Loki Takes Guard

By Menaka Raman

Click here to buy Loki Takes Guard I’m not sure when or how I started playing the game. It’s not like anyone else in my family is into it—or any sport for that matter. Vasu used to play a bit till he was in 7th standard but once he started attending coaching classes for IIST every waking minute of his life, he stopped. It’s not just Vasu, no one else in our family has even the slightest bit of interest in cricket. Forget playing the game, they don’t even follow it. If you asked Amma who Virat Kohli is, she’ll say she once knew a Samrat Kohli in Sowcarpet. It’s unfair that I, Lokanayaki (Ugh!) Shanmugam who never drops a catch, and is a decent bowler and has been known to hit more than one ball out of the corporation school playground and knock people unconscious, should be born in such a family.
Amma blames my cricket craziness on her younger brother, my uncle. Apparently when I was a baby, Raghu Mama would say he was taking me out for a walk and then go and stand outside the local electronics store where we would watch matches on the TVs in the window display. Raghu Mama insists my first word was ’duck’, as in when a batsman gets out without scoring any runs, not the bird. Till Mama lived with us, he would take me to the local ground on weekends where he’d play matches with his friends. They used to let me go and fetch the ball when it went to the spots in the ground no one was posted at, and soon I became one of the XI. Well, I became the man in the far field. But I didn’t mind. I loved it!
Then, Mama went to America to take up a software job. (And he married a woman called Nancy and didn’t tell anyone till after. He brought her to India with him once to meet all of us. But that was years ago. We don’t hear from him much these days. But that’s another story.) After Mama left, I remember crying for weeks and weeks. A little bit because I missed him and a lot because there was no one to take me to the ground anymore.
Then, when I joined school—Kalai Vani Girls Primary and Higher Secondary School—I was so excited. School meant sports. PT! Games period. But guess what? There was no cricket! Volleyball? Yes! Kabbadi? Sure! Kho-kho, Tennecoit, Lock and Key and Dodgeball? Yes, yes, yes and yes! But cricket? No sorry, that’s a game for boys. Says who? Since when? How come? Stop being oversmart and sit down.
Things got better when the twins Rajina Syed Khan and Rubina Syed Khan joined the school in 2nd standard. They are my best friends in the whole world (don’t ask who I like more, I won’t say). And their father Amir Uncle is the coach for the local junior league team—The Temple Street Tankers—in the evenings after work, and on weekends.
In the beginning, the team let me practice with them. Amma let me go because it was better to have me out of the house than at home ‘getting in the way’.
In my defence, how can you not get in someone’s way in a one bedroom, hall, kitchen flat? Coach Amir seemed happy to have me too—I think he was a little disappointed that the twins didn’t want anything to do with cricket. I played a few U9 matches and scored runs. I wasn’t the man in the far field anymore. I was on mid-off. Sometimes I even got to bowl. Nobody seemed to notice or care that I was the only girl in a boy’s cricket team.
And then for some reason, at the end of 5th standard everyone did care. The boys started being stupid and asking me dumb things like ‘Why don’t you go play with your dolls?’ I was posted at the boundary. They stopped letting me bat. Then they stopped adding my name to the team list. And then, one day, at the end of the summer vacation, Coach stopped me at the gate to the ground and told me I couldn’t play or practice with the team anymore.
‘This is a boys’ team, Loki. You won’t be able to keep up with them after sometime. Look at how strong they’re getting,’ he said, not quite looking me in the eyes.
I looked at my cousin Bonda Balaji warming up, whose stomach seemed to have gotten bigger over the summer break.
‘Do you mean fatter when you say stronger, Coach?’ I smiled.
Coach looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t.
‘Coach?’ I asked.
‘It’s a management decision,’ said Coach. ‘Go home. Maybe you can play baddy or something.’
‘Or play with a Barbie,’ someone yelled from the ground.
‘I don’t have a Barbie, you idiots,’ I said angrily. ‘And I don’t want to play for your dumb stupid team anyway.’ And then I turned away and stomped out of the ground.
Which, on looking back, was a stupid thing to say because I did want to play for The Temple Street Tankers. Badly.

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