Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Football Days

 

My Football Days
 
I was in the playing eleven for one league match. Twenty minutes into the first half, I received a kick from behind on my calf and at that same moment, the rival forward I was trying to tackle smashed the ball into my groin with tremendous force. I watched the rest of that match from the sidelines.
 
My team had five from my family, six if you count me; four first-cousins, including the captain Biju and the centre-forward Aju; and Shaji, a rather distant cousin but a close friend of my cousins. I used to hang around with those three though they are a few years older than me. It seemed to be the best way to enter the team.
 
I used to look forward to those visits to my paternal grandparents’ place during extended school holidays. The house consisted of two single-storey buildings separated by a small sandy courtyard. When I see Malayalam movies, I wonder why they never show houses like that rather than the grand ones with pond and what-not. Every village house I knew looked like my grandparents’ house.
 
Every nook and corner of that house would be filled with people. Rather dingy dark rooms with old smells, a toilet to be avoided, small groups whispering, few loud ones omnipresent, these I remember. My mother and sisters complaining, not about the direct in-laws, but about the other women and their kids who had entered that house like them via marriage; a fair competition between those in the same category, I suppose. My grandparents used to proudly watch their kids arrive in cars. At dusk, my grandmother used to gather the kids for the evening prayer, Rama Rama bhagyama, or something that sounded like that. Meals were rushed affairs between games.       
 
For me, and my cousins, life revolved around football. Every evening, a big crowd including most of my family members would gather around the ground next to our house. Our main rivals were from the same neighbourhood. The toss decided the team that played bare-chested. Some had football boots, most played barefoot; most had shorts but some still played the old way with lungi folded and expertly tucked in.
 
The captain of the rival team was a guy named Sasi. He was a tall chap, standing well above six feet, barrel-chested, athletic, fair, light-eyed, aquiline features. I have heard my cousins say, ``Kuravande veettil aaro purathuninnu mathilu chaadi…’’ (``Some outsider must have jumped the wall of that low-caste’s house…’’). After scoring a goal against us, he would go near the sidelines where my family was gathered and standing in front of them, taunt us with a roar. We also knew that he was putting on a show for the benefit of our cousin, Indira.
 
Indira is my most beautiful cousin and Biju’s elder sister. Since she was my father’s sister’s daughter, I could have married her if I had been her age or older. She treated me like a kid-brother while I teased and ogled. Aju, the son of another paternal aunt, could not view her as anything but a sister. The distant cousin Shaji was right for her by way of age and family lineage. Only two obstacles stood in his path. The main one was that his father was much richer than hers; the minor one being his ugliness and her revulsion towards him. But, whenever he talked to her, it was obvious that he considered her as his by default.
 
I was there when Aju caught her with our rival, Sasi. They had been talking and standing close, Aju told us. Biju confronted Indira and warned her to stay away from Sasi. Why, she asked her younger brother. He is not suitable for us, Biju told his sister, he is poor and though he belongs to our caste, he is of a lower sub-caste. She stared at us without saying a word. We thought she would listen to us and we decided to keep this from the elders. But, the next day, after his team defeated us he strutted in front of her and she smiled at him.
 
We planned our attack well. We knew that he returned to his house from his Club at around nine at night. Two days after the last taunt, the four of us waited in a well-shaded part of that route. We were in briefs; our bodies oiled and greased. We attacked Sasi that night with iron bars, thick sticks and cycle chains. I had a thick stick and I think I managed to hit him once on the head and chest. Shaji was the most ferocious and he used an iron rod against the knees and ankles. When Sasi lost consciousness, we stopped hitting and left the place.
 
The next morning, news came to us from various quarters. Then and now, the elders have never questioned us about that day’s incident (``annaththe sambhavam’’). Sasi was in hospital for a long time. The police questioned him. When he could speak, he told them that he could not recognize his attackers. We knew his intentions and why he decided not to sneak on us but we could do little after that.
 
My studies took me away from my land. Then, my grandparents died and I had even fewer reasons to visit frequently. I used to get the family news. Indira married our rival Sasi. He managed to become a clerk in some government office.
 
A few months back, on one of my rare visits to that place, I met Indira and her beautiful kids. She insisted that I should visit her house and her kids tugged and pulled me there. I sat with Sasi in the front-room, discussing local politics and World Cup football, having tea and sharing a plate of biscuits. He walked with a limp and used a walking stick, his nose had a broken skewness and the left side of his face had a slight droop as if patched badly. He caught me looking and smiled; those light-eyes taunting me like then, my football days.    
 

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