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*******BALLS, CERTAINLY NOT AT ANY COST********

Sardar Sohan Singh and his family had shifted to Chandigarh. Suddenly, I had lost two close friends. Loss of company of Goga hurt me because suddenly my daredevilry and my pranks had come to a standstill because one needs a partner in such escapades. Anyone who has read the books of childhood adventures will vouch for it. We didn’t need to read the books to plan our adventures but there’s no fun in them unless you have a partner if not many. Since Pali was elder to us and as I have said that he was different, he wasn’t our partner but his resourcefulness was important to our plans. He never questioned us why we needed what we asked him to get because he understood that the children have their needs and intrinsically they don’t like to discuss their projects or divulge the details to others who are not a party to their plans. That is because it entails a risk of a secret becoming an ‘open secret’ and parents have sharp ears and prying eyes. In addition to that, there are spies in the shapes of innocuous-looking young kids who you think have no interest in your games. Maybe, they are not interested in your games but they are the spies- real ears and the eyes of the parents.
And if you think that you can buy their silence or their favour by bribing them with marbles, rare empties of cigarette packs, or even priceless pictures of the cricketers, then you are badly mistaken because they are the future voters and they are as shrewd as they come. They will take the bribe and still do what they set their mind upon. Though they also have many uses, like they can be ordered to do your bidding. They can be scolded for being sloppy and they serve as the best assistants when you need extra hands for executing an important task that requires extra hands. But they cannot be sent as emissaries to other peoples’ homes. Parents are as wary of it as they were when we were growing up although the world that we grew up in wasn’t as depraved as it is now. Still, it wasn’t as virtuous either, but then there were demons even the times of Lord Rama and Krishna too. Parents didn’t like their children to go to the homes of the people not know to them and going to the homes of the strangers or talking to them was prohibited.

I wasn’t gifted like Pali in devising methods for acquiring balls nor was I as daring, but after his family left Shimla the tough task of arranging the balls fell upon me because I was the Captain of the Mohalla team and as they say, the show must go on, the game couldn’t be given up. We thought of pooling our pocket money but “Takkas” that we got as daily allowance didn’t add up to much even if the contributions were continued for months. I decided to ask the team members to get donations from their parents like the school authorities would ask us to get from them whenever floods or famine, hit some part of the country.

We knew how they grumbled, winced, and protested but they paid. So, I lectured to my teammates,

“Parents are habituated to throwing tantrums. ”Abusing, cursing, scolding and saying ‘No’ at the outset is essential to good parenting I said, but obstinacy on part of the children, their persistent, steadfastness, whining often pays. I said, “If necessary, you can shed some crocodile tears too. “Try whatever you may have to do, but by next Sunday, if you want to continue to be the part of this team whose popularity is on the rise, you must get a contribution of five rupees each.” “This is the minimum that you should accept from them and because they tend to bargain, start by asking a higher amount, so that it may appear to them that you are grumblingly agreeing for five, but don’t agree for anything less than this.”

“We will start by buying a new ball and then add on other important gear like pads and guard etc.” I said, “The reputation of the team depends on how well it is equipped and the word spreads like wildfire.” “The team that has started getting requests for being played against from as far off places as Lower Kaithu is knocking at the doors of the state-level authorities for recognition and I am sure that some of you budding players will get included in the Ranji Trophy team of Shimla whenever our glorious town gets a chance for having its team and is asked for sending a team for inter-state matches.”

I saw the smiles spreading on all the young faces looking up at me. Their eyes were shining with hope but when my eyes fell on their Hawai chappals and tattered shoes, my own hope fell. However, my confidence in our ability to reach the pinnacle of glory in that quaint Himalayan town soared as if propelled by my own words in our praise. Our team comprised of the boys from the middle class and the poor strata of the society but they were inducted purely on merit. Even Khushal Chand the son of Jiya Lal, who cleaned our toilets was a proud member of our team. I didn’t hear from the teammates about how their struggle for getting five rupees, a formidable sum in those days, was going with their parents as I had my own battle to fight, until Sunil confronted me one day. Sunil was my classmate. He is a member of this group and sometimes reads my posts and may read this too. I don’t know if he remembers it or not. His younger brother, Kapil was one of my teammates. (I heard from him some time ago passed away two years ago.)

“ Haan bhai bahut dehshat faila rakhi hai tune.” Yes buddy, you have spread quite a scare, he said. I got his point and smiled. His brother must have been pestering the parents for money as the effect of my speech seemed to have affected him severely. I said, “The contributions are voluntary, not compulsory”, but I realized that making the team a star team of Shimla will be difficult, although it was a “star-studded” team, unfortunately, it was cash-strapped.

I hadn’t got any coaching in the game, but I was good at it or so I thought. Illusion about my own ability has been my driving force. Our neighbour Mr. Raj played for the A.G. office. Their team had a good reputation in the town. They played matches with other local teams on Sundays. I got a chance of playing as one of their team as he used to take me along wherever they played. I played against some teams at Annandale Ground and at BCS when we played against them. I was a young lad of 14-15 years of age and was increasingly becoming aware of the hormonal changes taking place inside me. One Mr. K- of A.G. office team told me that he had some old balls with him at home and he would be happy to give me those. Mr. Raj might have spoken to him about our constant need for the balls. I was delighted at his graciousness and agreed to visit his apartment for collecting those on the following Sunday.

I hard learned about some people being gay but the world still looked pretty safe to the children growing up in the last century. I shouldn’t be saying this with this degree of certitude because a thought of another incident that occurred a few years before this with me has come to mind. I will tell you about that some other time, but being gay is one thing and stalking and trapping the children for realizing one’s perversions is quite another thing. I didn’t know that there were wolves in sheep’s clothing. I reached his apartment at Lower Kaithu in the afternoon.  It was a summer day and he opened the door in response to my knock after getting up from the bed, where perhaps he was taking the afternoon siesta.

The room was small and it was brilliantly warmed up by the sun as the side of the room facing the west had glass panes all over. After opening the door he went and sat on the bed again. As there were no chairs in the room, at least none in my sight, he asked me to sit on the bed. I don’t know if he had any chairs or they had been removed by him. He sat himself in the semi-reclining position with one arm resting on the knee of the leg drawn up while the other leg lay flat on the bed. What struck odd to me was that he was in his undergarments and he hadn’t chosen to put on Pajamas or pants after I entered the room. Though I was a young boy in my early teens, I had learnt enough about human anatomy through analogies drawn with the animals in the General Science books and nature had taught me some through raging testosterones in my testicles. This was fortified with a lot of other data collected in my head through the exchange of information with peers and friends. His sitting in the bed without even a Lungi certainly appeared as indecent behaviour to me.

He asked me if I had a girlfriend and whether I had done anything with her. That was a grey area. My knowledge was limited to hearsays and I could neither brag nor lie. I shook my head. I wasn’t sure about what and how to do, because I knew it wasn’t as simple as was made out to be in the General Science book with a male frog riding on top of the female and pressing her body. The details were sketchy and the scope of enlightenment was lost to us on the day it was being taught in the school by Mr. Hastir, because of the mischief played by Surinder on Upinder at the wrong time. But neither through the book and nor from the peers and friends had I learnt about the male wanting to do it with a male. I had the knowledge of a common cuss word “G&^*u” that we used liberally in the language spoken among the friends, but that was used for someone who was dimwit-stupid. It would be wrong on my part if I say that I was ignorant about it, but truthfully all I knew then was that this if done was more for the purpose of demonstrating brute force or instilling fear and drawing rather sadistic than carnal pleasures.

He put his hand around me and tried to draw me closer in an attempt to kiss me. I pushed him away. I was surprised to notice a stir in his underwear. A tiny drop had wet it too. I was not interested in any of this. Though there had been some attempts on me at some previous occasions, one of which I mentioned in my posts here, but to bargain my “Izzat” for getting some old cricket balls was a bit too much. I got up from the bed and moved towards the door. He realized that he had approached the wrong guy and so for making some amends, he broke into fake laughter and said, “ Bhole tu, te bura mana laya” ( Bhole (Bhola Is my pet name)- you got offended). I didn’t answer. He got up and pulled out two old balls from the cupboard and gave them to me. I returned a fake smile, meaning that I will ignore all that happened between us and as a kind of payback for his goodwill gesture minus the largesse he wanted to give along with a set of those old used balls.

An interesting piece of text that I recently read in the book “Hilly Billy Elegy” about a sure test of finding if one was gay or not was told to the writer J.D. Vance by his grandmother when as a child he was overcome by a fear that he was perhaps gay because he had no girlfriend and his best friend was a boy and the..He say:-

( Note:- I feel that we are quite conservative in our views regarding what qualifies as a decent text, so I would suggest to the people who feel offended reading explicit matter may please omit the following paragraphs)

I’ll never forget the time I convinced myself that I was gay. I was eight or nine, maybe younger, and I stumbled upon a broadcast by some fire-and-brimstone preacher. The man spoke about the evils of homosexuals, how they had infiltrated our society, and how they were all destined for hell absent some serious repenting. At the time, the only thing I knew about gay men was that they preferred men to women.

This described me perfectly: I disliked girls, and my best friend in the world was my buddy Bill. Oh no, I’m going to hell.   I broached this issue with Mamaw, confessing that I was gay and I was worried that I would burn in hell. She said, “Don’t be a fucking idiot, how would you know that you’re gay?” I explained my thought process. Mamaw chuckled and seemed to consider how she might explain to a boy my age. Finally she asked, “J.D., do you want to suck dicks?” I was flabbergasted. Why would someone want to do that? She repeated herself, and I said, “Of course not!” “Then,” she said, “you’re not gay. And even if you did want to suck dicks, that would be okay. God would still love you.” That settled the matter. Apparently, I didn’t have to worry about being gay anymore. Now that I’m older, I recognize the profundity of her sentiment: Gay people, though unfamiliar, threatened nothing about Mamaw’s being. There were more important things for a Christian to worry about.

In the 1960s the verb sucking could only be understood in the pretext of sucking the nipples as a part of foreplay while indulging in the act with the legally acquired wife and that too with the lights off. I think it was not expected of them and was neither offered as a bonus by the consenting wives in gratitude to the husbands they genuinely loved. I doubt if there were such husbands who fitted the bill and the wives who were willing to please them in bed. At least until I was an active part of the productive society, I never heard of any such things from people I knew, but to think that such camaraderie existed between willing male partners was normal or will become normal somewhere down the line was beyond the imagination of a straight kid who had been brought up in a conservative town tucked in the Himalayan hills.

As an Indian, it is impossible for me to think that such a conversation can take place between any members within the family and I can’t even imagine that any elder can be approached for alleviating such fears and of all the people a grandmother can speak such words to a child of nine years of age.  Maybe it can happen in American homes only. Now when the whole world is becoming sensitive to the needs of LGBTs, perhaps the parents can broach subjects with the children but back in the 1960s, I wonder how such people came to terms with their singularities.

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Navneet Bakshi

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Ushasurya
16 days ago

A real unpleasant encounter I suppose!

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