doesn't he deserve more credit than everyone else? Does Sukanta, who hit a full toss straight to a fielder deserve ANY credit? Does Sudip, who ran for a suicidal second run? Does Anup who got hit for 3 sixes in the last over of Labony's innings? NO!!! He deserves not only credit, but ALL the credit! How could Someshwar divide credit equally in such a bland manner? Does he really not think that Prabir is the best in his team? Has his own performances left any scope for Someshwar to entertain such notions?

In this moment of repulsion that Prabir is experiencing for his coach, suddenly a face appears in Prabir's imagination. A face, watching him intently. A face, measuring his every move. The face of Sukhomoy! Prabir, in an instant, turns around to see that place where Sukhomoy was standing during the match. But, now that place is empty. Turning back, for a second, Prabir wonders if Sukhomoy had been his coach, could he have made that statement? Could he have divided the credit equally? Prabir's heart, his instinct answers in the negative. The special focus that Sukhomoy puts on him every time they come face to face makes the answer obvious.

Just then, a feeling of shame surrounds Prabir. Prabir feels guilty. A voice inside him seems to tell him that it's because of Someshwar he is batting so well. He shouldn't be scornful towards him, rather should be grateful. This inner voice admonishes Prabir for placing Sukhomoy in Someshwar's chair. It reminds him of the great example of Sachin Tendukar's devotion towards his guru Ramakant Achrekar.  His Achrekar is Someshwar . How could he think bad about his Achrekar?  An ashamed Prabir swats away thoughts about Someshwar's speech and chooses to focus on the awards which continue being distributed. There are some for him too.

In the prize distribution ceremony, Prabir lands the Man of the Match award, the Man of the Tournament award and the Highest Run Scorer award. After awards have been distributed, the team returns to where they were seated, to pick up their cricket gears and head home. Prabir hasn't yet found time to put, with great care and love, his bat back into his kit. He had carried his bat with him to the dais. Now, after having waived goodbye to Someshwar and Pinaki , he opens the chain of his bag, kisses the blade of his bat, offers 3 pranaams  to it and places it inside with all the care in the world. As he was about to close the chain, Prabir discovers a handwritten note in one corner of the bag. He knows who has kept it inside his bag. This ain't the first time he is finding such notes.He takes it out and reads.

'Why did you play that stupid shot against Pradipta? Siddhartha would have never played that shot!' -- Someshwar Sir.

 Siddhartha! That son of Someshwar Sir about whom he can't stop talking . 'Ok! A father may love his son to no end. But, why does he need to compare his son with me?' asks Prabir to himself. Prabir doesn't know anything about Siddhartha. Is he too a batsman? But he doesn't learn cricket under Someshwar. Where is he learning the game then? Prabir knows nothing and this increases his anger. All that Someshwar tells him about Siddhartha is that he wouldn't make the mistakes that Prabir does. 'Fucker Siddhartha.' Prabir lets out a frustrated sigh. This frequent comparison with Siddhartha that Someshwar constantly digs up, always in private though, unsettles Prabir. Cant his coach understand that?

"Oh! Man of the Match! Lets go. We have a train to catch", yells Sukanta, a chubby teenager having acnes spread all over his face which is topped by dense, curly hairs. 'Chameleon, this Sukanta', Prabir thinks to himself. Prabir lifts his bag up and starts walking towards the road keeping a distance with Sukanta.

"What happened? Come closer" Sukanta tells Prabir.

"Dont talk to me. What were you whispering to Rabi when i defended against Pradipta. You feel that i don't understand? You were mocking me and saying that i am afraid of Pradipta." Prabir shoots.

Sukanta stops, drops his cricket kits to the ground and says, mixing shock and assurance in his voice,'What are you saying, Prabir? You've got it all wrong. I was telling Rabi that Pradipta shouldn't become complacent because it's time for him to face your wrath. God Promise! This is what i told Rabi. You go and ask him" .

'Don't lie.'

'Arrey i am not lying, mate. How can i taunt you? You play so better than me!' Sukanta walks closer to Prabir and lays his arm round him. This open acknowledgement of his superiority by Sukanta, his opening partner, softens Prabir.  The two start walking together. 'Accha, tell me how do you bat so well? How do you decide perfecty when to hit and when not to hit? I just cant decide  upon this timing when i bat.Either i hit or i block. How do i improve?'  asks Sukanta.

'To do that you need to have brains, which Sukanta the Great doesn't have.'

'Oh! I see!' Sukanta darts at Prabir, but a loudly laughing Prabir runs away. The 2 openers cross the road, one running after the other.

In the middle of this friendly banter, Prabir doesn't forget to dispatch Someshwar's letter into a roadside dustbin.
  -----

Someshwar adjusts his glasses while looking at the passing of trains, through the railway tracks directly beneath the over bridge ,connecting the 2 platforms in Ultadanga Rail Station, on which he is standing. Scores of passengers move to and fro behind him. All of them have either ended their journey or are about to begin it. To which group does he belong? The question relates not to the journey by train, but to the journey by time- the journey of his life. Upon an objective analysis, it has to be concluded that his life had reached it's station long ago. Ouch! What an unfortunate journey it was! Shameful too, not because of what transpired, but when compared to what dreams the journey held at it's commencement, it's final reality was indeed shameful. After joining Mohan Bagan as their 1st choice opener, Someshwar failed to score in the first two matches. Then, in the 3rd match, tragedy struck. A ball jumped from a rough spot on the pitch and hit the little finger of Someshwar's right hand causing an instant fracture. Someshwar went out of action for 6 months due to the need to have a surgery. The phsycial pain was bearable but the torturous feeling of being unable to hold his bat, his weapon, was not. After he returned from his injury lay-off Someshwar found that his place was taken by a left-handed opener named Koushik Chakraborty who was scoring runs in the bounty. Most often, Someshwar  found himself warming the reserve bench. He got chances in bits and pieces and didn't seize them either. Finally, what broke the camel's back was a payment dispute with Mohan Bagan Cricket Club. Mohan Bgan refused to pay him his dues arguing that he didn't play enough matches to warrant a full payment of player fees. A frustrated Someshwar coudn't take this insult and shouted cuss words at Radha Kanta Mukherjee, an infuential office bearer in Mohan Bagan, the biggest club in Kolkata . There was no way he could stay on in Mohan Bagan after that. The day he left the club, Mukherjee had warned him that he won't find another club to play for. Mukherjee kept his word. No other big club in Maidan took him. In a matter of 3 frustrating years, Someshwar had been reduced from being a special prodigy to an unwanted troublemaker. At last, a small cub named Wari Athetic Club decided to take him. There, he got regular chances to play. But, so bad was that team that they couldn't win more than 2 matches in 1st division competition. They barely escaped relegation. No one cares about losers. Someshwar's good performances, naturally, went unnoticed. He was ignored repeatedly for selection into the Bengal Team.  3 years later, when he was 24 years old, came the final blow. While fielding in the deep, he dived to stop a boundary. In the process, he tore his knee ligaments. That sent him out for almost a year. When he came back, he coudn't hold onto his place even in Wari's playing XI. He now had to find a team playing in 2nd divison. Heeding to sensible advice from Sandhya, his wife, he decided to give up on Cricket. He realised that his chosen destination--  The Indian National Cricket Team was too distant. Since then, he had nothing to do with cricket. He didn't even touch his beloved bat. He still remembers the day he took that decision to turn his face away from Cricket. His journey had stopped. He was a deadman alive. After all, what's a man sans a dream if not a deadman?

It was difficult for a cricket-addict  like him to clutch onto something other than cricket. Away from cricket,  he spent 14 unremarkable years which don't have a single moment worth recounting, except that moment when he became a father. First, he became a driver for a rich businessman HansRaj Gupta living in Lake Town. He left that job after Mrs. Gupta accused him of stealing money. Then, he started working as a shopkeeper in a sweet shop in Gariahat. He left that work out of sheer boredom. Finally, when he was working in a courier company based in Dum Dum, he met his old friend Pinaki. Pinaki was a middle-order batsman playing in Wari when he happened to be that team's opener. They were good friends then. Someshwar coudn't stop himself from opening up to his old friend about the sorrows of his life. Taking pity at the depth of his wounds, Pinaki had informed him that a generous middle-aged businessman Mr.Lodha, claiming to be a diehard fan of cricket, has decided to buy a cricket club in Salt Lake and is on the lookout for a coach. Someshwar, at first, didnt want to approach that businessman because cricket, by then, had become a tormenting memory to him, it was a chapter he wanted to erase from his life book, but, such was his mental condition that except cricket, nothing else could have saved him. At least, his mind would be occupied and not ponder over the other harder hits that he had taken, he had thought. He contacted Mr. Lodha. He got the job of coaching EC Cricket Champs. It's here that he saw Prabir. Ever since, Someshwar doubts whether his journey has indeed ended.

Being lost in his thoughts, Someshwar didn't realise when he has descended onto the platform. He jumps back to his senses when he sees the local train to Barrackpore arrive.
*********************************************************************

Someshwar unlocks the door and enters his home, located 5 kms away from Pir Baba Mosque in Barrackpore Town . It's a small, 2 roomed flat where he stays alone. He switches on the lights and throws his tired body onto the bed which is covered by a pale, yellow bedsheet. After travelling in a train, jam packed with sweaty people,  one is in serious requirement of this interval of 10-15 minutes where one would keep his or her body absolutely still, relax and let go what all he was forced to rein in so far. It is a must-use recovery tool. The need to take this tiring 45-minute train journey daily from Barrackpore to Ultadanga and then proceed to Maidan from there, was the factor which forced Someshwar to leave his uncle's house and stay put in Kasba, all those years ago. Had he stayed in Barrackpore and commuted from there, he would have been half dead by the time he reached the nets of Ramchandra Banik.

After quarter of an hour, he rises to his feet, takes a bath, wears his blue coloured lungi and prepares hot tea. He takes a sip and reclines on a chair. Beside him, over the bed, lay the newspaper AnandaBazar Patrika. He takes that up and starts reading. Even a year ago, he would have restricted himself to reading just the first three-four pages and then not proceed further. In no case, did he want to read the sports section because he didn't want to see or read anything related to Cricket. Cricket, which usually takes up a approximately 90% of media coverage in Indian sports world, had turned untouchable for him. Such was the sourness in what was once a gloating love affair between him and cricket! But, now, things have altered a bit. Prabir has changed things for him. He has infused hope in Someshwar once gain. It isn't a depressed 40-year-old having endured disappointment after disappointment who is reading AnandaBazar Patrika, the reader is now a middle-aged man waiting for the most glorious chapter in his life to be written. How many cricket coaches are there who have such a prodigal young talent like Prabir at their disposal? Cricket is no longer untouchable to him. Cricket is, once again, the thing to do, the thing to love, the thing to die for.

Someshwar quickly flips over the pages and starts reading the sports section.   There, one piece of news, not related to cricket, but to football, the other sporting passion of Bengalis, takes him to the mental state of contemplation. Cristiano Ronaldo, the ace foortballer from Portugal, who led his country to it's first major international trophy in the just concluded Euro Cup 2016 in France, has commented, in response to a reporter who tried to apportion all the credit for Portugal's success to him,  that everyone in the Portuguese team deserves equal credit. The news item elicits a mild chuckle from Someshwar. 'Liar! This Ronaldo', the coach whispers slowly. He can attest to this lie more than others as he himself had uttered a similar lie few hours ago in Salt Lake Krira Udyan. Someshwar knows that everybody in EC Cricket Champs doesn't deserve equal credit, Prabir deserves a major chunk of it. Still, he chose to utter the lie. Why? Someshwar doesn't want Prabir to fly in the air. Prabir's feet HAS to be on the ground.  Over-the-moon type reactions will create expectations. Someshwar knows, from first hand experience, what harmful creatures these bloody expectations are. Thier bite leave young prodigies, yes, that label again, bleeding profusely with no one to attend to those cuts. Prabir should be kept away from all these. As his coach, it's his job to shield Prabir from this enemy, that's Someshwar's reasoning. He can't control other's tongues, but he can control his own.Therefore, he is very cautious and somewhat miserly when it comes to praising Prabir. At maximum level of exuberance, he will offer a warm smile followed by a token 'Well Played'. Nothing more. The rest of the praise is strictly for self-consumption, not to be fed to Prabir's ears. Prabir doesn't even know that, in his coach's eyes, he is "The Biggest Champ among EC Cricket Champs."  He doesn't need to. He must just bat.

Suddenly, Someshwar's mobile phone starts ringing. Someshwar reads the screen, it is written 'Pinaki Calling'.

"What happened? Pinaki?"

"Hello? Someshwar?"

"Yes, Pinaki. It's Someshwar speaking. Tell me"

"Hey, who is Sukhomoy?"

"Sukhomoy? Who Sukhomoy?"

'"You don't know anybody named Sukhomoy?"

"What's the matter, Pinaki? Why do you ask so?"

"Listen, today, after bidding goddbye to you, i went to meet a friend in MallikBazar. From there, i went to DumDum Junction Rail Station to catch my train. There, outside the station, i saw something which i feel i must share with you."

"What did you see?"

"I saw Prabir."

Someshwar asks curiously, "Prabir?'"

"Yes, Prabir! Now, listen very carefully. Before entering the station premises, i stopped by a pavement shop to buy a packet of cigarette. As i was lighting my cigarette, i saw Prabir standing with another man,  a few metres to my right. He was wearing a sky coloured shirt and grey pants. I had seen that man, during today's match, standing in the opposite side of where we were seated. Do you remember him?"

"'No. I don't remember seeing anybody".

"Arrey, he was standing there, directly opposite to us. Sky shirt."

"I see the game. Not the crowd. Nevertheless, what did you see after that? What were they doing?"

'"I saw that man holding Prabir's bat and playing dummy shots while Prabir stood still, watching him intently. I felt curious. It was clear Prabir, your student, was talking to him about batting. I carefully went near them, stood in front of a magazine vendor, pretended to go through a magazine, but my ears were fixed on hearing their conversation. He.." '

Someshwar jumps out of his chair. In a raised and speedier voice, he interrupts '"They were speaking about batting? Was that man Sukhomoy?"

"Yes. Prabir referred to him as 'Sukhomoy Sir'!That's why i am asking you, who is Sukhomoy?"

''Sukhomoy is the coach of our rival club FC Masters. What were they speaking about exactly?"

"I see! Now, it becomes clear to me."

"Oh! Pinaki, tell me the entire matter, please. " Someshwar is turning fidgety.

"Ok. Ok. But, i am afraid you wont like to hear what i am going to tell you. I heard Sukhomoy tell Prabir, 'Prabir, why were you defending so much against Pradipta? I was stunned to see you defend 3 balls straight. You could've hit all 3 of them if you wished! The first one was pitched right up, you could have easily hit it over mid wicket for a six, the next one was short and outside the off, you could have upper cut it for a boundary and the last one was a slower bouncer, you could have pulled it for another six! Did Soemshwar tell you not to hit?' Prabir blushed  and then replied ' No, no. I just thought it's better to play out Pradipta's over and attack from the next. Soemshwar Sir didn't tell me anything. He prefers me to learn through experience.' 

Sukhomoy shot back ,' That's the problem with Someshwar. He can't teach you properly. What for is he the coach if you have to learn through experience? After all, you are a young kid, not just any kid, a special kid. I feel amazed to see you. What a talent you are! Prabir. Someshwar will waste your talent. He could do nothing with his own talent, and now, he is wasting yours.You require sepcial care. Who better than me to offer you that special care? You know right that i have won record number of trophies? ' Prabir nodded his head in agreement.

Sukhomoy now played his hand.  ' You do one thing, you sign up for FC Masters and i will take you to places. You know, Prabir, i have contacts with the big clubs in Maidan. Someshwar has none. If you play for me, i promise you, within 5 years, you will be playing for Bengal'. By..."

Someshwar interrupts again, out of anxiety ."I don't care what Sukhomoy says about me. What did Prabir say in reply?"

" Prabir just returned a blank smile to Sukhomoy."

"What? He didn't say anything in my defense?'"

"Arrey, it's not that. First, listen to what i have to say. Seeing Prabir give a void smile, Sukhomoy pressed Prabir's cheeks with both his hands and said, in order to oil him up,  'Son, how beautiful is your smile! Its so innocent!'  Prabir's cheeks again got reddened.

After a brief silence, Sukhomoy continued luring him, 'Listen, Champion, you have a bright future. You have it in you to play for India. You must be ruthless in taking decisions which benefit your progress. I am a better bet than your caoch who has been a big failure as a player.'

Prabir ,now finally spoke out in your behalf. "Sukhomoy Sir, i know you coach very well. But, my club is EC Cricket Champs and Someshwar Sir is my coach. I have learnt a lot from him. He is good.'

This show of support from Prabir for you halted Sukhomoy for a second or two. Then, he regathered himself and asserted 'He may be good, but not good enough for you. I am the man for you. You must realise this.'

Prabir again gave a blank smile. Then said, plainly,  'But Sir, i can't change my club just like that'. 

Sukhomoy let out a boisterous laugh. 'Arey kid, look at Parthiv Patel in IPL. One season, he plays for Chennai, other season , he plays for Kochi, then he is in Mumbai! Prabir, this is a professional world. Grow up, be ruthless.' Prabir again forwarded an uncommunicative smile.

Sukhomoy smiled back and said 'Young man, think about it. I really want to do good to you. My doors are always open for talents like you. Think! I have to leave now as i have to meet a friend of mine. But, you contemplate about my offer. I will be waiting for your response. Is that all right? Remember, you have to be ruthless to succeed.' Prabir nodded his head slightly. 

Sukhomoy signed off by shaking Prabir's hands. After Sukhomoy left, Prabir made his way to the station premises."
 
Someshwar is lost for words. He can't reply.

"Hello! Someshwar? Are you listening?"

Someshwar offers a delayed response. "Yes, Pinaki. i am"

"Someshwar, he is trying to poach Prabir away from you. Don't allow him to succeed in that. You won't find another talent like Prabir. Don't lose him."

"Yes, i understand that."

"Do something, Soemshwar. Don't sit back. Prabir is your best player."

"Let me see what i can do."

"Ok then. Later, don't forget to tell me what you did. And thanks for inviting me to watch the match. I look forward to seeing the next match too. Especially, Prabir's batting. That kid will go far. Just give a call."

"I will, i will. Thanks to you too for providing me this vital information regarding Sukhomoy. I'll see what i can do."

"It's alright. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Bye. Take care."

'Hmm. Bye.' Someshwar disconnects the phone. He  throws his body back into the bed. It's time to sleep. Countering Sukhomoy needs a strategy thought out by a fresh mind, next morning. There's one good news though, he doesn't need to search for Sukhomoy. His team and Sukhomoy's team practise on two adjacent sides of the same cricket ground named Srabani Maath(Srabani Ground) every morning 6am onward.

----------

Next morning, Monday, the entire unit of EC Cricket Champs, dressed in the same whites of yesterday (They wear the same dress everyday, they are yet to find a sponsor who can buy them eye-catching coloured jerseys), have gathered in their allotted left half of Srabani Maath. The right half has been allotted to Sukhomoy's FC Masters, a team whose financial condition is slighty better than EC Cricket Champs. They are having to share the ground with their poorer rivals only because of the constraint that Srabani Maath is the only big cricket ground available in this area of Salt Lake. A huge net tied to two high bamboo poles planted 200ms apart in North-South direction serve as the dividing line between the practice patches of the rivals. Someshwar orders his players to go through the daily chore of running around the entire ground full 10 times. His wards follow his order. As they circled the ground running together as one unit, Sudip, another gym-crazy lad having inscribed tatoos on multiple places over his well-buit body,  wondered why only 3 payers of FC masters have arrived by now. Ricky joked that it's because players of FC Masters are ashamed to face them , the Champions in the same tournament in which they couldn't go beyond the Quarterfinals.

Prabir, though, wasn't interested in participating in such early-morning jovial triumphalism. What bothered him is that today, Someshwar looked a tad disinterested in  the practice. On other days, he stood in the centre of the ground with a whistle stuck to his mouth. He would keep a hawkish eye on the team's running speed and the moment he felt they were running slow, he would blow that whistle an act which the payers understood as an instruction by their coach to run quicker. It has to be said here that this bunch of players under Someshwar is an obedient lot. There aren't any rebels in here. But, today, Prabir sees Someshwar not standing in the centre, rather sitting beside the nets and casting frequent glances , first, to the adjacent nets of FC Masters and then, to his watch. What's the matter, Prabir wondered. When he asked Ricky about it, Ricky reasoned that since they became champions yesterday, Someshwar Sir is allowing them to take things a bit easy today. But, in his heart, Prabir doesn't buy his captain's explanation. Why is Someshwar so bothered about FC Masters today? On other days, he behaves as if they don't exist! But, today, it looks as if he is waiting for someone from FC Masters. Who is it? Is it, by any chance, Sukhomoy? But, why Sukhomoy? Has Someshwar Sir found out what happened yesterday in Dum Dum station? But how could it be? Too many questions. Prabir is feeling uneasy. It's better to wait, just like he waited yesterday for the 19th over.

Prabir's fears comes true. As soon as Sukhomoy appears in the ground, Someshwar charges at him. Sukhomoy, dressed in his team's light pink shirt and pants, feels surprised. When Someshwar darts in and stands in front, Sukhomoy feels intimidated. However, he stands his ground, fetches a fake smile from his inside to present to Someshwar and says , sounding to be pleasantly surprised while forwarding his right hand towards Someshwar for a handshake, "Hey! Someshwar! Congratulations, man! What a victory!Brilliant play by your team, especially that little opener. What did you say his name is?"

Someshwar had no time for Sukhomoy's faking. "You don't know his name, right?" replies Someshwar.

"No. i don't know."

"When i slap you, you'll remember the name very well.'"thunders Someshwar.

By now, the 3 players of FC Masters, also dressed in their team's light pink attire, who had already arrived in the ground has begun to surround the 2 coaches. This  was such a rare sight of these two bosses, of the left and right halves of the ground, meeting that the sheer force of curiosity pushed them away from the nets towards the point of meeting.

"Someshwar!" Sukhomoy raises his voice. "What are you saying? Is this the way you speak to sexagenarians like me?"

Someshwar raises his right hand's index finger, dangles it infront of Sukhomoy and keeps on thundering "Shut Up. Dont teach me manners. What manners is it to try to poach a promising player from the rival team?"

Seeing the animated figures of the 2 coaches and the surrounding of them by the 3 players of FC Masters, the players of EC Cricket Champs also reach the point of action. All of them, including Prabir, exude shock when Someshwar accuses Sukhomoy of poaching. Bewildered, they look at each other. Prabir, though, doesn't make eye contact with anyone. His shock is of a different nature. While others are in shock on hearing the news of poaching, he is in shock to find out that Someshwar knows about yesterday's incident.

'Poaching? What are you saying, Someshwar? Has one victory made you go nuts? What makes you feel that you can come here and insut me like this. Dont forget who i am. I have won more trophies than anyone else' Sukhomoy still holds his ground.

'Shut up! Have some shame, old man! Even in this age, you can't stop wearing pink! Such a disgrace you are! I know what you did yesterday. I know what you said to one of my players. I dont have habit of speaking to nonsense like you. Here,take this straight. STAY AWAY FROM ALL OF MY PLAYERS. Do you get it? You better get it or otherwise i will cut you into two halves.'

"Someshwar! My players are here. Don't insult me infront of them. We can talk later too. Mind your language. Final warning, i give to you.' The volume of Sukhomoy's voice shoots through the roof.
 

'Fuck your warning, old man. Stay away from my players if you don't wish to end up in the hospital'.


Sukhomoy has had enough. He holds Someshwar by his collars and says ' Show me what you can do'.


Someshwar isn't the type to chicken out either. Especially, when the matter is about Prabir's future. He pushes the 65-year old Sukhomoy with full force of his body. Sukhomoy falls to the ground. Players of FC Masters rush to help him get back on his feet.


Ricky, the eldest among all the players present and captain of EC Cricket Champs, jumps infront of Someshwar and blocks his path. Ricky pushes back Someshwar who was just begnning to charge at Sukhomoy. The others join in to hold their coach back.

Held back by his players, Someshwar yells, 'Old man, reform yourself. Dont cast your greedy eyes on my players. I will finish you off.'


Ricky counsels his coach. 'Sir, let's go to our nets. Please Sir.'

All the players pull their coach away from the scene of confrontation. Prabir joins in too.

Just when they are about to enter their side of the field, EC Cricket Champs hear the following insulting words from Sukhomoy. 'Someshwar, no matter how hard you try, you can't hide your fear. You know very well that your players want to be coached by me, a success, and not by you, a failure ."

Someshwar turns back and is about to run like a bull at Sukhomoy. He just wants to beat Sukhomoy up left, right and centre. But, he can't get rid of the tight wrap his players stretched hands  have put around his waist. Ricky again says 'Oh! Sir! Ignore them. Come, lets practise. Please, Sir' . After much haggling, Someshwar heeds the counsel of his captain. However, before asking his players to let him free, he doesn't forget to cast a look on Prabir . Prabir, immediately, looks downwards.

It's then that Sukhomoy says something which Someshwar prayed he didn't say. Someshwar doesn't want anybody to figure out that the player being poached by Sukhomoy is his favourite pupil Prabir. That may give rise to ill feelings of other players towards Prabir. That's why he spoke to Sukhomoy without revealing who was being poached. But, now, Sukhomoy doesn't leave that identity a secret. He shouts from his corner of the ground ' Prabir, think about what i told you yesterday. The team you need is FC Masters, The coach you need is Sukhomoy Chakraborty. Child, i don't want your future to turn bleak. But under your current coach, you will be wasted. Come here. I wait for you.' Prabir too had wished that his name remained unrevealed. But, now, Sukhomoy has put paid to that. Prabir finds all eyes of his teammates trained towards him. Prabir feels vulnerable.

Someshwar rescues Prabir by ordering his players to start the practise. It becomes a short duration practise, though. Nobody really gives his 100% effort. It is all about going through the motions. Amidst even this lackadaisical approach, Prabir doesn't fail to notice that his teammates are frequently staring at him. Prabir tries not to think too deeply about what is their reaction to the news of his poaching by the coach of their principal rival.

 Before the team is about to leave, coach Someshwar makes the players stand infront of him and sets some rules.  'I don't want anyone of you to remember what happened today, I dont want anyone to even talk about it among yourselves. Just forget it. And, if that man again approaches any of you, let me know. I can expect at least that from my players. Can't I?'
'Yes, sir' is the collective answer, with Ricky's voice sounding the loudest. The team seggregates.

Prabir exits the ground after each of the rest has made their way out. The rest, whom he sees, after crossing the gates of the ground, turn left towards the main road, but Prabir turns right, down a narrow alley. He doesn't want to face any of his teammates. He knows what they think.He has read their faces. The fact that he chose to keep the matter secret from them will be interpreted as a kind of complicity on his part in Sukhomoy's attempted poaching. He knows what their conclusion is, that just like Sukhomoy is interested in Prabir, Prabir too is interested in Sukhomoy. He felt relieved when Someshwar ordered that nobody will talk about the episode, but, in the end, coach himself spoilt his relief by making it clear that he expected his players to tell him about such incidents. Prabir interpreted that as a clear insult directed at him . What was the need for him to say that in front of every one when every one already knew who was in centre of this dispute? Is it possible that there was even one who could not understand who that barb was directed at?

The  moment Prabir takes the turn to his left, a voice from behind warns him ' Remember Someshwar Sir's words next time. If that guy comes again, tell Sir'. Prabir turns around immediately. It is Ricky, his captain, speaking those words while standing beside a grocery shop and sipping Pepsi .

 Prabir shoots back 'What do you mean?'

'I mean be careful and be honest.'

'What be honest? Did i go and join FC Masters? Here look at my jersey here. It carries the same logo as your shirt'

'I know that. But, you shoud have told Sir about it. You have Sir's phone number. Dial that next time. '

'I won't. What will you do? I don't feel the need to tell Sir each and every thing. You can be a chamcha of his, i am not."

"Dont be angry on me, Prabir. I am just telling you to be more honest next time.'

Prabir raises his finger at Ricky. 'Hey, dont give me lectures, ok. I know you are jealous of me. You are the captain, but i am the best player. First, learn to play like me and then come and talk to me. Even today, i hit you for 3 sixes. 3 sixes, did you hear that? Lollypop spinner?'

'Get lost. I will tell Sir that u are a bird in passage. '

'Yeah, go and tell. I don't care.'

Prabir turns around and walks away at a brisk pace.

Ricky looks at the shopkeeper and sighs "The days for giving sane advice are over. In today's times, one shouldn't offer counsel to anyone. People have no patience for hearing."

The shopkeeper, a dark skinned man having thick moustache and wearing rugged clothes, quips, 'One should charge for offering advice. Nothing comes for free these days.'
********************************************************************

Prabir returns to his home, situated near the DuttaPukur Post Office(DuttaPukur is a town located about 35 kms away from Kolkata). He has to go to school. He studies in Class IX in Rajiv Gandhi Memorial School in Barasat Town, the district Headquarter. Upon entering home,  he swiftly moves in to his own room. His parents have allotted to him an entire room beside the kitchen, while they share the other room, opposite to Prabir's, in this small and cramped single-storey home. On other days, he cleans the spot adjacent to his bed and carefully places his cricket gear there before disrobing himself. But, today, as a result of his annoyance over what transpired during and after the practise, especially the brief tussle with Ricky, Prabir just throws his cricket gear onto the bed, disrobes quickly and takes a long shower. Next, he wears his school uniform -- a light brown shirt, blue pant and a red checkered tie --  and walks towards the small wooden table kept in the centre of their home which his family uses for the purpose of dining. He would do his breakfast and then leave for school.

His mother Shyamali, a fairly young, slim and fair lady , wearing a polka-dotted blue Saree, is busy preparing bread in the kitchen, right infront of where a glum-faced Prabir is taking his seat beside the table. Shyamali, though, has no time to notice Prabir. When she hears the sound of the chair move, while continuing to burn the bread in fire, says "Wait, Prabir, just a couple of minutes and the bread will be ready. The maid Jharna came late. That sent my entire schedule on a tailspin. Even your father had to leave on empty stomach. Here, just a few seconds now...". Prabir is not in a mood to say anything. He takes the bowl containing cooked pulse kept infront of him, tilts it and drops some pulse onto his plate. Shyamali brings two hot breads from the kitchen and drops them onto Prabir's plate. 'Start eating. I will give you 4 more breads once you finish these two' , Shyamali rushes back to the kitchen. Prabir, without uttering anything, tears a part of a bread, gathers some pulse within it, puts it inside his mouth and starts chewing.

After a couple of minutes, Shyamali returns to the table with her promised 4 breads, drops them on Prabir's plate and takes her seat next to her son. Prabir doesn't look at her, continues eating his daily breakfast of 6 breads and cooked pulse, throughout looking downwards at his plate. Shyamali finds this silence unnatural. On other days, when she seats beside Prabir during his breakfast time, Prabir goes on and on about his practise sessions, how he hit boundaries and sixes of this and that bowler, etc, etc. But, today, there is none of that rabbiting on. A worried Shyamali asks ,"'What happened? Was there no practise today?". Prabir replies stoically , 'Yes, we had practise.'

'How did you bat?'

'Alright.'

'No boundaries and sixes?'

Prabir chooses silence instead of the brief replies he has been offering till  now.

'Prabir, what happened? Did you have a fight with someone? Did Sir scold you?'

'No. Nothing. Let me eat.' Prabir increases the speed of his eating. He now starts taking 2 torn pieces  of bread at a time and stuffs them in his mouth.

'What happened? Slowly! Eat slowly! I sense something wrong with you. Tell me, what's the matter, i am your mother. Who can help you more than me? Are you ill?'

'Ma, nothing happened. I am done. I am getting late.' Prabir gets up, leaving 2 full breads uneaten. He rushes to the wash basin and starts cleaning his hands and mouth.

'Arrey, you finish eating first. You don't want to tell, don't tell. But, eat all 6 breads. It takes money to buy them.'

Prabir wipes clean his wet lips with his handkerchief, takes his school bag, which Shyamali had filled with the required books before stationing it beside the door, and runs away.

'Prabir.. Prabir.. What's the matter? Tell...' By the time Shyamali can finish, Prabir has left the house. Shyamali stands beside the table wondering what exactly is wrong with her son. Today, he didn't even ask for her blessings before leaving for school!

------

Prabir reaches his classroom in Rajiv Gandhi Memorial School, just about a 40-minute long bus ride away from his home. It's the only co-educational school in the area.After exchanging brief "Hi, Hello" with some of his classmates, he goes and takes his seat in the last bench. Academics just doesn"t excite him. All those lessons in History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry, Maths... Uff! Terrifying! Just not interested in them is Prabir. He knows what he will do in the last bench. He will sit there, stare blankly at the teachers and act as if he is taking notes. The purpose of this faking is very clear... to avoid being picked up by his teachers for questioning. He wants nothing of books, copies and teachers.

Few minutes later, enters, in the classroom, the class monitor, the smartest person in the class, the class topper, Tania, a tall, chubby medium complexion girl having dimpled cheeks, who surprisingly happens to be last-bencher Prabir"s closest friend. Normally, Prabir is too shy to speak to the girls in his class, but seeing Tania"s interest in cricket, he has made an exception for her. What amazes Prabir the most about Tania is that while the other girls, inspite of not being able to tell the difference between what is a caught behind and leg before wicket, keep on talking up Virat Kohli"s prowess with the bat which Prabir understands as a cloaked form of drooling over Kohli's good looks on the part of the girls, Tania chooses to reserve her admiration for Prabir"s idol, the Captain of Indian Cricket Team, M S Dhoni. What else does Prabir need, to like a girl!

Tania slowly walks up to her seat at the front in the middle row. Before sitting down, she scans the entire classroom and the moment she finds Prabir, a bright smile appears in her face. Prabir smiles back. It was about a year ago, when Prabir couldn't fool their class teacher Sabita mam into believing that he is paying attention to her teaching, Sabita mam had made Prabir sit beside Tania as a punishment. It was Tania who spoke the first words between them after Sabita mam left the class that day. "Hey! I want to be your friend" she had said. Prabir could just smile like an idiot.
Though Prabir has stuck to seating in the last bench, their friendship has continued since.

About 3 hours later, when the school bell signalling the onset of tiffin time rings, Prabir slowly leaves his class and stands beside the verandah overlooking the small ground beneath. Prabir watches other boys of his age rush towards the ground, quickly divide themsleves into two teams and start playing cricket. There is no bat, no ball, no stumps,no pitch; yet, the game is played with the fullest passion possible. The plastic water bottles become bats; three-four long sheets of paper, torn from copies, twisted to form a circular bundle and held together by being wrapped around tightly by three-four hair ties , serve as the ball and clusters of bags placed at a distance of about 20 ms apart serve both purposes of being the wickets as well as the two ends of the pitch. Irrespective of his exalted status as a terrific club-level cricketer among his schoolmates, Prabir doesn't mind even one bit in participating in this, what can best be called as street-cricket. Even here, he scores more than others! But, today, Prabir stands on the verandah and chooses to be a disinterested spectator. His friends call him repeatedly to join the game, but, he wards off all the requests by lying that today morning ,he has injured his leg while practising. Therefore, he needs rest. "I am watching from here. You guys play" he  tells them.

Tania, who was passing by, stops on seeing Prabir.

"What"s the matter? You are standing here! Not down there playing cricket!" exclaims Tania.

"Not." Prabir pauses briefly , looks at Tania and then starts watching the game again. "Not in a good mood"

"That"s good for me", says Tania. Prabir casts a confused look at her.

"Well, your bad mood has enabled me to have a precious few minutes with my cricket-mad friend. Otherwise, on other days, where do i get him? He is playing, playing and only playing. By the way, congratulations for yesterday"s victory. I was so ecstatic on receiving your message", Tania says, mischief written all over her face

"I am serious, Tania" Prabir doesn"t entertain Tania's casual flirting which she has been practising increasingly frequently of late.

Tania, wearing her uniform -- the same light brown shirt, the same red checkered tie and a knee-length blue skirt --  steps forward and sits on the railings of the verandah, very close to where Prabir is standing. "What"s the matter, Prabir? Tell me."

Prabir keeps silent.

Tania is desperate to force out a reply. "What? Got scolded by your mother? What did you do? Or is it your father? Did he beat you up?" asks she.

Prabir stares blankly at the ground below. "No. Not family."

"Then, something is wrong in your club? Right?"

Prabir lets his head down in disappointment. Tania takes that as a "Yes".

"Accha, will you stand here crying that you are in a bad mood or will you talk? I am asking you questions and you are answering so placidly! Come on, speak out! Tell me!What's the problem? I promise you i will solve it" Tania fixes her eyes on Prabir while speaking these words.

"You tell me, is it my fault that a coach of a rival team wants me to play for his team?" Prabir's voice suddenly becomes high-sounding.

"Sssh! Sssh! Quietly! Quietly! Calm down! I can"t understand what you are saying"

Prabir turns around excitedly. He too rests his back against the railings of the verandah.

"Yesterday, when i was batting, i saw the coach of our rival team FC Masters, Sukhomoy Sir, stand outside the ground and watch me intently. After the match, i went to Dum Dum station. When i was about to catch my train , Sukhomoy Sir appeared from nowhere and offered me a chance to play for his club. I turned him down saying that i am happy in EC Cricket Champs. But, i don't know how Someshwar Sir, my coach, got to know of this meeting. Today morning, when we arrived in the ground, we saw Someshwar Sir and Sukhomoy Sir fight. Someshwar Sir told Sukhomoy Sir that he should stay away from us. In reply, Sukhomoy Sir called me out in public and said that i must join his team if i have to become a great cricketer. After we finished practise, Someshwar Sir told us to forget the incident but not before pointing out, in front of everyone, that he expects us to tell him about such incidents. That was a public humiliation of mine! Now, you tell me, do i have to tell each and every thing to him? Especially, when he believes that in spite of me single-handedly winning match after match for the team, everyone deserves equal credit? The truth is others deserve NO credit. I deserve ALL credit." Prabir looks at Tania. It"s as if fire was emitting out of his big eyes.

" Calm down, Prabir. Calm down."

Prabir takes a deep breath.

"Someshwar Sir is your coach. He has taught you well. You shouldn"t be so angry on him. Good students learn from what their teachers say. He may have his expectations that his players will tell him of such incidents. I will suggest you do tell him in the future of such incidents. And that  thing about credit. What do you expect your coach to do? Stand in front of everyone and claim proudly that all the credit for the win goes to just one player? Come on, Prabir. Don't be childish. He is the coach of the entire team." counsels Tania.

Prabir was in no mood to soften. Pointing the index finger of his right hand to his chest, he thunders "If there is one player in that team who has any future in cricket, it"s me. And i have to go through public insults!"

"There's nothng insulting here, Prabir. Your sir is hurt. That's it. This isn't such a big problem that you will lose your composure over it. Let the tempers subide and you think about it with a calm mind, you will see your Sir isn't at fault here."

"Then there"s that dick Ricky..."

"Prabir!" Tania, so femininely, objects to the use of cuss words.  The objection forces Prabir to regain his composure.

"I am sorry. But,that Ricky, the captain who can't perform, the spinner who can't spin the ball, that Ricky had the guts to come to me and tell me that i should tell Sir about such incidents! Even today, i hit him for 3 sixes in the net. And, Tania, i swear in my mother's name, if ever I face Ricky in a match, i will smash him  for 6 sixes in an over! Useless flunky, that. He is the biggest chamcha of sir! That's the only reason why he is the captain" Prabir lets out his anger on Ricky in one voice.

Tania, with eyebrow raised, exudes surprise at Ricky's behaviour. "Why? What's his problem? Who is he to tell you anything? Yes, he maybe the captain, but, you are the best player."

"I don"t know what's his problem. But, that he is very jealous of me, i can tell you . I think it was he who spied on me in Dum DUm Station and then went to Sir to tell him about my chat with Sukhomoy Sir. "

Prabir continues, "You know, i can accept what you said about Someshwar Sir. But, what's frustrating is that in the next match, i have to take orders from that Ricky, a worthless son of a..." Prabir just manages to hold himself back from completing everybody's favourite line.

"You"ll not utter these words in front of me!" Tania objects nevertheless.

"I am sorry"

Prabir restlessly turns around and starts watching the makeshift game of cricket again.

"You do one thing, Prabir " .

Prabir again rests his back on the railings. He watches Tania eagerly. He has complete faith in the mind of his class' topper.

Tania looks straight into Prabir's eyes. "You tell your coach that you want to be the captain of the team. " The shock value in that suggestion leaves Prabir grappling for words.

Just then, one of Tania"s friends, Swapna calls out from a distance, "Ei Tania. Rituparna mam is calling you."

Tania turns sideways and says to Swapna, "Oh! I am coming".

Before leaving, she again looks straight into Prabir's transfixed eyes before signing off. "Think about it. You deserve to be the captain. If you become captain, it will be great! MS Dhoni is captain, his fan Prabir Das is also captain! Think about it! Just dont forget this advisor of yours when you become Captain Prabir. But, i doubt whether you will be as cool as Dhoni though. Bye! Bye!"  The last joke manages to elicit a little chuckle across Prabir's face. This is the first time someone has directly compared him to his idol.

  ------------

Prabir returns home from school in the evening. He avoids Shyamali and moves into his room. In any case, Shyamali is busy watching her favourite serials being aired one after another in Zee Bangla TV channel. From 5 pm to 9pm every night, Shyamali doesn't have time for anyone, be it son, husband, God, Satan, whoever. The slogan of the channel is "life means Zee Bangla". Shyamali upholds that slogan for 4 hours every night. She is addicted to it.

Tania's suggestion has stolen Prabir's inner peace. He is bewildered. He is facing internal turmoil. He doesn't know whether to act upon his closest friend's advice. Becoming the captain may be a great revenge upon Ricky, but does he himself want to be captain? Firstly, he has never been captain, not even in street cricket matches. Can he handle the added responsibility? But then, Dhoni too had never captained anywhere. His first experience in captaincy  was captaining the Indian Cricket Team straight in a World Cup! Amazing! But, Dhoni became captain after he had established himself in international cricket, which is the highest level of competitive cricket one can aspire to play. But he, Prabir? He's just started climbing the ladder of fate. Will it be wise to take up added responsibilites at this nascent stage of his career, that too willingly? Shouldn't he concentrate just on his batting? Moreover, there is no guarantee that Someshwar Sir will hear his request and then immediately hand over the captaincy to him. Ricky has been the captain ever since Someshwar Sir had taken over the reins in EC Cricket Champs. Ricky has the support of the others in the team too. And nothwithstading his own deeds it's Ricky who lifted the cup yesterday in Salt Lake. Won't he be appearing selfish to Someshwar Sir upon making that request? Wont Sir think that he is conspiring against his own captain behind his back? Most importantly, can he digest the humiliation when  Someshwar Sir would refuse to make him the captain? What if he again makes all of them stand in front of him and declares that he expects none of his players to question Ricky's leadership. How shameful will that be, because everyone will start guessing  who exactly is eyeing Ricky's seat as Captain of the team. The guess would automatically zero in on the best player on the team-- he.

Hang On! Here! Who is the best payer in the team? Prabir Das! Not only best, unquestionably best. Then , how come he isn't the captain? What's wrong with him being the captain? Why will others not accept him as the captain? Why will coach Someshwar not make him the captain? He has to. He has to take special care of his best player. If he isn't willing to give special treatment to opener Prabir, he will surely give that to Opener-cum-Captain Prabir. All of a sudden, Prabir thinks Tania is correct. The dark clouds of self-doubt hovering over his conscience disappear. He feels he shouldn't feel guilty in wanting the captaincy, he deserves it.

Prabir, still dressed in his school uniform, rings up his coach.

Someshwar, wearing his blue lungi,  is reading the newspaper. He hears the phone ring. He adjusts his glasses to read the caller's identity. He feels surprised to see Prabir's name. This is the first time Prabir is calling him, personally! He jumps up in joy, but,within a second checks his exuberance and decides not to give Prabir an idea of how happy is he that his favourite student has called him. But, first of all,why is he calling ?

Someshwar presses the accept button. 'Hello?'

'Hello, Someshwar SIr?'

'Yes. Who is this?' Someshwar acts as if he doesn't know the identity of who is on the other side of the phone.

'Sir. I am Prabir."

"Prabir? Oh! Yes! Prabir. Tell me"

"Sir... Sir.." Prabir is developing last-minute nerve failure at this critical juncture.

"Yes Prabir, tell me." Someshwar tries to help his pupil out."Has Sukhomoy again contacted you?"

"No Sir. No. Sir, i want something."

"Yes, go ahead. Tell me."

"Sir, i want to be the Captain."

Someshwar is stunned. Before he can figure out what to say, Prabir restarts speaking.

"Sir, i am the best player in the team. It's me who wins the matches. Ricky does nothing. He is useless. Why should he remain the captain? I should be the captain."

Someshwar manages to eke out a fumbling reply 'But... But, Prabir... Ricky is captaining well."

Prabir closes his eyes. His worst fear is playing itself out. Rejection! For him! The Best Player!

"Beside that, Prabir, i don't think being the captain will be helpful for you. You are batting splendidly. I want you to fosus just on your batting."

Prabir doesn't say a word.

Someshwar can hear Prabir's deep breathing over the phone.

"Prabir, don't feel bad, son. It's better for you not to be the captain. Do you understand my point, son?" Someshwar sounds as caring as he can be.

"Yes, Sir. " Prabir utters blandly. He disconnects the phone.

Someshwar realises the conversation has ended. He opens his glasses, leans back on his chair, closes his eyes and ponders whether it was right for him to say no to Prabir,especially at a time when he is being poached. But, Someshwar comforts himself by saying, firmly and adamantly, 'I did the right thing! The burden of captaincy will ruin his batting." Someshwar prays to God that Prabir understands his decision, that he hasn't chosen Ricky to be the captain out of his love for Ricky, but to shield Prabir from unwanted burdens.

But, Prabir thinks the opposite. He doesn't buy Sir's reasoning that captaincy isn't good for him. He concludes that Someshwar Sir loves Ricky more than him. So much space in his heart he has given to that ass-kisser Ricky, Prabir thinks! He goes to sleep. Buzzing in his mind are the words of Sukhomoy 'You require sepcial care. Who better than me to offer you that special care?'.


*********************************************************************

From the next day onward, Prabir starts practising his much-pondered-over Policy of  Irritation(a name he has himself chosen). It is an attempt on his part to irritate the pair of Someshwar and Ricky. It's not that he has decided to leave EC Cricket Champs, but, he definitely wants to send out a signal to the captain and the coach that he has a presence of his own in this team. After all,  doesn't he deserve, any 'special care'? For example, can't he take liberty with the rules that Someshwar enforces so ruthlessly upon everyone every morning in the coaching camp? The primary purpose of Prabir's non-cooperation is to see Someshwar's reactions to his (mis)deeds. If he cracks down upon his in-disciplinary actions, it would be clear to Prabir himself that what he thinks of Someshwar is correct. There is no 'Special care' to be had from this coach. But, if he allows Prabir to take liberties, then that will surely create a distance between the other players and the coach. Nothing better than that for Prabir!

On Tuesday morning, Prabir, after completing just two of the 10 cycles Someshwar has instructed the entire team to run around the ground, halts running and falls flat on the ground. When the fellow players attend to him and coach Someshwar rushes towards him, from the centre of the ground, to inquire what happened, Prabir lies to everyone that,yesterday evening, he had injured his right leg while cycling. Then, he looks at Someshwar and requests, frankly and unhesitatingly, "Sir, i can't run. Please allow me to just have my batting practise." Someshwar, still not suspicious about the timing of this leg injury, i.e., it happened the evening Prabir had unsuccessfully asked for the captaincy,   permits that then and there before ordering others to carry on running. Prabir trudges off towards the nets and sits on a chair. While his friends run around the ground, circle after circle, Prabir sits in the middle of the ground with his head tilted back resting against his hands and his right leg  placed above his left leg, dangling slowly but suggestively. On occasions when Ricky casts suspicious glances at him, Prabir responds with a meaningful chuckle.  He bats with full prowess, though, leaving all the players asking, in private, whether there was any injury to his right leg, in the first place.

 Next morning, at the onset of net practise, Prabir walks up to Someshwar and says, his voice sounding unusually adamant, 'Sir, i need to reach my school early today. Need to xerox some classnotes. Exams are coming.Please allow me to leave after having some throwdowns." 

Someshwar enquires 'At what time do you need to reach school?'

'Before 10.  I need about an hour and a half to go back home in DuttaPukur, take a bath, have my breakfast and then take a bus to my school.I must leave this place by 6:45. Can't wait till 8 like other days.'

Someshwar looks at his watch. It is 6:25. Someshwar gives a grumpy look before mumbling, 'Ok.'  He still trusts Prabir. He has no inkling of his favourite pupil's "Policy of Irritation"

Prabir grins widely and says "Thank you, Sir."

Today, however, Ricky doesn't bother looking at him.He is studiously ignoring Prabir. Therefore, Prabir makes it a point to stage his exit by walking behind the spot where Ricky is marking his run-up. As he passes by Ricky, Prabir says, again equipping his face with that intentionally wide grin which, he thinks, serves to heighten Ricky's irritation,  'Ricky, Leaving early because of personal reasons. Bye. Have a good day.'  Ricky just glances at the departing Prabir once and chooses not to reply. Ricky concentrates on marking his run-up while Prabir walks off, brimming with satisfaction.

Next morning,Thursday, this Policy of Irritation achieves it's most stupefying success.  After the customary running around the ground, Someshwar orders his batsmen to pad up and his bowlers to start bowling at them. Prabir, since he is the opener, is the first to enter the nets. After he plays 5 overs of pace bowling from the pace spearheads of the team Nirupam and Anup, Someshwar asks spinner Ricky to bowl to Prabir. Just then, Prabir chooses to make a daring objection.

Standing on one end of the net, Prabir raises his voice sufficiently so that everybody present can hear him. "Sir, wait. Allow Anup to bowl another over to me. He is bowling well. I want to face him more. I want to have solid practise, sir. I hit Ricky for sixes every day. No point facing him". Had this been a freindly banter it would have evoked a hearty laughter from one and all. But, what it produced was damning silence. Stung by the venomous tongue of Prabir, a recent discovery that, Ricky looks at coach Someshwar, bewildered. Someshwar looks back at him. He can read the feeling of anger and shame written all over Ricky's face. This isn't just any other player, this is the team's captain! Prabir has dared to insult the Captain! That too in front of everyone! Left with no choice but to defend Ricky, Soemshwar looks angrily at Prabir and yells ' You aren't the boss here, Prabir. I am the boss. I will decide who faces whom and who bowls to whom." Then, turning towards Ricky, he says 'Come on, Captain. Bowl to prabir'.

Someshwar's seething anger floods Prabir's inside with sweet fluid of pleasure. He has hit where it hurts the most! He has insulted Coach's favourite player, the team's captain! Oh! What an added dose of humilation he can serve to Ricky if he can again hit him for sixes! Prabir takes his guard. Seldom has he felt more excited than this. Rcky is going to become another Bittu!

Six! Six! Six! Dot! Four! Six! That's the summary of the duel.

Prabir has smacked Ricky all around the park! After bowling the last ball, Ricky walks towards the adjacent net where Sukanta is batting. His head is lowered and his hands are on his waist. He doesn't look at Prabir. Prabir, on the other hand, doesn't forget to remind Someshwar 'Sir, i told you i will hit him for sixes. Better you had asked Anup to bowl.'
Though privately happy to see Prabir bat so fluently, Someshwar chooses to not entertain Prabir's self-congratulations. He senses something wrong with Prabir. It's the third consecutive day that he is causing irks in the camp. Such desperation to be the captain!  But why? wonders Someshwar.
Prabir, though, misconstrues Someshwar's silence as his silent weeping over the humailation faced by Ricky. That's a sweet victory! Prabir smiles proudly but secretively. Oh! Playing badass is so fulfilling! Not bad to add a bit of Kevin Pietersen in Dhoni!

*********************************************************************

Friday morning sees Sukhomoy, along with his FC Masters, arrive in Srabani Ground for the first time after past Monday's tussle with Someshwar. The impending prospect of Sukhomoy coaching in the other half of the ground drives a pulsating current of excitement through Prabir. Truth be told, he has been utterly shocked to see Sukhomoy disappear after that fight. The joke in the camp is that Sukhomoy is inspired by Aam Aadmi Party's leader Arvind Kejriwal who gave up his post as Chief Minister of Delhi after realising that he can't tackle the plethora of problems Delhi faces. Similarly, Sukhomoy has gven up after realising he can't fight against Someshwar and his EC Cricket Champs. This cowardly disappearance had spoilt Prabir's plan. When he chalked out his much successful 'Policy of Irritation', the first pillar of the startegy was built upon Sukhomoy's presence in the same ground as Someshwar. Prabir had made up his mind that everytime Someshwar looks at him, he will cast short but frequent gances at the adjacent nets of FC Masters. Oh! Thermometres will fail to measure the temperature inside Someshwar's skull! Boiling it would be! Alas, where did he get a chance to inflict that pain upon Someshwar! But now, the time has arrived!

Arvind Kejriwal was back in the chief Minister's seat a year later backed by an even greater popular mandate. Sukhomoy too has returned and he has a challenge to throw at Someshwar. He doesn't even enter his nets, walks straight upto Someshwar and stands in front of him.

Someshwar's face turns stiff at the sight of Sukhomoy. That pink colour again! 'What do you want now? Done with poaching? Now, are you here to steal in broad daylight?' asks Someshwar.

'I have come to fight with you. But, since, i am not a thug like you, i fight not with my hands, but in the only way i know to fight,i.e., by playing cricket' Sukhomoy says this in one breath keeping his eyes fixed on Someshwar throughout.

'What do you mean, old man?'

'Oh! I may be old, but i am more courageous than a pimp like you. Tell me, do you have it in you to fight? Tell me' Sukhomoy's voice turns stern.

'What fight? I can't understand?'

'Ha! Ha! Did you piss in your pants, huh? A fight, a cricket match'

Someshwar now gets an inkling of what Sukhomoy is asking for. Still, he asks, for the sake of clarification, 'Match? Between whom?'

Sukhomoy takes a step closer to Someshwar. 'Between EC Cricket Champs and FC Masters. This Sunday afternoon. Right at this place. "

'Ok. Old Man. Since you aren't done getting beaten up by me, i will fulfill your wish for another beating, this time in the 22 yards. But,tell me, what will i gain by beating you? We are the Champions, after all. And you are mere Quarter-Finalists. We are Australia. You are Bangladesh. " Someshwar finishes with a smirk.

'If FC Masters lose, we leave Srabani Ground. This entire ground is then for you to practise.'

A stunned Someshwar twists his lip in appreciation of Sukhomoy's promise, before saying 'I like it. Nothing will give me more pleasure than kicking your old butt out of this place'

A suggestive smile appears on Sukhomoy's face, 'But, what if you lose, Someshwar?'

Someshwar's face straightens up. What might be the bargain here that has driven Sukhomoy to the point of staking his right of staying in Srabani Ground? Is it..?

Before Someshwar could zero in on the only possible bargain, Sukhomoy utters the name himself.'Prabir is the reason i want this match, Someshwar. If you lose and i win, Prabir ceases to be your player and joins my club."

Someshwar starts breathing heavily. He gives a death stare at Sukhomoy.

Sukhomoy doesn't care though. He continues, 'Since Prabir is the bargain, it's obvious that he can't play the match."

In an attempt to introduce theatrical elements in the ensuing drama,Sukhomoy takes 2 steps back and says, looking straight at Someshwar's eyes,  'So, here is my challenge, Someshwar. A Twenty over match in Srabani Ground this Sunday at 2pm between FC Masters and EC Cricket Champs sans Prabir. What do you say?'  Sukhomoy puts forward his right palm hoping that Someshwar would put forward his and the deal will be sealed.

'Shut Up. Have you come here after smoking weeds or what? Chee! Chee! Even in this age! Prabir can't play? Who the fuck are you to decide whether Prabir will play or not? He will cease to be my player and will join your club? Is that so easy? Get lost, you old pig. I don't accept your challenge. Just leave. Don't waste our time."

'Are you afraid, Someshwar?' Sukhomoy's eyes had gone bigger and his lips appeared twisted when he released this venomous arrow, his last weapon to extract a yes from his rival coach.

'Oh! You shut Up! You scoundrel"  Someshwar charges furiosuly at Sukhomoy. The same drama of Monday is acted again. First, Someshwar pushes Sukhomoy who, for a change, pushes back in retaliation. Then,the two set of players, led by Ricky, wrap themselves around their respective coaches, thereby preventing a full-blown physical fight between them. Lastly, they drag their coaches back to their respective nets.  Distance enforces peace.

An enraged Someshwar calls off the practise then and there. Before leaving, he informs his team that tomorrow being a Saturday, the practise is scheduled for 4pm in evening.

When the heated conversation between the coaches was going on, the players consigned themselves to hearing them intently. When Sukhomoy challenged for a match, the tongues of players from both sides salivated. When Someshwar, at first, accepted the challenge, many felt as if they have the moon in their hands. It has been a long held desire on both sides that a match take place between them in this very ground. That is the only way to see who rules Srabani Ground -- EC Cricket Champs or FC Masters? But, when Sukhomoy elaborated upon the bargain and Someshwar responded to it negatively, a state of uncertainty grips both sides. Players of FC Masters don't undertsand why has Prabir, a player from a rival team, become so valuable to their coach a player from a rival team, become so valuable to their coach that he is willing to let this ground slip from their grasp for his sake. On the other hand, players of EC Cricket Champs don't understand why Someshwahr isn't accepting the challenge. Is he afraid of losing Prabir? Which begs a further question, does he not trust the others?

Amidst this confusion, both set of players stare too frequently at Prabir. An uncomfortable Prabir leaves the ground right after Someshwar. Ricky observes him intently till his diminutive frame disappears from Srabani Ground.

-------------

Throughout his journey back home Someshwar has been cursing Sukhomoy. Even after reaching home, taking a much needed bath and slipping into a different lungi, a green one, he hasn't calmed one bit. His raging contempt towards Sukhomoy shows no signs of abatement. Old moron that! Can't develop a player on his won, yet is always busy reaping the fruits of crops sown by others. Prabir is his player! He is Someshwar's only hope in life now. How dare Sukhomoy attempt to snatch that away from him? How could Sukhomoy think that he can walk up to him, ask for a match in which the winner gets Prabir and expect him to say yes to that ludicrous deal? Is Sukhomoy mad?  

Suddenly, just like few days back, his phone starts ringing. This time, though, the caller isn't Prabir. It's Ricky.

"Hello! Ricky? Yes, tell me"

"Sir, you accept FC's challenge. "

Someshwar springs up from his bed. "Why? You know very well what the bargain is all about? Still, you say i should accept the challenge? Has my captain lost his head?"

"No, Sir. I know what FC's coach is asking for. But, Sir, don't you have faith in the rest of us. We'll win."

Not good for a coach to be asked whether he believes in his own players. Someshwar has never faced this question in his coaching career till now. "No Ricky. It's not that. I definitely believe in you. But, why take this foolish risk? We are better off having Prabir than without him, right? Moreover, that man Sukhomoy is a treacherous leech. Can't trust him. What's the guarantee that he will leave the ground even if he loses? And most important thing is we don't know who the umpires will be? It will be foolhardy to accept this challenge. The price is too high to pay, even if i know we don't have to pay it. Still, why take such risks, Ricky? We are playing well. We should consolidate our gains now. "

After hearing out his coach patiently, Ricky, standing outside the  gates of his home in Dhakuria area of Kolkata, reveals the reason behind his request 'Sir, we, i mean, the entire team wants that Prabir should be taught  a lesson. "

Someshwar feels enraged. Teaching lesson to whom? Prabir?
His Prabir? Not under my watch, thinks he. Still, he behaves as if he is lending a sympathetic ear to Ricky.

"Why is that so, Captain?"

"Sir. Prabir has changed since he met the rival coach.  Didn't you see how he deliberately skipped  hard work in the nets this week? Sir, he has been fooling you. All these leg pain, reaching school early were lies, total lies. But, the most painful aspect is he has begun to insult others.  That day, he insulted me in front of everyone. Sir, you yourself were a witness to it. But, it's not only me. He has been taunting nearly every one else in private. The team is no longer liking his presence , Sir. Something has to give. Thats' why i request you to take up this challenge. If we win, he stays with us. At least, he would know that his temamates, those whom he is insulting, fought for his stay in the club. But, even if we lose, we can find other good players.."

"Ricky, shut up! Just shut up! " Someshwar jumps off his bed in anger. He doesn't want to find other good players, because he knows he won't find an equal. Prabir is such a rare gem. On the top of his voice, he yells on the phone"i have not made you captain for this nonsense. If a division is appearing in the team, you, as captain, should prevent that. Instead, you are further aggravating matters! Behave responsibly, or otherwise, i will strip you off your capatincy. Do you get it?"

Ricky hadn't anticipated this kind of fury from his coach. He quickly disconnects the line after blurting out , "Sorry, Sir." Unsettled, he knocks on the door of his home.

Someshwar takes deep breaths. What exaclty is happening to him? Just 5 days back, he had coached his team to victory in a vital tournamnet. While the time is ripe to consolidate, he is now being held up by unforeseen problems. First, that old bastard Sukhomoy popped out from nowhere. Now, this heart-wrenching news of the rest of the team ganging up against Prabir! And why is Prabir, all of a sudden, acting snobbish?How does he save Prabir from both external and internal enemies? Why these problems? Can't his life ever be free of torment?  An exasperated Someshwar cries out in despair. Why does fate relish  conspiring against him so much? Which wrong has he committed to deserve such an unbeatable enemy like destiny?  Someshwar, feeling crushed, kicks the table in front of him.
*********************************************************************

The clock strikes 1 on Saturday afternoon. Prabir, sitting on the floor in his room, bare chested and wearing a black half pant, doesn't know whether he will go to Srabani Maath. He has to take a quick decision. If he has to reach there by the scheduled time of 4pm, he must leave his home within the next 2 hours. But, does he want to? He has spent a good portion of the last day constructing meaning out of Someshwar's unwillingness to accept Sukhomoy's challenge. Why the refusal? Prabir has thought long and hard about it. On the face of it, it means Someshwar Sir cares about him deeply. Sir doesn't want to put him up at stake. That's why Sir straightaway refused to accept the offer of a match in which loss would mean letting him go.

But, Prabir suspects that he is being too soft on his coach. Coach has bowed to his own ego. Sir knows very well the naked truth that without him EC Cricket Champs doesn't stand a chance against FC Masters, a team full of good pacers. Who will play against the likes of their Asif, Debdut, Krishanu and Anil? Who? Sukanta? Sudip? His foot! They won't survive  even 10 balls! Only he, Prabir, can play them. Someshwar Sir knows that. He is afraid of defeat. His ego won't digest a loss to Sukhomoy. It's not about losing Prabir, it's about his own loss of face, his own shame. Sir isn't protecting him, Sir is protecting himself. It's Prabir's standout ability as a batsman which is preventing Someshwar Sir from accepting the challenge to play without him, it's not some attachment that his coach may have with him which he first suspected.

Prabir decides not to go to practise today. He sticks to his Policy of Irritation.

Prabir calls up Tania, who lives in nearby Barasat Town.

'Hello! Prabir? What a surprise!'

'Hi! Tania!' After a brief pause, Prabir asks  'What are you doing this evening?'

'Going to cinema.'

'Which movie? Sultan?'

'No. Can't get tickets of that. Am going to watch Dev's 'Kelor Kirti"

"Oh! I see! In which hall?"

"Arti."

"Hmm. Going alone?"

"No. No. Who goes to watch cinema alone? Going there with schoolfriends, not of our class, though.But, why do you ask?"

'Have you  bought the tickets?"

"No. Will purchase it at the counter. Again, why do you ask?"

'Actually, i wouldn't have minded coming and watching the cinema with you. "

"Really! I am so happy! But, you have your practise, right?"

"No. Not today."

"Very good! Come to Arti Cinemas at 4:45pm. I hope it's not too far."

"No, no. It's about 20 minutes from my home."

"Good. Don't be late then. Ok?"

"Fine."

"See you . Bye."

"Hmm"

After disconnecting the phone, Prabir plays out in his mind the screeching delight in Tania's voice when she heard that he wants to watch a cinema with her. Does that excitement translate into something more substantial? Prabir blushes. Tania, like Someshwar Sir, is proving to be difficult to read. Not every 'spinner' is Ricky and Bittu, after all.

-----------

In Srabani Ground, coach Someshwar looks at his watch. It is 4:15 pm. Where's Prabir? Never before has Prabir skipped practise without informing him. Or rather the truth is Prabir has never skipped practise, forget about being late. Someshwar feels worried. Having blunted Sukhomoy's desperate shot at snatching Prabir away from him, Someshwar feels fearful of what may be playing in Sukhomoy's mind. What may be his next ploy? That old douchebag isn't one to sit back and take a 'No". Has he done something malicious to prevent Prabir from coming here?  Has he threatened Prabir? Tension is piling up inside Someshwar. He is yet to start today's practise session. Other players are waiting for him to waive the green flag.

A concerned Someshwar calls Prabir's opening partner Sukanta to come near him.

"Sukanta, where is Prabir?"

"Don't know, Sir."

"Who can know? Who among you is his closest friend?"

"Sir, Prabir doesn't chat much with any of us. He remains busy with himself.  I have his phone number though. Should i give him a call?"

"Yes. Give him a call. Right now"

Sukanta dials Prabir's number. Someshwar's eyes are fixed at Sukanta. They don't blink even once. The more the phone rings without someone picking it up, Someshwar's heartbeat increases. What exactly is on here?

Suddenly, Sukanta blurts out, 'Hello? Who? Prabir?"

Someshwar feels a sudden release of the pressure that had built inside him. Prabir is, at least, answering the call.

In the next few moments, Someshwar and all other assembled players hear the following tidbits of conversation between Sukanta and Prabir, all spoken by Sukanta.
 
"Where are you? We are waiting for you here!"

"What! Which movie?"

"Where?"

"With whom?"

 "Sir, he has disconnected the line."  Sukanta says, turning towards Someshwar.

"Where is he?" asks the coach.

"Sir, he has gone to watch Dev's new movie "Kelor Kirti" with his girlfriend Tania in Arti Cinemas near his home. "

"What! What nonsense is this!" Someshwar can't hide his frustration. Prabir is now skipping practise to attend movies!

Ricky speaks up now. "Sir, This is what i am telling you. Has he ever skipped practise before? Now, he is doing that and that too for such a silly reason. Couldn't he take his girlfriend to cinema on some other day? Sir, Prabir has changed ever since the rival coach met him. There's a new air about him now. Sir, he is believing that he is above everyone else . Sir, you must teach him a lesson." The others in the team echoes the demand of their captain.

Sukanta adds some more spice to the resentment-rich dish being served to the coach. "Yes Sir. Even now, over the phone, Prabir was very arrogant and adamant. It was as if he doesn't care one bit about what we think of him. When i pointed out, as all of you have heard, that we are waiting for him here, he rubbished it by saying "What can i do if you are waiting?'! Then, when i asked him further details, he answered like he was feeling disgusted for having to answer my questions. Finally, when i asked him with whom has he gone to watch the movie, he shouted out 'With Tania! My Classmate.Happy? Now, don't disturb me!' and disconnected the line. That's rude, Sir".

Contented with Sukanta's substantiation of his observations, Ricky, looks at Someshwar with expectation in his eyes.
Faced with team unity against his favourite student, Someshwar attempts a balancing act. He doesnt become as aggressive as he was with Ricky over the phone. In stead , he says, to douse the fire,  'Ok. Ok. I will see to it that he behaves properly. Now, start practising"

While his wards practise, Someshwar does a quick google search regarding show timings in Arti Cinema. The show which Prabir is attending will be over at 7:30 pm.  That's enough time for Someshwar to finish practise here and then pay a visit to Prabir, right in front of Arti Cinema Hall! Ricky is right.  Prabir has changed. Need to find out what exactly is the matter. Is he so pissed off for not being handed over the captaincy that he is ready to risk the goodwill of his teammates? Someshwar never knew that within that litlle frame existed such stinging currents of revolt. A phone call won't suffice. He needs to speak directly with Prabir. Can't postpone this now. Sukhomoy wont keep quiet for long. It's imperative that the air is cleared.

----------


When the cinema ends, Tania, while being in the motion of leaving her seat, turns right to observe her 3 girlfriends Roshni, Pushpita and Sanjukta. A sudden frenzy seems to have gripped those ladies. They just can't stop gawking at one half of the big screen which is now adorned by the smiling face of the current superstar of Bengali cinema, Dev. The other half of the screen is rolling the title credits of the movie 'Kelor Kirti'.  The 3 ladies, habituated to losing their senses the moment Dev props up anywhere anytime, have been swept off their feet by the tsunami of magnetic charisma radiating off Dev's royal presence, that too for 2 and a half hours at a stretch, on the canvas of the single screen of Arti Cinemas.

Tania hears Pushpita, a fat, fair and short girl, wearing a yellow salwar kameez,her eyes gleaming, hands shaking in delight, exclaim "Oh! My God! How handsome did he look!"  to which Sanjukta, similar in appearance to Pushpita, but a shade darker, wearing yellow top and blue jeans, adds 'Couldn't take my eyes off him even for a second!" That remark, then, acted as the catalyst for a hearty laughter being exchanged between the 3 diehard fans of superstar Dev as they navigated their way towards the exit door in this crowded cinema hall. Not to be outdone by her 2 rivals for the hyper-significant title of ''Dev's biggest fan' , Roshni, the slimmest and the shortest among the three, clad in off-white salwar kameez, boasts 'I  will return home and the first thing i will do is download a poster of this movie and then take a print out of it after which i will paste the poster beside my bedroom. I already have 15 posters of him! This will be the 16th!' Roshni thinks this will set the hormones, which control the feeling of jealousy, of her friends on a hyper-secretive mode. Alas, far from that happening, what transpires is Roshni being at the receiving end of a taunt by Pushpita 'You haven't done it yet! I had done so the day the trailer was launched!'. Taken aback by the sheer intensity of the competition, Sanjukta claims that she already has 25 posters of Dev and therefore, there is no space in her bedroom for another poster!

Tania realises that the 3 ladies are lost in their own world of fantasies and have become unmindful of everything around. This absent-mindedness on the part of her friends is what Tania has been waiting for. She doesn't move an inch from her place.

Prabir, wearing a navy blue t-shirt and a tight black jeans, seating next to Tania, meanwhile, is bored to death. His fantasies, unlike those of Tania's friends, revolve around Dhoni, not Dev. Naturally, he is immune to the charm emanating from the big screen. He waits for a few moments to allow the frenzied crowd to pass by. The last thing he wants is to overhear a conversation pampering Dev, whom he rubbishes as 'A Bloody, 2 Paise Booty Shaker'.  As the crowd thins out, he gets up and prods Tania to start moving towards the exit door. Tania follows suit, happy in her own realisation that she can now have a few moments in isolation with Prabir.

As soon as they emerge out of the darkness in the cinema hall and step into the dimly lit, narrow, exit corridor , Tania and Prabir find themselves trailing other members of the audience all of whom seem to be in a hurry to leave the cinema hall. However, the two school friends are least bothered about matching the speed of movement of others.

Walking slowly, Tania asks Prabir ' So, Did you like the movie?'

Prabir tempers his irritation. Nonchalantly, he says 'Yeah, Somewhat.'

'Somewhat? Not a fan of Dev?'

"Not really. I like Jeet more. "

"Oh! I see!"

"Don't you like Jeet?"

"Nah. Jeet... not my type. He neither fits in romantic movies nor in action movies. Dev is any day better than him." Tania looks at Prabir and gives out a hearty laughter the sight and sound of which fills Prabir's soul with ecstasy.

They have now reached the spot where Roshni, Pushpita and Sanjukta are waiting for them. The 3 ladies seemed to have gotten over their frenzy. Now, they were back to normal.

Sanjukta, on seeing Tania and Prabir exit the hall together  exchanging smiles, starts pulling Tania's legs 'Did you get lost? Was it accidental or intentional?"

Tania rubbishes the insinuation in a desperate attempt to suppress the suggestive cheering which her 3 friends have started to embark upon followng Sanjukta's joke.

Prabir stands beside the 4 ladies, blushing.

 Just as the 4 ladies start exchanging their views on the movie, Prabir types a message in his phone to Tania , 'Do you mind if i drop you home tonight?'

Tania's facial expression changes the moment she receives the message. She now waits desperately for the conversation to stop and her friends to go home. She brings a premature end to the discussion by pointing out that it's getting late and it's time to move on. Quickly, the 4 ladies finalise their routes of departure. What favours Tania and Prabir is that the 3 friends don't need to travel with Tania to return home as they stayed in different places. Therefore, Tania easily lies to them that she will catch a bus to her home. It's a different matter though that none among Sanjukta, Roshni and Psuhpita buys her lie. They know what Tania is up to, yet thanks to good sense prevailing, opt not to stand in the way of a nascent love and choose to exit. For them, gossip, however mouth-watering it is, can wait till tomorrow.

Having got rid of her friends, Tania turns towards Prabir. Prabir flashes a relieved smile. Tania steps closer and volunteers to hold Prabir's right hand. This boldness on the part of Tania ,who acts out a refreshing deviation from the unfair norm that the boy has to be the one wanting to hold the girl's hand, unsettles Prabir. The touch of Tania's skin against his own palm freezes the wonder kid. This was a matter of different wonder altogether. With secretive glances, Prabir steals glimpses of Tania, that seductive smile, that dimple, those light blue eyes, those puffy cheeks, that stream of hair flowing down beside her smiling face, that white kameez having red embroideries all over with a light orange dupatta draped over it, that tight blue salwar beneath! Head spinning stuff, this! The master run scorer realises that in this beautiful world, there's more for the eyes to observe than the red cherries bowled to him every day.  Sensing Prabir's uneasiness, Tania tightens her grip around Prabir's hand and starts pulling him ever so slowy,towards the exit gates of Arti Cinemas. Prabir, second best in this game, still uncomfortable in this tricky pitch, follows suit.

"Accha, you go to Kolkata every morning for practise?" Tania asks.

"Yes. Every morning. Can't skip practise. Sir is very strict" Prabir responds, with a low voice,  somewhat stuttering.

Tania is cherishing this unease in Prabir. While she has spoken to boys before, even had an affair when she was in class VII,she is sure that this is the first time Prabir is speaking to a girl for some length of time. She presses on "What's the name of your club you had said? I keep on forgetting it. The first part. Some C"

"It's EC Cricket Champs. "

"Yes, EC. And what does EC stand for? Something in  Salt Lake, you had said"

"EC stands for EC block. Salt Lake is divided into various blocks, one such is EC." Tania notices that slowly, Prabir is  beginning to speak in louder tones.

"When does your practise start?" she keeps the conversation going.

"6am."

Tania halts and sees Prabir with amazement. Prabir could see the full morning sky in those enlarged light blue eyes of Tania. "You reach Kolkata everyday by 6am? My God! It's so far" Tania exclaims with wonder in her voice.

"Yeah, a bit far. But, what to do? The facilities are only in Kolkata." Prabir speaks casually, in an attempt to play down the extent of his struggle.

"So, when do you wake up then?"

"At 4:30 am. I catch the train to Ultadanga at 5. Reach there
in 50 minutes. From there, it's about 10 minutes to Salt Lake."

Tania's raised eyebrows show no sign of returning to their original position. She is awestruck to hear that Prabir wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, every day! She confesses that she can't wake up before 8 any day! Prabir laughs it off by saying that cricket is such a passion that one will do anything for it. The dimple appears across Tania's cheeks again. She pats Prabir's back, exclaiming loudly, "Sabaash, my tiger!" Ohh! That touch! Prabir's knees are about to tremble. He hopes his right hand, in Tania's grip, don't start shaking. It has become sweaty though. And did he hear her refer to him as "My Tiger?" Prabir puts his left hand into his pocket and pinches his own thigh.

It's in this moment, which embodies unimaginable possibilites, the sight of his coach Someshwar, dressed in their practice attire, standing beside the exit gate, with his hands in his pockets, drives the wits out of Prabir. He withdraws his hand from Tania's grip even before anyone's eyes can blink. The opener's instinct, they say, knows when to leave.

Seeing that they are still in the midst of  a sizeable crowd, Someshwar asks Prabir to follow him to a secluded spot in the narrow lane adjoining Arti Cinemas. Prabir signals Tania to accompany him. Tania doesn't know who this lean, middle aged man wearing thick spectacles is. But, his dress, white shirt, white trouser and sports shoes, give enough hints to her that this is a matter involving Prabir's cricket. Seeing Prabir's reaction, she realises that this man's presence here has come as a shock to him. The smart girl that she is, she chooses to keep some distance. She isn't sure how this man may react to her attending their conversation. He hasn't come here for her, he has come for Prabir. Tania follows Prabir only for a few steps and stops. She turns around to see the buses and auto rickshaws passing through the main road. It's her way of suggesting that it's a personal matter of the two men what they are speaking of. But, her ears remains glued to overhearing the conversation,

Once in that isolated spot, Someshwar, relieved that the girl  is standing at a distance with her back facing them,  asks, with sufficient authority mixed  in his voice, though he never wished to make Prabir go through this public interrogation, "Why did you not come for practice today? Don't you remember that you have not had adequate practice this week?"

Tania feels an instinctive anger within her .  She is shocked to know that Prabir has skipped practise. What annoys her is that her first outing with Prabir turns out to have been predicated upon a lie. She hadn't wished so.

Prabir has , by now, overcome his initial defensive impulses. Standing before Someshwar is not the guy who withdrew from holding Tania's hand in the presence of his coach, but the guy who was cheeky enough to practise his Policy of Irritation. Standing there, Prabir marvels at the success of his policy. It has irritated his coach to such an extent that he has felt the need to confront Prabir personally!

Adopting a carefree manner, Prabir replies,  "You can see why"

Someshwar is stunned to see Prabir's daring.  He isn't even attempting to forge an excuse!

Taking advantage of Someshwar's shock, which induced a silence in him, Prabir points out 'Beside, what would i have done by going to practise today? Tomorrow, you have the match in which i can't play. "

"Which match? Didn't you hear me reject the offer?" counters a surprised Someshwar.

"What else could you have done?" chuckles Prabir.

"What do you mean to say, Prabir?"

"I mean to say the truth. That without me, EC Cricket Champs is bogus. Forget about FC Masters, without me, EC Cricket Champs can't even win against a school team of amateurs. That's why, i say,  what could you have done except reject the challenge?" This is no longer about playing out his Policy of Irritation. Prabir is now speaking from his heart.

Someshwar is now getting to see first hand that picture  of Prabir which Ricky and Sukanta had tried to draw in front of him.

Adjusting his glasses, Someshwar says , 'You seem to have found a new friend -- arrogance. I am hearing tales of you insulting your teammates. What has gone into your head, Prabir? Who is corrupting your mind? That old chap?"

"Why blame him, Sir? Ever since you people came to know about our meeting, it seems all of you have gone nuts. I can smell envy the moment i enter Srabani Maath. Sir, why does he need to corrupt my mind? Is it not the truth that i am miles ahead of everyone else in your team?" In his mind and heart, Prabir yearns for an answer from Someshwar to this specific question. Isn't he the best? He would settle for nothing less than an emphatic yes.

Someshwar opts to break the eye contact with Prabir. He can't look into Prabir's eyes because they are gleaming with the knowledge of truth. Yes, he is the best player in EC Cricket Champs. But, does that mean he will crow like this? If he gets on this train of thought, he will speed towards the destination of self-destruction in no time. Instead of patting his back by acknowledging his superiority, Someshwar thinks he needs to present the truth in an enlightening manner by providing some associated counsel to Prabir.

"Prabir, you are the best player. No one dubts that. NO ONE. But, that doesn't mean that you are above the rules which bind the team together. You can't insult your teammates. One who doesn't earn the respect of his temammtes is no sportsman at all. " reasons Someshwar.

Prabir, on not getting that emphatic yes, feels dejected. His pulse starts racing. He stares blankly at the ground. In his own mind, the feisty little kid is screaming out "No, coach, no! Special players are just that, special! They are above rules. Rules are for the ordinary. Special talents don't serve their team, their team serves them." His lips don't move though.

Someshwar feels he has wrested back the upper hand with one piece of sagacious counsel.

"Prabir, look up."

Prabir does as ordered.

"I haven't come here to scold you. But, indiscipline is the first constituent of failure. What you have done today, shouldn't be done again. Alright?"

Another rule! For him! Unacceptable! The tempestuous Prabir thinks he is ceding too much space without wresting any for himself. Without looking up, he protests. "Sir, this is my personal life. You have no right to dictate to me what i will do , what i will not.When i feel like going to a cinema, i will go, when i feel like roaming around with my friends, i will roam, when i feel like practising,  only then will i practise!" It is so direct and blunt that even Tania squirms.

Someshwar freezes in despair. His only hope seems to have made up his mind that he willn't fulfill Someshwar's dreams. What's more, he seems to have gone out of hand. He seems to be beyond Soemshwar's reach now. He is his own master now! Someshwar needs to be tough if he wishes to acquire control over Prabir.

"I see, You have learnt how to argue with even your coach. Don't you feel any shame in talking to me like this?"

Prabir doesn't increase the extent of his indecency. He chooses silence.

"Siddhartha would never behave with me like you are doing."

The mention of Siddharth boils Prabir's blood. He screams, this time training his eyes upon his coach, in disgust, "Sir, I AM NOT SIDDHARTHA! I AM NOT YOUR SON!"

"Prabir!" shouts Someshwar, in sync with the slap he gives to Prabir.

Prabir didn't foresee this end result of his recalcitrance. This is the first time in his life he has been slapped. His coach didn't care about his prestige in front of a girl! As he looks at Someshwar shell-shocked, tears swim into the centre of his eyes, but he prevents them from flowing out. With his eyes closed, he turns around and rushes towards the front of the cinema hall. He feels humilated. He can't  even look at Tania. He doesn't want to look at his coach.  Tania, who has been forced to turn around to see what happened following the sound of scream and slap that she heard, sees Prabir, hands covering his mouth, eyes closed, zoom past her. She runs after him. "Prabir? Prabir? What happened? Listen to me!"She screams before fading away from Someshwar's sight.

Someshwar stands, in that remote corner, horrified. What if Prabir doesn't return? The sight of a tearful Prabir turning his back on him seems to be the final stab fate had reserved to take at him. Prabir's departure symbolised, for Someshwar, the departure of his own hope. Anger! That devil! Something he could never conquer! Years ago, an angry outburst at Mohan Bagan's infulential man Radha Kanta Mukherjee had sealed his fate, today, an angry reaction to a provocative comment may too have the same effect. Hope, in his life, may again turn out to be nothing but a mirage.

However repentent he may be, however dejected he may be, Someshwar isn't apologetic though. His face has turned into a stone. But, he isn't crying. If ever Prabir comes to know the truth, he would forgive his coach. This much Someshwar knows; but what he doesn't know is whether he is right in calling himself Prabir's coach. Coach? or is he now an ex-coach? Sukhomoy's face flashes before Someshwar's eyes.
********************************************************************

Someshwar paces up and down beside the nets in Srabani Maath. It's Sunday afternoon. Both EC Cricket Champs and FC Masters are present in the ground. But, there is no match to be played. Disappointed, Sukhomoy is overseeing FC Masters' practise with a grumpy look on his face. He is leaving no stones unturned in impressing upon his players that the team that they see on the other side of the ground is a team of cowards coached by a man who doesn't have any balls! The glimmer in the eyes of his players, on hearing this insult of EC Cricket Champs in the lips of their own coach, is the only solace for Sukhomoy in this hot afternoon. How can he net the prized fish Prabir; Sukhomoy researches his options in private.

Someshwar though has no time for Sukhomoy. He is restless and terrified. He is at his wits end to decipher what might be the implication of Prabir not turning up again. Would it mean that he has broken ties with him? Is it so easy for him to be so cruel? All those hours Someshwar spent in the net with him advising him how to keep his balance right while hitting strokes; what should be his ideal stance, his ideal grip; how the head shouldn't move as he lunges into a drive; how the elbow should be straight while hitting the straight drive; all those hours-- don't they count for anything? Has he not looked after Prabir well? He couldn't have done anything more other than completely surrender himself to Prabir. Is that what Prabir wants from his coach? But then, no matter how much he loves Prabir, the bottom line is that he is the coach of the entire club. He can't devote all his attention to just one player. Because, then that would break the team spirit which will lead to defeats. And, as Someshwar knows very well courtesy his days in Wari Athletic Club, defeats would prevent the spotlight from falling on Prabir's standout performances. How can he make Prabir understand this truth? How can Prabir not realise this himself?

All of his other players have arrived for practise, all except Prabir. Ricky makes it a point to underline Prabir's absence as brightly as he can for the coach to see. "Sir, even today, Prabir hasn't come" he 'informs' the coach. Someshwar nods his head slowly before telling Ricky to start practising. Ricky feels overjoyed as this is the first time, their practice will commence without Prabir! Today, somebody else will be the first to enter the nets! And what's more Sir didn't ask anyone to call Prabir which means he isn't even willing to find out the reason for Prabir's absence. Ha! Ha! Sir has also got fed up of Prabir. Sir has started to teach Prabir lessons. If Prabir doesn't care about the rest; rest too don't care about him! Tit for tat!

It's then that Prabir arrives in Srabani Maath. There is novelty in his appearance today. On other days, Prabir crosses the gates of the ground while seeming to be quite relaxed. He is always dressed in his shirt and track suit, while carrying his kitbag under his left armpit. But, today, he crossed the gates with determined and rapid steps. The most surprising thing, though, is that he is fully dressed in his batting attire. He has already worn his pads, his gloves, his chest guard, his elbow guard and even his helmet! His bat is tucked below his left armpit. Had it not been for the fact that Prabir is the shortest player plying his trade in Srabani Maath, most people there may not have recognised him.

So relieved is Someshwar to see Prabir back that he hardly  notices this change in Prabir's demeanour and appearance. But, soon, the truth reveals itself to Someshwar and his EC Cricket Champs. Prabir marches ahead with a spring in his steps. To the utter shock of Someshwar and others in his team, Prabir doesn't enter the nets of EC Cricket Champs. Rather he does what nobody has done in this ground ever, i.e, cross over from one half to the other. The moment Prabir crosses Someshwar, Someshwar realises that he, from now on, is Prabir's ex-coach. Soemshwar shuts his eyes. He can't cry in front of his wards. It may be difficult to prevent that, though.

Prabir walks up straight to Sukhomoy who , upon seeing Prabir enter their side of the ground,has asked his own wards to stop practising.

Standing within inches of Sukhomoy, Prabir releases his bat from underneath his armpit and transfers it to his right hand. Then, Prabir Das, the wonder kid, declares, "I want to play for FC Masters".

*********************************************************************

"Ah! How relieved i feel!", marvels Prabir as he lies in his bed, wearing just his blue trunks,  waiting to  fall asleep after what has been a mighty important day of his life. For the last week, this choice between EC Cricket Champs and FC Masters has been an albatross around his neck. Today, he feels relieved as he has made his choice. Right or wrong, the choice is made.Truth be told, he didn't want to  leave EC Cricket Champs. EC Cricket Champs is to Prabir, what the apex club Chennai Super Kings is to his idol MS Dhoni. It's life, it's pride, it's identity. Yet, he had to make the harsh switch. Someshwar Sir shoudn't have slapped him! Ok, Prabir can digest some rebuke from his coach, he can bow to some rules for the sake of team spirit. After all, his Policy of Irritation was strictly temporary, he woud have ended it very soon. That squabble with Ricky also would have evaporated into smoke. The mole hill shoudn't have become a mountain. But, that slap! It broke the camel's back. He can still feel it, that smash into his cheeks, that feeling of being crestfallen, that sting of humiliation, that too infront of Tania! No looking back, now. EC Cricket Champs is over for him. It's they who drove him away.

Prabir turns sideways. He once again reads the message that his new coach Sukhomoy has sent to his cellphone about fifteen minutes back. "Good night, Prabir! You batted beautifully in the nets today! Keep it up! Next practise is tomorrow at 6 am. Now, go to sleep. Take care. " Oh! that face of Sukhomoy Sir when he heard Prabir say that he wants to play for FC Masters! Million dollar smile that! Was his sponatneous excitement for real? Sukhomoy isn't a newbie like Someshwar. He has been coaching for about 3 decades now. He has handled thousands of players, yet, the joy in his face on acquiring Prabir seemed to be out of this world. It was as if he has waited for this moment all his life! Really? Is that how special he is for his new coach Sukhomoy? Well, it seems Sukhomoy stands  true to his words! A good night message! He is aready taking special care of Prabir! A smile of satisfaction appears in Prabir's face as he tightly holds on to his leg pillow in excitement.

Special care? Finally he is getting it then! It's something which Someshwar refused to give to him. After Sukhomoy introduced Prabir to his team, Prabir had set out to bat. He didn't even care to look at his former coach or his former teammates. He doesn't know what there reactions were or how did they feel. He didn't care. That's it.He practised long and hard, deep into the sunset. He was the only white among a bunch of pinks in the nets. Sukhomoy promised him that his jersey will be ready by next week. Ah! His first coloured jersey! First time, his name will be printed behind his back! Too bad, he will not get his favoured jersey number, Dhoni's no.7. That's been taken up by someone else. His jersey will be numbered 22 -- Prabir Das 22 -- PD 22, that's what he will be called. Not bad, eh? But, it has to become PD7. He will secure that in one year on the strength of his performances. In a blink of an eye, Prabir turns around in his bed. Exciting times ahead!

He was the last to leave the nets, with Sukhomoy providing him company. What enlightening cricket discussions he had with Sukhomoy! Oh! what a gentleman he is! He even ventured to drop Prabir to his home in the night. Which coach does that? Someshwar Sir never did it. Prabir can't forget Sukhomoy's last words before bidding goodbye "Prabir, you have taken the most important decision of your life. I congratulate you. This is just the start. Golden days await you." 

Prabir bites his lips. Suddenly, he wishes to kiss his bat before falling aseep. He jumps off his bed and squats on the floor to take out his bat from his kitbag. No sooner has he opened the chain, a piece of paper, folded neatly, falls from the bag onto the ground. 'What the fuck?" is Prabir's instinctive reaction to this incident. A piece of paper placed inside his kitbag. Surely, it's Someshwar Sir's doing. But, how did he put this paper in his bag today? When? Nevertheless, what does he have to say now?

Reluctanty, Prabir opens the folded paper and starts reading. On completion, Prabir freezes into a statue. He wishes he never made today's choice. The truth is, the real choice is to be made now.

The following is written on that paper.

"Prabir, I wish you well for the future. I sincerely do.

Yes, you were right. You aren't SIddharth. I pray to God that you never become Siddharth.

But, before leaving, you must know a truth. You were wrong too. YOU ARE MY SON. My only son. Because, Siddhartha is dead. " --- Someshwar Ghosh , your ex-coach.


*********************************************************************

" I WANT TO ASK GOD....

I want to ask,
hard questions tonight,
For i seek answers,
that are true and right

I do not care about the devil
I long to face the divine, the pure, the final
I want to stare eye to eye, ask, why were
the turns so cruel, the cuts so deep,the blows so fatal,

What? What wrong i did?
Why? Why Were you so livid?
  "

Someswhar's pen stops. He stretches his left hand to hold the bottle of country liquor that he purchased from Nakulda's shop before entering his home. He gulps a bit of it down.  These 600 milliliters of finest country liquor named Desi Blue has been a constant companion of Someshwar for the last 2 years. One full bottle every Friday and Saturday night -- that's his quota. That's the chief reason why Someshwar schedules his Saturday and Sunday practices in the afternoon. After having a bottle of Desi Blue the previous night, it's not guaranteed that he will wake up in time next morning to attend the practise. Better the practise be in the afternoon.

This Desi Blue, though, has a curious effect on Someshwar. It makes him read and write poetry! Like alcohol, Someshwar has never had anything to do with poetry. Rabindranath, Nazrul, Michael Madhusudhan, Jibananda were aliens to him. His Tagore was Gavaskar. That sweetly timed classical cover drive of Sunny bhai, Oh! that was no less sublime than poetry! But, if the travails of life made him an alcoholic, Desi Blue made him poetic. Every Friday and Saturday night, after having Desi Blue, Someshwar reads poems of different famous poets of Bengal. The extent of his comprehension of their poems he isn't sure of, but he gets inspired nonetheless. For, right after reading them ,he feels an irrepressible urge to emulate them. Thats when he sits in his chair in one corner of his room and starts scribbling poems. He doesn't share them with anyone, though. He himself, in fact, never reads them again. They serve a sole purpose,but a vital one, to release the stream of anguish gathering inside Someshwar Ghosh.

That stream has seldom been as rapid,as ferocious, as buoyant as tonight. It's not Friday, not Saturday, it's Sunday;he has practice tomorrow morning at 6. Oh! Hell with that! He has to have Desi Blue, he has to write. He hasn't even changed his dress after returning. No lungi tonight. He must release what's getting stored inside him. And today, he wishes to bowl, yes, he doesn't want to bat, but bowl, not balls, but questions, to that batsman , the ultimate batsman, God. Today, God will be bowled clean. 

He picks up the piece of paper, holds up near his eyes, and reads the lines he has written very very slowly and carefully. Were they written correctly? Was the idea well expressed? Do they intimidate God? Does God read those questions? After satisfying himself that these lines embody indeed what he intends to be his deliveries to divinity, he sets the paper down and looks blankly at the empty wall in front of him. This is the home where he spent his childhood. This is his uncle Kartik's home. Kartik and his aunt Kamala are dead though. Their elder son Santanu has become a businessman in Pune and their younger son Akhil has become a well-to-do doctor in Kolkata. After he no longer wished to stay in Kolkata, for him it wasn't "The City of Joy" but "The City of Cry", Someshwar moved back to this house after Akhil granted his request to stay put here.

He needs questions to ask God, but his mind isn't co-operating. It's buzzing with memories, in stead. Can't he banish them permanently, Someshwar asks. No, he can't. Tonight, more than Siddhartha's, more than Prabir's, more than Sukhomoy's, it's Sandhya's, his wife's, face which is flashing in his memory every second. His wife is haunting him.

When Someshwar had lost his place in the Mohan Bagan team to Koushik Chakraborty, he used to reluctantly drag his body to the team's practice sessions and then back home to Kasba. A lava of frustration used to build inside him every now and then. It's in that despicable emotional state, he met Sandhya, who was studying B.SC(Hons) in Geography in Rani Birla Girl's College in Kolkata. One day, when he was waiting for his bus in a bus stand, Sandhya, dressed in a bright yellow saree, walked up to him with wonder in her eyes. She had seen him standing there, carrying a bat. "You play cricket?' was her first question to him. In reply, Someshwar could just give a blushing smile to that black, curvy woman having one of the liveliest and most expressive pair of eyes one could hope to see. That was the first and only time a lady had volunteered to speak to him, big moment that for the 18 year old Someshwar. That was the start. That bus stand became their everyday meeting point. Gradually, Someshwar began to feel comfortable in Sandhya's presence. He too started to open up. But, that was no match to Sandhya's effervescence. Oh! God! She had some skill in  speaking non-stop! From how to cook delicious chicken to how to face Malcolm Marshall, from Babri Masjid to Che Guevara, she had ideas and opinions on anything and everything and she expressed all of them to Someshwar. On days, when they would stroll around the Maidan area , it would be the case that Someshwar wouldn't get the chance to speak even a word. Her mouth and, of course, her eyes never stopped emoting. It's that careless exuberance, that high spirited approach to life which fascinated Someshwar, albeit with a little help from those dark, black eyes. She was his comfort, his certainty, his friend when he had to go through the ordeal of warming the Mohan Bagan reserve bench. She was the tree who gave shade to the frustrated wanderer that  he was.  What struck Someshwar the most was that there was no difference whatsoever in Sandhya's attitude towards him even when she got to know that Prabir is nothing but a reserve player in his team. Sandhya, it seemed to Someshwar, longed for just his company. Very quickly, he was in love with her. His first and only love in life. What attracted Sandhya to him, though, remains an unsolved mystery to him. Sandhya never co-operated with him in cracking this puzzle. 

After he left Mohan Bagan and joined Wari Athletic, he found peace within himself. He was ready to take the next leap. Next year, he, while sitting on the banks of the calm Hooghly, in Prinsep Ghat, asked Sandhya, 'Will you marry me?". Sandhya, wearing a red saree which he had requested her to wear on that fated night, didn't hesitate even for a second before signaling her approval. Having lost her father at an early age and her mother the year before, she too was an orphan, another piece of wood floating lonely in the muddy waters of life. Neither had anyone to ask, anyone to answer, anyone to account to.  The 2 orphans had chosen each other to be their partners-cum-guardians in life.

 How he wishes he had never met Sandhya, they had never married, Siddharth was never born! He needs to close their accounts permanently in the bank of his memory.That's the only way he can live on. The pain of all memories is unbearable. He has to forget.

He gulps some more Desi Blue. He looks at the piece of paper on which he is writing a poem. He has formed few more questions in his head. This Desi Blue, man, pure magic! It will turn him into Tagore! He has heard that Tagore's own personal life too was fucked up. Good going, he thinks. He couldn't become Gavaskar, but he might become Tagore,courtesy Desi Blue!  A Tagore who converses with God! Who bowls to God! Wow! Someshwar barks at God, again.

"You wanted to crush me, fine! But,why
did you choose to relish in my dissolution?
Why did you want me to hope, to dream? You
should've warned, that rules allowed for deception

You never played it fair, at every corner
you used tricks and charms to hoodwink,
while i marveled at prospects, you bid time
to strike, to finish, to make me sink...

...so deep that even i can't locate myself, now

What? What, to you, could those games have meant?
Why? Why did you not take my consent?
"

But, forget, he can't. Memories rush to his head, displacing the stream of poetry flowing in his mind. It's Sandhya again who is knocking inside his head. Oh! Someone please help! Someshwar cries out in despair.

After their marriage, they rented a small two-roomed house in Bansdroni in Tallygunge area of Kolkata. Sandhya had got a job as a receptionist in nearby MR Bangur Hospital. She earned a meagre Rs. 7500 per month. Someshwar though didn't earn much. Club cricket in India doesn't fatten a cricketer's purse. Money is made only after one gets into the state team. Not before that. It was a struggle for them to make ends meet, but Sandhya was eager to back Someshwar's pursuit of playing for India. She didn't complain about Someshwar's lack of earning. A year and a half later, Sandhya got pregnant. When she was 4 months into pregnancy, Someshwar tore his knee ligament while fieding and went out of cricket for a year. The rising medical bills of Someshwar's injuries forced Sandhya to do the inevitable , to ask her husband to give up on his life, i.e., on cricket. According to her, it was time for Someswhar too to contribute to family finances. The chief priority of the family now wasn't going to be Someshwar's career, which was fledgling, but, the sound rearing of their child. Someshwar, at first, dismissed that idea. He said he can't live without cricket. He remained adamant even when he saw that he can't find a place in the playing XI of Wari Athletic. He wished to fight on. But, that moment -- that moment when the nurse in MR Bangur Hospital, handed over to him his just born son -- his life changed. Holding his son, Someshwar felt the full weight of the responsibility of fatherhood. In that moment, looking at that tender human body in his hand, about a foot and a half long and weighing about 3 kgs, Someshwar accepted he was past and his baby was the present and the future. He has to obiterate his own dream so that his son can fufill his won. He gave up on cricket.

Someshwar then did mundane jobs to carry home some money at the end of the day. But, Sandhya remained the principal bread-earner in the family. This didn't become a source of friction, though. Sandhya understood how tough it was for her husband to make the sacrifice he has made. She respected his choice and supported him throughout. Without her unconditional support, frequent consoling and encouragement, Someshwar coudn't have accepted the life of first, a driver, then, a shop assistant and finally, a courier boy , lives where insults, rebuke, shaming were routine. Still, he carried on. Throughout, he remained truthful to his vow that he won't have anything to do with cricket anymore.

Someshwar starts breathing deeply. Even 15 years later, that stings. That feeling of what might have been has never left him. That stench of failure still burns his nose every day. Need some Desi Blue immediately. Another gulp, another magic, Tagore is back again. God, take guard. Few more balls, some swinging,  some spinning, some bouncing.

" Tell me, was i wrong
to chance my fate?
to believe in myself? to see
the dream less dreamt

Tell me, why did you hid
from me, the writing on the wall?
Why did you curse, that
every jump of mine will result in a fall?

Tell me, Why did you destine my hope
to be shattered like glasses?
Why did you fate my desire
to be reduced to ashes?

Tell me. Why this silence?
So suffocating is this ambience!
"

But, back are the memories too. Perhaps, the most tormenting of them. Someshwar can't fight any longer. He meekly surrenders to the force of memory.

The only source of joy for him was his son Siddhartha, a child having brownish colour, dark eyes, a pointed nose and long fingers in his hand.  Someswar and Sandhya had staked their all on him. They had admitted him to St Lawrence High School, a daring choice unthinkable for other parents of their economic equivalence. Luckily, Siddhartha didn't have to appear for an admission test. The school was taking students in, at the level of nursery, on a first-cum-first-serve basis. But, if genetics was true, this was going to boomerang. That's because even though Siddharth's mother was a BSc, she wasn't really a meritorious student. She a struggler in studies. And as for Siddharth's father, less said the better, he had given up on his studies after class VIII to become the next Gavaskar. Poor unlucky chap, Siddhartha. Naturally, he didn't make a good commencement to his academic life. His results were mediocre, which increased the worry of his aready worried parents. But that was till class II.

Enter Shanti Bhushan Ganguly, the English teacher in Class III of St Lawrence High School. Someshwar didn't know what charm he spun over Siddhartha, but, since attending his first class, Siddhartha became different. At home, the usually ebullient child turned into a monk. He would sit on the bed, look with dreamy eyes at the sky and then scribe tough words in English in his papers. He didn't study any other subject but English. When his parents woud ask him what is the matter, he woudn't answer. Finally, one day, Sandhya managed to bring out from Siddhartha the reason behind the change in his conduct. Shanti Bhushan Ganguly had opened the doors of English literature for young Siddhartha! He had read to Siddhartha, all of 9 years old then, stories of Shakespeare, Dickens and Kafka! And little Siddhartha took an instant liking to this. He spent hours daily thinking of thick plots, complex characters and riveting climaxes. He then started to write them down. "He has magical hands which can turn a pen into a painter's brush" said wide-eyed Shanti Bhushan to a concerned Someshwar and Sandhya, showing them their son's first prose piece! Another prodigy was born. Son of a sporting prodigy, a literary prodigy!

At first, though, Someshwar and Sandhya were desperate to get the ghost of literature off Siddhartha's back. What would he become, they asked? An author? Whats' the use? No, they wanted their son to become a doctor or an engineer or a banker, so that he can secure a financially sound future. But, when Siddhartha started submitting his writings in both intra and inter school writing contests, largely because of the cosntant prodding by Shanti Bhushan Ganguly, the first prize was invariaby his. This spate of success convinced the suspecting parents that their kid may indeed have a glorious career awaiting for him in the field of literature. One night, Sandhya even joked that while her husband's weapon was the bat, her son's weapon is the pen!

Someshwar, by now, has begun conversing with his memories. He looks at his pen, Siddhartha's weapon! He grins widely. Even he is now bitten by the literature bug! There are more questions to ask God, though. But, first, Desi Blue. Another gulp, another group of balls.

" Why don't you answer, damn it? Or has
my sorrow, the result of your deeds, numbed you?
Then , imagine, what i go through when
it boils inside me daily, this sorrow, your gift to a chosen few.

Why? Why was i your choice?


Please answer, I want to hear that voice

...that devilish, that sadist, that coarse voice of yours
that which can spell only doom,
prophesy only darkness

Give me that darkness,
if you have more to give to me,
i wanna take a plunge into it.
I wanna see how dark can it be.
"

Lethal! Unplayable! It swung, it bounced, it yorked, it spun. God is out!  Someshwar starts clapping wildly. The pen did a fabulous job in asking unaswerable questions.  Why woudn't it ? After all, it's Siddhartha's weapon! "What next?" Soemshwar asks loudly. "Where are you, fucker memory?  What's next? Come on, tell me, i am not afraid, what happeend after that?"  Soemshwar puts the bottle of Desi Blue on top of the paper and reclines softly in his chair.He has closed his eyes.He is awaiting answers from his memory. What happened after that?

After that, that enemy of Someshwar, Destiny, it struck. And it struck a fatal blow. One Friday afternoon, in February 2014, when Siddhartha was 13 years old and in class VII, Someshwar, busy carrying a courier to somewhere in Dalhousie, got the news that his son has been run over by a speeding car near Gariahat More while on his way to school. The locals and the traffic police have admitted him in nearby Apollo GleanEagles Hospital. Someshwar and Sandhya rushed to the hospital. But, it was too late. Their son had breathed his last. He didn't have any more plots to weave, no characters to construct, no cimaxes to build. His ink has evaporated. The pen wasn't going to become a painter's brush again. 

Someshwar opens his eyes. Next moment, his eyes are flooded with tears. He can't hold them back. The poem hasn't released his anguish. Tears that he are dropping do not form even a fraction of the ocean of trauma that has been flowing inside him ever since that fatal Friday afternoon. How can he release all of that? Not possible. This is his reality, he can't change it, he can't run away from it. His son is dead. He will not come back. Never. Futile are attempts to suppress his memories. They will forever be shining as brightest stars in Someshwar's sky.  He can't forget that, no matter how many poems he writes, no matter how much Desi Blue he gulps. Siddhartha is within him.He is his soul.  He can't cut his soul off from his body. Someshwar never wished to mention SIddhartha to Prabir. Never. But, the moment he saw Prabir make a mistake, the first thing he did was remind Prabir of Siddhartha.It happened automatically. Someshwar can't live without thinking of his son,without mentioning his son, without highlighting his son. Siddhartha lives on, in spite of not living.

Someshwar drops off from his chair. He lies flat on the ground. He has covered his face with his hands. He wishes to drown himself in the darkness before his eyes. All he wants is a free fall into the depths of that darkness. But, memory, that boody memory is holding him back. It's saying there is one more event for it to narrate. It won't satisfy itself without landing another killer blow on Someshwar. Someshwar has no option but to be the slave of his own memory.

Sandhya, his wife, wasn't the same Sandhya after the demise of Siddhartha. She had turned into a stone. That Sandhya who couldn't stop speaking, now hardly spoke a word. She stopped going to MR Bangur Hospital. Someshwar woud try his best to bring her back to normalcy. But, it seemed she had turned deaf, dumb and blind at the same time. Finally, destiny, again that scoundrel, chose to be her saviour. It released her from her interminable trauma. One evening, on returning home, Soemshwar found Sandhya hanging from the ceiling fan. His partner-cum-guardian chose to quit. She absolved herself from all of her duties.

Memory tells Someshwar that it's done. It has successfully narrated to Someshwar, for the umpteenth time, how, one by one, all the pillars of his life were razed to the ground. Someshwar has stopped weeping. Tears have thrown in their towels, they can't express the depth of Someshwar Ghosh's grief.
--------------

After lying idle on the floor for about an hour, Someshwar stands up. He feels dizzy, his head is swinging. He stands up on his feet after much travails, but stumbles in front soon. Desi Blue is showing it's power.

Someshwar's tongue tastes bitter. He feels an urge to vomit. That's another medium of release. But, this one is not about releasing his emotional depredations, rather it's about releasing the side-effects of consuming Desi Blue. Someshwar runs towards the wash basin and lets go what was swelling up inside him. The smell emitting from the puke falling right under his nose makes him puke further.

Once done, Someshwar opens the tap for the water to clean the mess. He looks at the overlying mirror. In it's corner, he sees a picture hanging in the oposite wall . Such was the force of the sight that he immediatey turns around. He doesn't  bother to wash the traces of puke still visible below his lips.

With slow, stumbling steps, he reaches near the picture. It's a picture of Siddhartha, that one which is closest to Someshwar's heart.  It shows a 6 year old SIddhartha, wearing a yellow shirt and black pant, holding a cricket bat, that bat which Someshwar used in his Wari Athletic days. Someshwar had clicked this picture  in his mobile phone when Sandhya had gone to take her bath. Someshwar knows he couldn't keep his vow. He coudn't turn off completely the current of cricket flowing within him. Cricket lived on in him. He was too much coloured in it to cleanse himself completely off it. Yes, he wanted his son to be a cricketer,  a batsman like Sachin Tendulkar, the then reigning deity of Indian cricket, the heir to His Gavaskar's throne. But, Sandhya had strictly objected to any such ideas. Seeing the rudderless ship Someshwar had become after he bid goodbye to his love, Sandhya had reasons not to encourage her son to get addicted by the same drug. She didn't even allow Someshwar to buy Siddhartha a cricket bat as a birthday gift. They didn't have the finances to afford such luxuries, she had reasoned. Later, when Someshwar came to know of Siddhartha's literary prowess,  he realised that his son wasn't born to be Tendukar. His pitch was a piece of paper, his bat was a pen. But, deep down, the desire of seeing his son become a cricketer didn't see death. He has carried this picture with him throughout. It is a memento of his unfulfilled desire.

Someshwar blinks his eyes in rapid succession. What's he seeing in front of him? Who is this? Is it Siddhartha? But, Sidhhartha didn't have such big eyes and teeth? Come on, this ain't SIddharth. Someshwar, head still dizzying, vision starting to blinker, takes his eyes as close as possible to the photo. Suddenly, Someshwar rebounds off the wall. The picture had dropped a lightning on him! He is seeing Prabir's face in the photo! That same figure, that same yellow shirt, that same black pant, that same cricket bat, but, the face isn't the same, the face is Prabir's.

A train of thoughts crosses through the station of Someshwar's mind at lightning pace.

That first day of EC Cricket Champs' practise! A little boy introduces himself as Prabir Das, the team's opener. Seeing his height, Someshwar had joked that he doesn't need to  bother about buncers coz they will fly over him

That first net session! Prabir was the first to go into bat. After defending the first 3 balls, he unleashed his straight drive! Till then, Someshwar didn't know whether he would stick to this coaching assignment for long coz cricket was nothing but a pain for him. Moreover, he didn't wish to make that tiring train journey daily, especially at dawn.  But that shot, oh! that punch in that shot! Someshar was startled. In one shot, Prabir had laid bare in front of Someshwar the beauty that is cricket, an art which fascinates, an  expression that resonates, a romance that captivates, a fantasy worth chasing. One shot, one shot from Prabir's blade,  that's all it took to bring back to life what has been dead, the heart of Someshwar Ghosh. Prabir became his oxygen since then. The lazy elegance in that 14-year old's batting mesmerised Someshwar. Prabir had made Someshwar fall in love with cricket again. He was ready to make that train journey, every dawn.

That first hundred by Prabir! It was as if Prabir painted a wondrous canvas over the green fields and littered it with shades of multiple forms and colours, sometimes, a flick, sometimes, a punch, sometimes, a drive, a pull, a hook, a loft. Uff!

And THAT moment, that moment when Someshwar's life changed... again. It was an inconsequential match. Prabir was batting on 59. The ball pitched full on the off stump. The sensible shot was an off drive. Prabir chose the opposite. He waited for the ball to come, then flicked his wrist and caressed it to wide of mid wicket in leg. The ball raced to the boundary. The whole ground was bewildered, how did he do that? That was the reaction of one and all. It was in that moment of the sublime, of the rare, Someshwar remembered the words of Shanti Bhushan Ganguly, Sidhartha's English teacher, "He has magical hands which can turn a pen into a painter's brush". Replace pen with bat, you replace Siddhartha with Prabir. THAT moment, Prabir became Siddhartha.  Prabir had now reignited the father in Someshwar. That night, Someshwar had slept with this picture of Siddharth kept beside his pillow. He had a son again. A son whose weapon is the same as his --a  cricket bat.A son who wants to be what he wanted  to be all his life- A proud owner of the India Cap. Theirs was now a shared journey.

 Alas, there is one more compartment in this train of thought, the last compartment. That sight of Prabir passing by him in Srabani Maath today morning, crossin over to the other side. It's a sight which spells the end, one more in his wretched life; which signifies a  failure, another one.

Again, Someshwar notices some change in the photo. His head is spinning. He shakes his head vigorously thrice to enable himself to keep on standing. The face in the photo remains that of Prabir, but the shirt changes, from yellow to red, from red to pink, from pink to light pink. Someshwar, stumbling repeatedly, tries to remember where he has seen this light pink. Desi Blue can not only ignite minds, but also diffuse them. Where? Where, light pink? 

Suddenly, a voice inside him starts speaking. He thinks its the voice of God, the one he dared to speak out in his poem. God has entered him and is speaking now. You arrive at last, eh? God? G-O-D, God?

God's voice reminds him that he has seen light pink in Srabani Ground! That bastard Sukhomoy, yes, God is with him on that, that bastard Sukhomoy wears light pink.

Why?  Why does that old dick wear light pink? Someshwar asks God.

 God's voice again replies, Coz, it's the jersey of FC Masters, Damn it!

So what? Why is Prabir wearing it? He asks again. Good Q&A session this, with God. G-O-D, God!

Now, God's voice taunts him. Because, Someshwar Baba, he is their player now. Gone! He is Gone! Prabir is Gone! Siddhartha is Gone! Again! Ha! Ha! Ha!.................................................................

Someshwar gets still. There is silence, complete silence inside him. God is gone.

Next moment, uncontrollable fury grips drunk Someshwar. He charges at the wall, takes off the picture and, with the fullest might he can summon, throws it at God. The picture hits the roof and falls, back first, on the floor. It makes a cracking sound. Next, he throws the bottle of Desi Blue at God and watches it strike the roof and shatter into pieces. He tears the paper in which he has written the poem to God into innumerable pieces, To hell with God! He then throws all of them at God. But, most of them descents directly on to the floor. Those few who rise, rise so very little and float downwards, slowly, ever so slowly.  Even his weapons are mocking him now! Now, time for the big ones, those that are going to hit God hard. He kicks at the foot of the table, lifts the chair and throws it.. at God. Same with the table. It makes a thuddering sound as it falls back on the floor. It's mayhem in here. It's God vs Someshwar Ghosh. Alas, none of his weapons hit God. They didn't even clear the roof.

Someshwar sits down. He wishes he had his bat with him tonight, he would have thrown that too at God. Maybe, that would've reached God. After all, that is Someshwar Ghosh's chief weapon. Alas, he didn't bring any of his cricket equipments back to Barrackpore. He detached himself from Cricket, then again attached himself, only to suffer again. He wishes he never played cricket.

Fury leaves Someshwar as he again gives in to his sorrows. He is crying uncontrollably now. Minutes later, calmness descends. What more can he do other than smash glasses and break tables? How can he defend his wicket against a bowler named destiny? How can he bowl out the all powerful batsman God? After all, He is so powerless!

Off he goes to sleep. His eyes close. Into the unending darkness, God's gift to him, he falls, falls, falls...
---------------
 
Next morning, Someshwar is forced to wake up to loud cries of "Sir, Sir, Someshwar Sir, Please open the door" accompanied by thunderous thuddings on the door. Someshwar is startled. Before he can identify the voice, which sounds familiar, he is gripped by a fear that his caller may end up breaking the door.

He rises to his feet and runs towards the door. He opens it. He finds Prabir standing. He isn't wearing light pink, he is wearing white, with a roaring tiger, EC Cricket Champs' logo, shining prominently over his shirt's pocket. He also has his kitbag with him.  Someshwar knows it isn't a dream.

The moment their eyes meet, Prabir lunges onto Someshwar and starts sobbing.

" Sir, i am sorry, Sir. I am sorry for what i told you, i am sorry for what i did. Sir, i am sorry. "

Someshwar's resistance fails him again. He grips Prabir tightly, cries out, "Prabir, Don't leave me, Prabir. I have no one else. I have no hope left. I am a failure. You are my everything, my son. You are my Suddhartha, my India Cap. Prabir, don't leave me. Please."

Prabir could feel the tight embrace they are now in. "No Sir, you don't worry. I am going nowhere. "

Someshwar now breaks down completely. He is wailing. But, he hasn't loosened his embrace of Prabir.

"Sir, why didn't you tell me before?"

"Emotions", Someshwar's voice chokes, "Emotions should be kept out of the game, my son."

"Not always, Sir. Not always. "

Silence descends upon this small room in Barrackpore. Both men control their tears.

"Sir, i promise you, i will be your son. Your Siddhartha." Prabir tells Someshwar what he yearned to hear for so long. Prabir himself is aware of what he is saying. He understands the full import of his words. He has spent the last night cursing himself. How could he be so immature? How could he not dig deep to inspect what might be the reason for his coach to repeatedly invoke his son in front of him. There must have been deeper emotions involved hidden behind those irritating invocations. How could he overlook the grey possibilities it pointed to? He too has grown up in one night. He realises all lessons aren't to be learnt in the cricket field, there are lessons to be learnt outside it too. Facing Pradipta isn't the only test, life throws up Pradiptas in every nook and corner.  What's more important than becoming a good batsman is to become a good human, understand and respect people's sensitivities. He has grown up. His promise to Someshwar  is a mature resolve, not a kiddish aspiration. He will stand true to every word of it.

Prabir, however, is troubled by the sharp smell of liquor emitting from Someshwar's mouth. It has filled the room.

He tells his coach, "Sir, practise starts in 45 minutes. Please take a bath and then off we go. I see you haven't even changed your dress since yesterday evening. "

Someshwar does what Prabir asks him to do.

Once Soemshar is in the bathroom, Prabir tries to set right the mess that Someshwar had created last night. He gathers the pieces of broken glass and deposits them in the dustbin. He shifts to one corner of the room the haphazardly kept table and chair. It's then he comes across the broken photo of a child holding a cricket bat. He doesn't need to be told who it is.

Someshwar exits the toilet, dresses up quickly. They are about to leave. Someshwar casts a glance at his room. He can smell the air of contentment that pervades it. His eyes catch the sight of the broken photo kept carefully on top of the table. Someshwar looks at Prabir with grateful eyes.

"Sir, i can be Siddhartha, but i am not as handsome as him."

They exchange smiles.

-------------------
Throughout the train journey to Ultadanga, Prabir attempts to extract details about Siddhartha from Someshwar. How was he?  What did he like to wear? What did he like to eat? Did he never play cricket? Was he always thinking about novels, poems and stories? But, he was mindful  of not pushing Someshwar into the brink of emotional exhaustion borne out of remembrance of his deceased son. But, strangely, Someshwar is all too enthusiastic about speaking about Siddhartha with Prabir.  That is another reminder to Prabir of the responsibility he now carries on his shoulders.The most heartwarming moment in the conversation surfaces when Someshwar shares with Prabir what nickname Siddharth's English Teacher Shanti Bhushan Ganguly had given to him. The nickname was "The Son ExtraOrdinaire". 

The trains which run so early in the morning are far, far less crowded than the ones which would make the some journey a few hours later at the peak of office time. This uncrowded Barrackpore-Sealdah local train is just about to enter Ultadanga station where the coach-player pair, or now the father-son pair,  is going to alight.

Prabir leans against the left side of the window beside his seat to see if the station is visible across the horizon. Not yet. He leaves the window and reaches back to his seat. In the process, he sees Someshwar, sitting right in front of him, beside the right side of the same window, looking outside at the disappearing rows of homes and intermittent greenery . His face wears a blank expression. His eyes are still.

Prabir perceives that Someshwar is lost in his thoughts. Is he thinking about Siddhartha? Is he thinking about his own cricketing life? Or is he thinking about anything else? In any case, the chances of his inner self turning melancholic is very high. Better bring him back, to the present, to lay the stone for the future.

"Sir? Sir?" Prabir asks.

Someshwar isn't answering.

Prabir leans forward and shakes his coach's leg slightly with his right hand. That jerks Someshwar back to the present.

With a gentle smile, Prabir inquires, "What are you thinking, Sir?"

A discomfited Someshwar turns his head down first and then looks up at Prabir. " Nothing, son. Nothing. "  he sighs.

Prabir though doesn't let up on his mission to cheer up his coach. This may be one long innings, so be it.

"Sir, you are looking quite relaxed now. At least, much much better than what i saw an hour ago in your home."

Someshwar smiles wryly. "You don't know what i went through yesterday." He clamps his hands together near his chest and again looks outside. "Prabir, our lives, i.e., the common man and woman in the street, doesn't see many highs. It's mostly about the lows. The sun hardly rises in the horizons of our life. A slight peek, a promise that there will be light after this, most times, that's all good that happens. Our dreams, our joy get crushed when the wheels of our life spin. But, on occasions, a rare wind blows, that wind which blows in the other direction, embracing hope along the way. When this rare wind halts or when this rare wind too turns normal, i.e., it changes direction to blow in the way of despair, that's when the heart breaks, so loud that your ears get to hear the crack. That's when you get numb. I experienced that heartbreak yesterday night. "

Prabir doesn't blink an eye while listening to his cricket coach's philosophical words. These are all life lessons, things which he has come to appreciate now.

Someshwar can see the first signs of the train having entered Ultadanga station. In this eary morning, the station looks near empty. There is hardly a few people here and there. The train would stop anytime now and they have to get out of it.

Someswhar turns his eyes towards Prabir. Prabir is looking at his eyes too. "Prabir, you will HAVE to play for India"

The train makes its stop. The other passengers, just about a ten of them, leave their seats to amble across to the exit. But, neither of them move. This one line captures so much grave meaning -- it's about completion, of Someshwar's journey; about fulfillment, of Prabir's own dream; about a promise, that no matter what the obstacles are, the journey has to go on till the final destination, the Indian team, is reached.

Prabir smiles warmly and gets up. "I will Sir. " is his firm answer.

Someshwar gives out a radiating smile. He too rises to his feet and follows Prabir to the exit gate. Moments after they step onto the station, the train whistles and leaves. The two of them start making a slow descent down the staircase ,adjoining Ultadanaga station, which leads straight to the auto rickshaw stand.

"Accha, tell me one thing. You are an opening batsman, then how come you like Dhoni so much? He is a wicket keeper."

Prabir gives his coach a surprise look. "How do yo know this SIr?"

"Everybody knows. "

Prabir lets out a slight giggle. "Sir, he is a fabulous batsman too. I admire Dhoni's confidence. It's like while others fight it out to create their own destiny, he stands in the  middle, calm and composed, sure of his own. It's as if he knows he WILL win. That surety is what fascinates me. I don't see it in any other player. Not even Tendulkar, Sir. He suffers from tension and doubts. Dhoni doesn't. "

"I see. But, Tendulkar is a gem. Incomparable."

"Sir, he has retired. In this present team, whom do you like the most?"

Someshwar thinks for a second or two before answering "Rahane. He is the most compact batsman in the current team. Unfortunately, he is very underrated. "

They have reached the auto stand. They need to stand behind a line of commuters to catch their auto rickshaw. It wont take time. There are just 5 men standing in front of them. They will have to let go of just one auto rickshaw.

Prabir turns around "Yes, you are right sir. He is very underrated. All my friends like Kohli much more than Rahane. "

"All your friends, or that girl friend Tania?"

An ashamed Prabir mutters , "SIr? How do you know her name?"

"I know everything. Who is she? Does she love you too?"

Desperate to wriggle himself out of this embarrassing turn in the dialogue, Prabir feels relieved to see the arrival of the auto rickshaw. "Sir, auto has come. Will speak about that later."

They make their way into the auto. Prabir takes the single seat beside the driver in the front, while Someshwar adjusts with 2 other passengers in the back. "Don't forget to tell me. If any problems, i can solve it  for you.We are friends, ok?"

"Ok." replies a blushing Prabir. The auto heads to Srabani Maath.

---------------

The players of EC Cricket Champs  stand transfixed when they see Someshwar entering the ground with Prabir. None of them could understand the reality. They don't know what had transpired in the last 24 hours since they saw Prabir cross over into the other half of the ground. Naturally, they can't believe what they are seeing.

Only Ricky can make a guess as to what might have happened. Yesterday, the rest of the team had only seen Prabir crsoss over to FC Masters. But, he had seen something more. After Sukhomoy embraced Prabir and escorted him into the nets of FC Masters, Ricky had gone to stand beside his coach Someshwar. Someshwar's eyes were shut. Sensing someone has come and stood nearby, he opened his eyes. Just then, Ricky could see the reddening eyes and trembling lips of his coach. Before he gave in, Someshwar managed to shut back his eyes. But, in that brief moment, Ricky had realised that it wasn't just about cricket. There were subtler emotions at play here. Prabir mattered for Someshwar beyond the cricket pitch for reasons unknown. Seeing Someshwar lead Prabir into the nets, Ricky can guess that some sort of emotional exchange must have transpired between coach and Prabir. Clarifications were sought and provided. Misunderstandings have been buried. His coach must have bared his soul.

The moment Prabir reaches near his confounded teammates, he runs towards captain Ricky and embraces him warmly. "Sorry, Captain. Forgive me. I was wrong. Will never behave the way i behaved last week. Sorry, mate. "
Ricky wasn't prepared for this, though. He could just fumble and say 'It's ok, mate. It's ok."  Ricky was never against Prabir. He had never felt threatened by Prabir's success. In fact, he didn't want Prabir to leave, that's why he tried to caution Prabir that day when he first heard Prabir is being poached. But, he is sorry that Prabir misunderstood him. Therefore, he too feels relieved that the air has been cleared between him and Prabir.

The sincerity in  Prabir's apology melts the hearts of his other teammates. Their grievances against him are now a thing of the past. Feeling remarkably happy, all of them burst into a round of hearty clapping which signal their appreciation of Prabir's heart-warming gesture. It is a mini-celebration on the part of EC Cricket Champs of not having lost their X-factor, their best player.

Sukhomoy, though, has no time for any niceties. His rage has shot through the roof upon seeing Prabir enter  EC's half of the ground. He waited to see what exacty is the matter. The camaraderie inside EC's camp leaves him in no doubt that he has been ditched by Prabir. He runs like a mad dog towards the rival nets.

"Hey you, Prabir Das. What's the matter? Why are you here?" Sukhomoy shouts

Prabir, replies, without a shadow of hesitation in him, "I want to play for EC Cricket Champs, for Someshwar Sir. I am sorry."

"Aye, do you think i am a joke? How dare you ditch me?" Sukhomoy's fury is now exploding.

"I said what i have to say. I am sorry. This is my team" Prabir stays as calm as a cucumber.

"You scoundrel! You don't know me. I will ruin you.' thunders Sukhomoy. The threat is eerily similar to the one issued years ago by Radha Kanta Mukherjee, Mohan Bagan's official, to Prabir's coach Someshwar.

Prabir deoesn't show any sign of being unnerved by this threat issued by a man who had told him in their first meeting in Dum Dum station that he knows people in the big clubs. He takes two steps forward and tells Sukhomoy , "That's for the future. Let's speak of the present. Last Friday, you came here and threw a challenge at us. We accept it. But, there would be no bargains. Cricket isn't about bargains. It will be just a match. Ready?"

Sukhomoy stands silent. The players of EC Cricket Champs start hooting and giving catcalls. They know Sukhomoy will chicken out.

Sukhomoy throws his yellow hat fiercely onto the ground. "You will repent this mistake, Prabir." He turns back and marches towards his nets, not before casting threatening glances at Someshwar.

Someshwar is remarkably calm and disassociated though. The emotional drainage that he went through since he slapped Prabir prevented him from possessing any energy and will to argue with Sukhomoy.After Sukhomoy leaves, he orders his players to start the practise.

Moments later, Prabir is again the first payer to enter the nets. A tired Someshwar takes his seat beside the nets. While he takes guard, Prabir doesn't repent ditching Sukhomoy. Prabir isn't flustered by Sukhomoy's threats either. He knows he has made the correct choice. He has sufficient belief that his bat will ensure it turns out to be the correct choice. Fate has handed him the most noble of all tasks, to fulfill his and someone else's dreams, to provide closure to a journey, to be  "The Son ExtraOrdinaire" for a father. In that way, fate has indeed taken "Special Care" of him .

Prabir smashes the first ball from Anup into the sky. Someshwar's eyes follow the trajectory of the ball. It shoots up into the sky, high, high, even higher. That's how high Prabir has to reach.So high that the word will marvel at him. It's then that some eager soul will unearth the tale of the less glorious journey of his coach Someshwar Ghosh. At long last, Someshwar would engrave his name in golden letters in the annals of Indian cricket. His won't be a futile life.

The ball now starts it's descent. But, Someshwar's eyes remain fixed at the zenith. For the first time since Siddhartha's death, Someshwar isn't afraid to look at the high sky above. Dream, Hope, Promise, Possibility are no longer his enemies, they are now his acolytes in the journey of life.

He keeps on starig at the zenith. If Hindu rituals are correct, that's where his son Siddharth and wife Sandhya are now. He has often wondered, while looking at the sky, how come they reached there while he remains consigned to the ground below. What's left for him here on earth?Why did they leave first? Why are they not taking him with them?

Someshwar hears Prabir's playful challenge to Ricky , "Tell me, how many sixes you want me to hit to you?"

Someshwar Ghosh remains on earth because Someshwar Ghosh's journey isn't over yet. The train of his life still has stations to reach. Fate has reserved something for him, he is certain of that.

Someshwar can see the faces of Siddhartha and Sandhya appear across the sky . He smiles at them.

*******************************THE END****************************


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