As this malignant Covid mutant is busy spreading its tentacles in India, I am busy writing obituaries of my near and dear ones on regular basis – folks I am and was familiar with, who left their indelible impression in me. They left too early for comfort, their deaths could have been preventable. We do live in turbulent times.
In 1979, as a 10 year old cricket fan, I was watching a match between the touring Australian team and East Zone (Comprising Odisha, Bengal, Bihar which included Jharkhand then, Assam) at the Barabati Stadium, Cuttack, Odisha. There was no TV those days. The gallery was full of transistor wielding spectators.
Came afternoon. Close to tea, came the announced from an Odia commentator “CHA PAANA BIRATI”, meaning “Tea Break”. The person sitting next to me gave me some unsolicited information, that the players will go outside for tea and chew a few betel leaves (PAAN) during this break, hence the name “CHA PAANA BIRATI”.
I believed him and imagined Alan Border along with Kim Hughes going out to a kiosk outside and ordering GOPAL ZARDA (A popular scented tobacco) PAAN, followed by a “Cutting Chai”, brewed from a coal oven. However I took it for granted that Rabi Panda, a player representing Odisha those days and true to his salt did so.
He struggled against the bowling of a rookie Geoff Lawson, the young Aussie fast bowler who could find a place in the team because all his better known compatriot Dennis Lillie, Len Pascoe were playing in the better paying Kerry Packers League (Test cricketers were paid in peanuts those days).
Rabi Panda, the only batsman of Odisha origin was cheered by the local crowd as he walked in to bat. But he didn’t last long and got out early. When he returned back, the crowd booed him, as their local hero failed him. A la TAKHT YA KAQTA (Crown or Coffin) were the sole options for the Mughal princes, our cricketer are showered with flowers or brickbats to the whims of their fans.