The Aftermath Of An Abandoned Cricket Match
It was a Sunday in May 1975. Gathered together in the sweltering heat were two cricket teams – that of a multinational Tyre giant, and the other comprising its dealers. A whole bunch of middle-aged, balding, pot-bellied executives and businessmen. A few young ones like me hanging around hopefully, unsure whether we would get a chance to bowl or bat. This was May in Calcutta – the time of year when, as Bob Hope joked, your undies kept looking for a place to hide.
After a few desultory hours in the hot sun, better sense prevailed and the cricket match was declared abandoned. Everyone rushed to the shamiana in the middle of Calcutta’s famed Maidan, where chilled beer was being served. Tyres were in short supply those days and as a result, a limitless supply of beer should have been assured. But as the afternoon wore on, stocks depleted. Finally everyone decided to call it a day. Except as always, for a handful of us. We caught hold of one of the dealers who was easily persuaded to arrange some more beer. He took us to his car, lying crocodile-like, baking steadily in the sun. In the boot were a few cans of Japanese Sapporo beer. The cans were so hot that they could be held only by being tossed from one palm to the other. But you know what they say about beggars.
By the time those finished, there were just three men standing. Karan Singh, Matty and me. Not ones to give up quite so easily, a way would have to be found quickly to tank up some more or, perish the thought, we would all sober up. Sundays meant all booze shops in Calcutta were closed. Then Karan Singh said he had a solution. Driving his small, two-door Standard Herald, we landed up soon enough at a shuttered booze shop on Theatre Road. Going to the rear, Karan delivered a couple of hefty blows on the wooden door, followed by a few choice Punjabi curses. The result was the appearance of a head through a window. As soon as this happened, Karan, in a well-rehearsed move, caught hold of the neck, shook it and demanded three bottles of beer. There had obviously been many earlier Sundays when the beer had run out. A burly six-foot something shaking your head meant beer would be available pronto. But like a true gentleman, Karan paid an extra hundred for the inconvenience and we were on our way again, downing the beer generously into dehydrated gullets.
Eventually, we wound our way to New Alipore where Karan lived. By this time, much beer had been quaffed and combined with the heat and humidity, the alcohol had taken its toll. The evening sun was still shining brightly, lighting up the staircase to Karan’s first floor flat. Richa, his charming and popular wife opened the door. A carpenter was at work in the drawing room. Karan staggered in and promptly keeled over. Taken aback, I wished Richa a hurried hello and goodbye and retreated groggily down the stairs. Seeing no other alternative, I took a taxi and went back home to the apartment where I lived on Russell Street. Only to pass out almost immediately.
Next morning, with a bad hangover and poor recollection of the earlier day’s events, I was in the office when Karan came to my desk. “I say”, he said, “did you take my car yesterday ?” Surprised, I replied in the negative, asking Karan to check with Matty. A little while later, they both came down and motioned for me to come to Karan’s cabin. Matty reiterated that he had not taken the car. The matter was turning serious as the car was company property. We were left with no option but to report the theft of the car to the New Alipore police station. Luckily, there was close interaction between the traffic police and the company so we were hopeful the mystery would be solved soon.
That evening, we met again at Karan’s place to review the situation. Karan’s cook opened the door and on seeing Matty, suddenly blurted out “Yeh saab kal gaadi le gaya tha aur mujhe bola kissi ko bolna nahi” – “this gentleman took the car yesterday and told me not to tell this to anyone”. Matty vehemently denied the accusation but the cook insisted he had seen the car being driven twice around the block before disappearing from sight. The mystery remained unresolved with Matty still protesting. Now Matty, I knew was not one given to lying so I was quite convinced of his innocence. And equally flummoxed as to why the cook would say he saw him drive off. Further complications arose when the New Alipore Police station called later in the night saying the car had been found in a crowded area of Bhowanipore. Apparently Matty had taken the car and gone for a drive in that inebriated state, left the car unlocked with the key in the ignition, taken a taxi and gone home. Strangely enough, till this day Matty has no recollection of what happened. Luckily there was no accident and like so many times before, the Angels just smiled at our antics.
Alcoholic amnesia they call it. From that day on, if someone told me that they had committed a murder under the influence of alcohol and did not remember anything, I would have been perfectly willing to believe the statement. Anyway the next time you are involved in a cricket match which has been abandoned, take my advice and head straight home.