Of Cricket balls, Beasts and Church Bells
Disclaimer: This work is part fact and part fiction. However, real names have been changed to protect identities. Resemblances are remote possibilities, but unavoidable as they breathe life into this article.
Caution: This contents of this part might be disturbing to some readers!
Madikeri Gudde- Cricket Crazy
Mercara Hills ? an idealist secular Mangalorean microcosm; Hindus, Muslims & Christians (Roman Catholics & Protestants) all lived in absolute harmony. The Church formed a little nucleus of activity; Come evening, about 15 young lads joined together to play cricket on the grounds. During the protestant Harvest festival, the entire neighborhood joined in the revelry. Most neighbors were invited to weddings in the locality and took part in very private functions as well. Such camaraderie was quite unheard of.
Eid, Christmas or Janmashtami were celebrated with equal gaiety; sweets and savories were distributed by the celebrants among others of a different faith.
During hot summers when pipe water ran dry, the entire neighborhood used two major wells in Mercara Hills, one 120 footer water-hole that belonged to the Kanchans and the other smaller well that belonged to the Rais. While most neighbors vibed very well, there were some like the Pais’ & Brittos who chose to stay out for their own reasons. But there was one event they did not miss out on- ushering in New Year together at the Shaaley.
New Year celebrations at the Shaaley had a religious fervor- religion sans frontiers.
On certain evenings when Church services clashed with cricket, the Lane tarmac served as an improvised cricket pitch. At times, the School ground was used to avoid rush hour traffic.
The player numbers swelled to 20+ in the weekends, so two complete cricket teams battled it out over a minimum wager. It was a complete riot and we looked forward to these weekend wars.
Cricket was a great binder. Often old men and women neighbors on their evening walks, stopped by to cheer us playing.
There were the nasty neighbors too, ones that let their dogs loose in their compounds the moment we pitched our stumps. There were other spoilsports that loved hiding our cricket balls (we used tennis balls) that landed in their compounds because of a stray loft. In either case, unless a spare ball was available ? the day’s play was called off for want of a ball. Corporate sponsorship had not come of age yet.
One such curmudgeon neighbor of ours, the Mabens- a rather dignified old man and his wife must have stocked up a cupboard full of balls that belonged to us. One evening, my brother hit a straight six that landed on their roof. In the melee and arguments that followed, our friend Dan launched a verbal offensive against Mr. Maben. Normally a silent bystander to his wife’s heroics, Mr. Maben turned antagonist that evening. He went home in a wheeze promising never to return our ball, the only one we had that evening.
"You can shove it, wherever you want to old Man", Dan had told him as a parting shot. A repartee that tainted the future of Madikeri Gudde- forever.
Fifteen minutes later, while we were still discussing the acerbic event among ourselves, a neighbor came running and announced "Mr. Maben is no more; he had a heart-attack".
Our cricket had implicit life-threatening proportions too.
Autopsy revealed that the death was caused by a diabetes shock! Dan was let off by the Police with a warning, but Maben’s sons were pretty vindictive. A few days later they broke his arm and a leg in a planned assault.
It took the Maben brothers 3 years and the intervention of a neighbor judge Mr. Hegde to help them come to terms with their father’s death.
Peace was finally made between Dan and the Mabens. But this assault had irrevocably disturbed the self-contained tranquility of Mercara Hills.
The Shaaley was now invaded by some anti-social elements, known criminals who reportedly killed & maimed for a sum. Come night, they used the Shaaley premises to drink and make merry. There were rumors of even cheap call girls being brought in to nosh their bestial needs. Empty liquor bottles, make-shift beds, umpteen cigarette butts, even used condoms provided ample testimony to the nefarious activities that went on in the Shaaley.
Quite oblivious to this nocturnal development, the noon-time escapades of the love-blind Agnesian girls and their boys-men at the Shaaley continued and thrived.
Sudha- Eternally challenged…
Betty Barnabas a.k.a Betty-akka, the elderly widow lived in our neighborhood. She eked out a living as a maid in a few neighboring houses. Her two young bachelor sons were of no help at all- Diwakar- the elder one worked in a garage, a drunkard who blew all his weekly wages at the local arrack shop.
Sudhakar, Betty-akka’s second son was mentally challenged. Everybody liked Sudhakar, "Sudha" we affectionately called him. He was quite good looking and good natured too.
Being mentally challenged however has its own perils, the delinquent lot harassed him by asking him to fondle himself while they stood and watched. A strapping youth with the mind of a child and no control over his testosterone couldn’t have been any less willing. It seemed as if the Man inside Sudha loved to display himself- in full public view.
Though I had never been a witness to these sickening events, the very mention of it troubled me. I even tried asking him Sudha once why he did all this. He could only giggle and blush in reply.
"Why do you guys get Sudha to do all those horrible things"? I had confronted the brat-pack once. They had dared to shove me only to get beaten black and blue.
Despite the hiding they got from me, they still continued to harass Sudha and the poor guy was as obliging as ever. Maybe he feared them. I even heard they were now getting him to perform Oral sex on them. The bloody swines!
Circa 1991…Beasts in the Shaaley – The fateful day
Lovers Lane was now a hot-spot for all the wrong reasons and quite a moral disaster. Our pride in the sobriquet had turned rancid over the years. The schoolboys, who had earlier welcomed and giggled at love-seekers in their neighborhood, had now turned love-busters . Rightfully so!
The last few months, we were on overdrive, chasing heat-seeking couples who had made a real mess out of a peaceful neighborhood. One afternoon, on our way back from college, we heard from a neighbor that there had been a lot of unwanted activity in the Shaaley by young teenage love-birds since morning.
Agnes had a holiday that day, their annual fete. A little wonder why there was a rush to their self-styled love-den the Shaaley that morning.
Almost spontaneously we ran to the Shaaley, opting for a back-yard entry. We took the pleasure-seekers by surprise- there were at least five couples engrossed in attaining their own nirvanas.
The girls were politely asked to leave the premises, while the guys were let go after a stern don’t-you-dare-to-come-back-here warning. As we were getting ready to leave the place, we heard a big moan from inside the School. It sounded familiar.
We broke open the door- it was Sudha.
Bundled up in a corner, he was sobbing inconsolably. Bleeding profusely from his posterior, he could hardly get up.
"There were two of them, Imtiyaz & Pappu (Prashanth)" he said. The poor soul had been sodomized!
We rushed him to our neighbor doctor, Dr.Dhanu – a practicing surgeon. He treated Sudha and said that he had been virtually mauled in the private areas and needed complete rest. He even offered his out-house for Sudha to rest till he was ok.
"Don’t worry guys, Sudha will be nursed back to health". Dr. had assured us.
"The trauma of such an attack will be minimum because of Sudha’s unstable mental equilibrium" "He is unlikely to remember anything". He added.
Amnesia was a blessing in disguise under those circumstances.
Our next job was to hound the assailants down, we knew who they were, but we had very little idea where they came from. Our entire search was in vain.
A few years later, we read in the papers that Imtiyaz was killed in a police encounter near Maddur on the Bangalore- Mysore Road. The same year Pappu was reportedly admitted in Bangalore down with a severe attack of tuberculosis, he died in sleep-with his lungs in shambles.
Sudha lived on in Mercara Hills, without a semblance of any memory of that fateful day. I had vowed never to set foot on those cursed Shaaley premises again.
New Years Eve December 31st 1995…
As I got out of the auto, I saw Sudha trudging across to the Church. I called out his name and he came running to me, hugging me in a tight embrace.
"Odey poditthaaru eeru, irena baari nenapu aavondithundu". (Where had you been? I had been thinking of you so much), Sudha had tears in his eyes.
The handsome young man was now reduced to rubble, sunken eyes in what seemed like tree-holes. His chest had caved in and the entire frame was a bag of bones- all tell tale signs of a chronic tuberculosis patient. He coughed ferociously.
I was misty-eyed, as I thought of the unfortunate events of 1991. Thrusting a hundred rupees note into his hands, I told him to go and enjoy a good meal.
"I will see you later in the evening", I assured him. He smiled warmly as if in anticipation of the evening.
Evening came, the neighborhood had changed quite a bit, and a new young pack had taken charge of proceedings for the customary New Year Celebrations at the Shaaley.
The old man’s effigy "Belchappa" was traditionally dressed in Santa Claus’ dress and put on display at the Shaaley’s gate. He would be burnt at a bonfire, every year at the stroke of midnight. His belly was stuffed with cheap fire-crackers and used tires made up the pyre. Music and dancing followed into the wee hours of the morning.
…The reception at Airport would be no less than a fair. The reception committee would be headed by a father figure of the ever-growing country family…..
I had invited my friends over to Mercara Hills to usher in New Year. Once done here, we would hit our party circuit!
11.30 pm, I was there at Shaaley premises. My friends would be late, something told me. I shuffled uneasily; it was not a very comfortable feeling. My intuitions never failed me.
Someone hurriedly tapped me on the shoulders- it was Dan.
"Sudha is very ill, he is waiting for you", Dan said. We rushed to Sudha’s house.
A dim zero watt light-bulb shone over a lady’s photograph ? "Betty Akka", I almost said aloud recognizing the face.
"She had died one year ago", Dan told me.
"Diwakar is no more too. He succumbed to liver cirrhosis the same month".
"Sudha now lives all alone in this house, feeding on morsels the neighborhood gives him". Dan added.
I regretted my disposable income for once, the ones that I had so brazenly blown on booze and clothes. I could have spared some for Sudha instead.
Dr, Dhanu was by the bed-side, he had taken care of Sudha ever since that fateful day- so Sudha was in good hands. We shook hands and hugged.
As I turned to Sudha, he broke into a smile of recognition and almost an instantaneous sob- he was uncontrollable, just like that fateful day.
Sudha coughed, spewing thick greenish sputum onto my shirt. He reached out to wipe it off for me.
"Masth Sorry, thappaandu"(Very sorry), Sudha said.
"Malle-ijji Sudha" (No problem), I said.
"Yenk onji vishaya ireda panere undu, iregu masth masth thanks. Eeru aa dina enku malthina upakaara yaanu marathu pothiji, Eeru mini ijjinda yaanu auley netheru oddudhu saidhuvey" (I want to tell you something, Thank you very very much. I haven’t forgotten the help you rendered that day; if not for you, I would have died bleeding on the spot").
Sudha hadn’t forgotten anything! Dr. Dhanu was wrong.
"Ini yenna manasugu baari khushi, eeru batharathey, deverey nana yenanu ora konoley" (Today I am very happy, now that you have come. God please take me for once), Sudha cried out.
My hands were still clasped in his, they felt warm!
The clock had just struck twelve, the church bells tolled joyously in celebration of the New Year.
I suddenly felt my hands go cold; it was Sudha’s.
One more innocent life had been snubbed out. I cried silently. Sudha had gone, to usher in New Year elsewhere.
Dr. Dhanu came over to me, "It was time for him to go anyways, and maybe he wanted to see you once before he died".
"The poor soul died of AIDS". He added.
I almost choked in realization. And I knew no New Year would be the same ? ever again!
The church bells tolled again, this time a very somber note- a solemn proclamation of death!
This New Years eve, let us pause for a while; spend a few moments in silence- in memory of all those innocent souls that have been mercilessly ravaged by their own kind.
To Sudha, the handsome innocent man! Impaired by nature, plundered by Men! May his soul rest in eternal peace!
AIDS may be a major cause for death worldwide, but the biggest killer of mankind is MAN himself!
Author: Amarnath Bantwal- Kuwait