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Friday, May 11, 2018

Known for great conversation



Chances are that you have not heard of Harold Gimblett. I won’t blame you if you haven’t. He’s too niche a subject to be savoured if you are not a hardcore cricket.

Note:
In the unlikely case that you are really, really interested, you may want to read this to get a basic idea of his biographiability.

However, this is at best indirectly about Gimblett. This concerns David Foot’s biography of Gimblett, as wonderful book a book as any written on the sport. It’s completely worth it.

This also concerns me. In fact, I am the protagonist of the tale.

Since I travel for at least an hour a day, I prefer to split my reading. My backpack always carries a cricket book, while I read on cricket at home only for reference. The arrangement suits me.

It was Bombay-May hot and humid the other day, which made me compromise on speed for comfort. I was supposed to show up late, so I decided on Uberpool.

I should have been more careful. When I booked the cab, the app warned me that the driver was “known for great conversation”. If only I had chosen to act accordingly.

I was also told that there were two others, which almost invariably meant a front seat for me. That isn’t a problem per se — but on this occasion I was thrust into the front left corner of the car, next to a person who thrives on chirping.

I decided to play safe. I started reading Foot’s book within a minute. Even checking the arrival time was out of the question. The trip was afoot.

The man to my right was obviously disappointed, but I could really care less. He went into what he definitely thought was an intriguing conversation in Marathi with my unfortunate co-passengers, destined to endure half an hour’s suffering.

This will teach them to carry a book next time.

Then that dreaded moment arrived: they got down before me. I contemplated escaping to the backseat but decided against it. It would have been too rude, no?

I could sense the driver (let me call him X) casting impatient glances at me. I stayed put. I was getting uneasy — uneasy enough to not being able to focus on Somerset cricket of the 1930s.

Minutes passed by.

I could sense something brewing. I could feel he wouldn’t be able to hold himself back any longer.

I flipped a page. Regular readers of non-fiction (not motivational nonsense, but factual non-fiction) will know that the photographs are stacked together for the benefit of the publishers.

This was that page, the one with photographs of cricketers — Gimblett included — in various modes of action and inaction. And then the car stopped at a signal.

He couldn’t hold himself back. It is difficult to read a neighbour’s book if he holds it strategically, but it’s not as huge a challenge to look at the photographs.

He has seen the photographs. He will try to pick up a conversation. I can sense it. I can sense it.

The inevitable happened: “Ye saare cricketer log ke baare mein likha hai?”

Cricketer-log. That was precisely the phrase he used.

I nodded.

Focus. Focus. Focus, Abhishek, focus.

The signal turned green (I hope it did, for the car started moving). It was impossible for me to concentrate at that point. I cast a glance at the man.

He is thinking. He is thinking something.

“Aap cricket ka kitaab kyun padhte ho?”

Dang! How is one supposed to answer that?

He sized me up. Of course, I had neither the age nor the girth of an athlete, so being a cricketer was out of the question.

Cricket writers probably do not exist in his universe. They are too peculiar to exist in any universe anyway, but let us not get into that.

“Aap coach ho.”

It was not a question. It was a statement — a statement with a finality so decisive that I almost believed it.

I could see him nodding and smiling in the most ha-got-you way imaginable to mankind.

“Mera beta dus saal ka hai. Aap use sikhaoge?”

My heart went out to the poor boy. Coexisting with a father who enjoyed conversation was torture enough, but this?

He concluded as we approached our destination: “Mere paas to aap ka number hai. Main aap ko call kar loonga.”

I looked down at my phone instinctively.

He might have won the first battle, but it’s going to be an uphill task for him. My cell-phone is also equipped to save numbers, you see.

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