” It’s my BIRTHDAY …. !! “

From the time I did my first solo travel last year – I have never been so excited about my birthday !! However, this time around I didn’t have the liberty to take a long leave from office since I had just returned from Ladakh !! But with this new found love of planning my own birthday celebration, I was very keen on doing something on the day !!

My first preference was para-gliding, especially since quite a few good para-gliding centers are just about 50 kms. outside Pune. The gliding season also starts around the same time. So I called up one of the well-known centers but was heart-broken to know that they hadn’t yet opened for this season.

This meant I had to start looking for something else. Had I been my earlier self, I would have given up on finding something else but not now !! That’s when I realized the 2nd test match between India and South Africa would be played in Pune around the same time. Although I had been to the newly built MCA cricket stadium for a few IPL matches, an international cricket match was something I had never been to !!

This opportunity seemed perfect. It was the second test match of the three-match series and with India having won the first, this test would either level the series OR ensure India wrap up the series. Moreover, off-late, I had developed quite a keen interest in test match cricket – the strategies, the important parts in each session and everything related to it. Lastly, I knew there won’t be too many people in the stadium so I could very well get the solitude that has become so very important to me since Goa.

I realized the other advantage of going for a test-match – tickets are cheaper and easily available. Without wasting any further time, I booked my ticket. Though I was keen on being alone that day, I just dropped a note to the boys on the whatsapp group about my plan. Since I was going on a Friday, I wasn’t expecting anyone to join in. But I also knew, of all people, it might as well be Dhruv who would show some interest and so he did!!

Birthday plans set – watch the 2nd day of the 2nd test match between India and South-Africa – with Dhruv for company !!

Since we still have “day” test matches and since the first hour of every day is critical and since missing the first ball of the day is a sin, I intended to be in the stadium latest by 0900 hrs. The MCA stadium is exactly on the opposite end of the city from where I stay – a good 30 kms. away. This meant I had to start very early from home, pick-up Dhruv by taking a short de-tour and cross the city before the usual office-going chaos begins.

I managed to do all that albeit with a 25 min. delay. I still had to take the long walk from the parking up to the stadium entrance, collect the tickets, then still walk some unknown distance before I reached my seat. These are typical moments where my OCD is at its highest levels – I am anxious, I am nervous and I somehow don’t care about anything else be it food, water or my own comfort – all I want to do is reach the destination. Ironically, that’s not how Dhruv functions and he was more keen on having breakfast before we entered our stands. I was not going to settle before I reached the stands and so suggested otherwise. He knew I was not going to budge and so he agreed, reluctantly.

Fortunately, there wasn’t any rush at the counter and that unknown distance to our stand wasn’t much either. I was finally at peace the moment we crossed the last check-point. This newly built stadium is close to the hills on the outskirts of the city and makes for a beautiful view from the inside …..

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As luck would have it, the Indian team was warming up close to our stands. We were absolutely excited and quickly rushed close to the boundary.

We had the two not-out batsmen from the previous day, Virat and Ajinkya warming up closest to us…

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This is what I had come here for – to watch these superstars up close in action !! I didn’t even bother to look beyond these two to identify the other players. It’s always a sight to watch sports-persons and athletes in the field from close quarters. These two were amongst the fittest in the team and so we were having a closer look at their fit bodies. Yes, two boys checking-out two boys !!

As we were getting close to the start of the play, Virat – Ajinkya and the South-African team on the far side, rushed to the pavilion to get ready. The other Indian players were pretty relaxed since there’s wasn’t much for them to do in the match, immediately.

That’s when we had Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant in front of us, engaged in a senior-junior chat. And that was also when I realized there were a few hearing-impaired youngsters standing close to us. They were frantically trying to catch the attention of Rohit, hoping they could take a few pics of / with him. They also tried convincing the guards to let them in just for a few seconds or at least call Rohit towards them – all in sign language !!
But the guard didn’t budge – probably rightly so – he was just doing his job and didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

It’s always a painful sight watching differently-abled people try to do something that we as mere mortals are able to do almost subconsciously. I somehow always end-up putting myself in their place and get shattered just imagining how would I have survived with the disability that they have. All the excitement of watching the superstar cricketers was replaced by this strong feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t imagine being in a situation where I wanted to shout, call-out to somebody but I had no voice !!!!

I wanted to do something to get Rohit and Rishabh look at these kids. But then they weren’t some normal people, they were superstars, celebrities and of course, important people !! How could I call them and make them do what I feel they should be doing? What am I going to say ?! Will my voice even reach them ? Even if it reached, will they react? What if the security reacts before them and takes some action against me?? What if I land up in some trouble trying to do some “unwarranted” social work !!! I was in deep turmoil !!

Rohit was done lecturing Rishabh and started moving towards the pavilion. Even before I could realize, I shouted out “Rohit, can you just wave to these kids, they are hearing impaired ?”
I hadn’t composed what I was going to say and in which language but before I knew, I had already spoken shouted !! I still don’t remember how and why did I speak in English and use the word “hearing impaired” !!!

In a true superstar style, Rohit, with his back to us, just waved back. But that had instantly given me some confidence and so I again shouted back – “Rohit, can you just wave to these kids, they are hearing impaired ?” This time Rohit responded with tweaking his ears and asking in hindi “Kya??!!!” I realised he didn’t catch the word “hearing impaired” and so for the third time I shouted back – “hearing impaired”. He didn’t react much but to my utter surprise, he crossed the boundary display hoardings and started to walk towards us !!! I felt absolutely on top of the world !!! I had managed to have a short little conversation with a cricketing superstar and from what seemed like, he had obliged to my request !!!

I signalled all those kids to come near the fencing. And that’s when something really interesting happened. I, who was so excited just minutes before, looking at Virat and Ajinkya practicing in front of us, had not moved even a single step in the direction of Rohit. I was standing at the same place ensuring those kids could get as close as possible to Rohit. And so did Dhruv !!

Rohit reached the fencing and started interacting with them, taking selfies with them.

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And somehow, both Dhruv and me, were completely at peace watching him from a distance. There was this amazing feeling of having done the right thing for someone else. As cliched and cheesy as it may sound, on my birthday, I had this amazing feeling of having quite literally, grown-up !!

Their smiling faces and those frantic signs they were making to each other to communicate their happiness is a sight I’ll remember for a long, long time!!
We shouted one last time, this time with a lot of confidence and pride, “Thank you, Rohit, thanks a lot !!”

The day’s play was underway while I was still cherishing what had just happened. Both Virat and Ajinkya were absolutely cautious in the first hour of play. It was amazing to see two completely different types of batsmen do the same thing – play cautiously. After the drinks break, an hour from the start of play, they seemed very comfortable and started to play their shots freely.

Meanwhile these kids had now shifted their attention to Sudhir Gautam, the same man whom I had seen on the tv sets – body-painted in the Indian tricolor waving a huge Indian flag.

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He was just besides our stand and these kids had managed to draw his attention to them through the police officers. The police officers, in consultation with their senior (a lady officer), had bent their rules for these special kids and allowed Sudhir Gautam to walk up to our stand. This was such a pleasant sight, there was so much positivity at that place, in that surrounding!! Everything felt so nice, good, pleasant (please add all those “feel good” superlatives) !!

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He’s not seen in the picture below but you can see the crowd holding their selfie cameras to capture a pic with him….

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While India, and Virat in particular, seemed to be cruising along with the batting, there was enough happening around in our stand to keep us occupied and entertained !!

Before we knew, we were already in the post-lunch session when Ravindra Jadeja walked in to replace Ajinkya. He had made a steady start to this batting but he was sent with a purpose – to score as many runs as quickly as possible. We knew where this was heading – a declaration was round the corner which meant we were going to see the Indian team bowl and field as well !!

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In the final session of the day, Virat had already made a double century and also his highest individual test score.

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We had been witness to a double century and two half-centuries so far (Ajinkya and Jadeja). There wasn’t more we could have asked for in one day of test cricket. But we were wrong, there was more to come……

As expected, India declared their innings and put the South-Africans to bat for the last 90-minutes of the day. The whole stadium had come alive because now we would get a glimpse of 11 Indian players.

Fortunately, the Indian pace attack found their rhythm straight-away and South-Africa lost a couple of wickets early on. Last session of the day, 11 Indian players on the field and India on top – enough reasons for the crowd to have fun !!!

And that’s when I saw this bunch of school kids making the most of their outing at the test match !! Since the stadium was sparsely occupied, anybody with a loud voice could call out the players. I myself had cheered on Ajinkya when has was batting in the morning session and was pretty sure my voice had reached him. So these kids here, along with their senior, picked players standing in the slips, chanting their names continuously until the players looked and waved back at them !!
Their sheer joy and sense of accomplishment when the players acknowledged them was such a joyful sight – what positive vibes, again !!

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I was also keenly watching these kids more than the game now and saw this particular kid (with the red water bottle) leading the pack with his whistling skills….

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This bunch of kids was, quite literally, giving lessons to the rest of the crowd on how to enjoy a day of test cricket to the fullest !!

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Indeed, the administration had done a good job by inviting the local schools to watch this match. It was a good learning experience both ways, as much as the kids, even I learnt a lot from them.

Finally, it was stumps on day two with India in a very commanding position. There was a time when even I ignored test cricket for being boring. And here I was today, watching such an eventful day of test cricket, at the stadium.

In fact even Vaishali would now agree there are enough reasons to watch a day of test match cricket in the stadium !!

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The entire group of the hearing-impaired kids on their way out of the stands:

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I always resented birthday celebrations for the sheer effort that had to be put in to make them memorable. Moreover, until last year, I didn’t know we could plan a nice celebration just for ourselves, without burdening our near and dear ones with planning a surprise, memorable and eventful birthday party !!! I wish I knew this a lot earlier but as they – better late than never !! I never thought I would ever say this but – looking forward to my next birthday !!!!

P.S : The only tiny-little, minutest regret I have from this day is – not getting a glimpse of Mayanti !!!

 

 

 

 

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