Unni was walking back to take guard for the final delivery of the match. As I rubbed the tennis ball on my dirt stained shorts, I realised it’s just 4 runs that he needs to raise the Five-Star Cricket Cup – the prestigious gully cricket cup we both played for every Saturday, the loser buying the winner a Rs.10/- Five Star chocolate. As I was about the take the run-up, the match got interrupted. Not rain, not bad light; a Royal Enfield Bullet came speeding up the lane. Unni hadn’t expected his father to return so early that day. The Bullet went past me into the porch of Unni’s house. I was slowly walking back to my home when I heard Unni screaming. ‘Regular’. When I turned back, I could see his shadow twitching.
Unni was (and still is) 4 years younger to me. There were times when we fought over the ‘not-out’ or ‘out’ decisions dished out by the ‘biased’ umpire during our gully-cricket days. There were times when I advised him on his studies, taking advantage of being his ‘senior’ at school and ‘confidant’ of the Principal (so he believed). I despised him on occasions. But most times, I had my sympathies with him.
Unni’s father reminded me of the quintessential villains in Tamil and Malayalam movies. He was tall and built; had a penchant for thick moustache. He trimmed and tidied it religiously. He was respected in the neighbourhood for being fearsome. Like any other parent, he wanted his son to study well. He made sure that Unni stayed in his room almost always – except on Saturdays. On Saturdays we played Five-Star Cricket Cup.
A day never passed without Unni being beaten up – literally, by his father. Sometimes we smelled burning skin. To those people who advised Uncle (that’s how I referred to him) against such punishments, he would say, ‘I love my son a lot. I want him to be successful’. May be it was burning love he had for his son, after all.
Our Five-Star Cricket Tournament got cancelled very soon.
Uncle was diagnosed with cancer.
29/11/2004 - Saturday
The news came in the morning. Uncle passed away.
As people waited his body to be brought home from the hospital, Unni was preparing for the Five-Star Cricket Cup. With death came freedom. ‘Chetta! Kalikkaan vaa’! I declined his request to play the match. That didn’t stop Unni from playing – he got hold of his cousins. They played hide ‘n seek since the road was crowded.
“Deepu, call them inside” told my mom.
I took them to my room and played Tom and Jerry on my computer.
Why is Unni behaving like this? May be he doesn’t understand the meaning of what’s happening around him, he is just 10 years old after all.
“Unni” I called him.
“Do you know what’s happening here?”
“Yes – they are going to burn my father into ashes.