The Historic Girls vs Boys Cricket Match
Editor’s note: Here is an extract from the hilarious children’s book ‘Of Course It’s Butterfingers by Khyrunnisa A (Price Rs 250)
Copyright @ Penguin Random House India
‘We believe in honouring the words of the dead.’
‘Eh?’ Mr Jagmohan, principal of Green Park Higher Secondary School, gulped, goggled at the computer screen and read the message again. He pressed a hand to his head, urging it to make sense of the cryptic mail. What words? Who is dead? He wondered if he was delirious and heading towards a relapse.
The last thing he had wanted upon his return to work after a three-week bout of viral fever was such a message. It was lunchtime, and his appetite seemed to have deserted him. That had put him off and, after jabbing at his food like an impatient woodpecker, he had decided to check his pending emails. The huge backlog awaiting his attention hadn’t improved his spirits. With a growl of annoyance, he had decided to start from the latest and work his way down to the earlier mails, but this ghoulish communication had spooked him and put paid to his plans.
He checked the sender’s address: email@example.com.
‘Trgt . . . gl . . . hschl . . . trrrgslhsl?’ His tongue almost got entangled with his vocal cords in his efforts to pronounce the word. Which language doesn’t have any faith in vowels? German? Russian? Was a Russian spy trying to reassure his dead German counterpart?
Couldit be Polish? He took a deep breath and read the mail a third time. A late brainwave made him scroll down for a clue, and he was rewarded with two more sentences—to his relief, rather intelligible ones: ‘The girls vs boys cricket match must take place. I’ve been waiting for your reply.’
Ah, so the earlier mails hold the key to the mystery!
But he didn’t feel up to sifting through them. He needed help. He read the mail again. The crucial words ‘cricket match’ hit him between the eyes.
Cricket! Mr Sunderlal, the PT master, would have to be his saviour.
Brightening up, he rang the bell to summon his peon, Shekhar. There was no response. ‘That greedy Shekhar and his elaborate twelve-course lunches! Does he think it’s his last lunch on earth, that he’s spending so much time on it?’ Thinking some more uncharitable thoughts about his peon, Mr Jagmohan decided to seek a student’s help instead.
He opened his door just in time to see Amar scuttle past. It wasn’t the best of choices but, finding no one else in sight, he bellowed, ‘Amar! Come here!’
Amar stopped in his tracks, startled. Now what had he done? Nicknamed Butterfingers for his amazing ability to drop things, Amar Kishen was Class VIII A’s prime architect of disaster, well known for getting his class— and himself—into perpetual trouble. Being summoned by the principal was a regular occurrence.
‘Take that guilty look off your face, Amar. . . no matter what you might have done!’ Mr Jagmohan continued his vocal impersonation of a bull. ‘Go tell Mr Sunderlal to drop everything and come here immediately.’
‘Drop everything, sir?’ Amar grinned on hearing his favourite word.
‘I meant put everything else aside. Don’t act silly.’
Mr Jagmohan gave him one of his withering glares. ‘Tell him it’s a matter of life and death. It’s to do with a boys vs girls cricket match!’
The moment he said those words, Mr Jagmohan wanted to bite his tongue. How indiscreet of him! But the deed was done. Amar gaped and, like a shot, rushed to the staffroom, where Mr Sunderlal, back from the grounds after settling a fight between two groups of class VI boys over a cricket bat, had just settled down to lunch. Before he could begin, Amar came to a noisy halt at the open door and, sighting the PT master, shouted, ‘Excuse me! Sunderlal Sir, Mr Jagmohan wants to see you immediately. Matter of life and death, boys and girls!’
Before anyone could react, he had vamoosed, keen to broadcast the news to his class. The word spread faster than a forest fire, and by the time the lunch interval came to an end, the whole school had heard about the boys vs girls cricket match.
None of the teachers could make any sense of Amar’s words, though, except that Mr Jagmohan wanted to see Mr Sunderlal at once. Nobody liked an interruption at lunchtime and, pleased it wasn’t them who had been summoned, the teachers urged Mr Sunderlal to go immediately. Munching lunch, they would speculate about the reason. The PT teacher gave his colleagues a pained look and went to the principal’s room, hungry and angry.
‘Ah, Sunder, so good to see you! Hope you’ve had your lunch.’
Mr Sunderlal flinched, but Mr Jagmohan continued without noticing. ‘I couldn’t eat much. Fever stole my appetite. And now this. Look at this email. Can you make head or tail of it?’
Mr Sunderlal couldn’t and said so. He added, ‘Some earlier mails might tell us something.’
‘Exactly, my dear Sunder! That’s why I called you.
Look through the unread emails and fish out the relevant ones,’ Mr Jagmohan ordered, beaming, his good humour restored. ‘My head is reeling and I don’t feel too good.
My doctor told me to take things easy.’ He sought refuge in an easy chair in a corner and dozed off while Mr Sunderlal, looking like a prospective martyr fasting for a noble cause, went through the emails meticulously.
At last he located the right ones. ‘Mr Jagmohan! Here they are!’ he shouted into a sleeping Mr Jagmohan’s ear and was pleased to see him jump.
‘Eh? Who’s come? Where?’ Mr Jagmohan looked about him like a startled bulldog. ‘Why did you shout?
The doctor said no excitement!’
‘Not possible in a school with Amar in it,’ Mr Sunderlal commented.
Mr Jagmohan soon found his bearings and ambled over to read the mails. They were from Mrs Priya K., principal of Target Girls Higher Secondary School, a school on the outskirts of town.
‘Target Girls Higher Secondary School! That explains the ridiculous email address,’ Mr Jagmohan exclaimed, rolling his tongue to see if it was still there.
The first mail from Mrs Priya was explanatory. She was Colonel Nadkarni’s distant relative, and he had sent her an email from London after Green Park School had lost a match to Blossoms School. The latter had had girls on its team during the Colonel Nadkarni Under-15 Cricket Tournament.*
He hadn’t approved of the complacent attitude of the boys and wanted her to arrange a match between a girls’ team from Target School—known for its sporting skills—and the Green Park under-15 team, so that the boys would learn to respect the cricketing talents of girls.
Unfortunately, his mail had been sent to an old address that she hardly ever checked and she happened to chance upon it only recently. Very guilty that she hadn’t responded and dejected over Colonel Nadkarni’s passing in the meantime, she wished to make amends. ‘The match,’ she declared emphatically in her mail, ‘MUST take place.’
When Mr Jagmohan hadn’t replied, Mrs Priya had sent two more mails. In one she explained how they could still honour Col Nadkarni’s request since he had wanted the contest to take place on 15 March—‘The date he had given was 15 March, and that is only approaching.’
In her next, she sounded a little peeved at Mr Jagmohan’s silence: ‘Why the silence? I thought you were Col Nadkarni’s friend and well-wisher. Just in case you have any doubts, I’m forwarding Col Nadkarni’s mail. I’ll give you a call once I hear from you.’
The final mail was the mystifying one that had made Mr Jagmohan break out in a cold sweat. Reading the previous mails and understanding their implication now made him break out in apoplectic rage. His face turned a deep mauve. ‘What does she mean? Another cricket match?’ he fumed. ‘And on 15 March! What about the exams? This school is worse than a sports school! Didn’t we just have that Crackpot, Crackwhat match to commemorate six months of Nadkarni’s death?* Now he’s plotting matches from the other world!’
Mr Sunderlal was shocked. ‘Mr Jagmohan, calm down!’ he urged. ‘Remember your doctor’s advice. Besides, you’re being unchar . . . er . . . rather unfair to Nadkarni.’
He forgot the pangs of hunger and rose to the defence of Col Nadkarni, the school’s benefactor and a close friend. ‘He isn’t arranging matches from his grave!
You know his death was most unexpected, and he must have planned this in advance. We don’t know why he had chosen 15 March, but that actually gives us the chance to honour his wish, as Mrs Priya said.’
‘Then you take care of it, Sunder,’ said Mr Jagmohan, always pleased to delegate work. ‘I’ll forward all the mails to you. You may inform Mrs Priya you are doing this on my behalf.’
At this moment, the bell rang just as Mr Sunderlal’s stomach rumbled, and he exclaimed, ‘I haven’t had my lunch, and Class V A has PT now!’
Mr Jagmohan, brimming over with the milk of human kindness now that the cricket match problem had been solved, looked concerned. ‘Not had lunch? Very bad for your health, Sunder, missing meals! Go have it. The boys can play in the meanwhile. And let’s not tell the students about this now.’
Mr Jagmohan opened the door to find a group of students outside.
‘What are you hanging about here for?’ he thundered.
‘Didn’t you hear the bell? Go to your classes!’
Instead of obeying him, the group responded with a barrage of questions.
‘Please, sir, when’s the boys vs girls match?’ asked Isaiah, a class VII boy.
‘Sir, what is this boys vs girls match?’
‘Sir, do girls play cricket? Can they hold a cricket ball?’
‘My mother says girls should play snakes and ladders, sir.’
‘Sir, is it a match between the boys and Minu, Reshmi and our lady teachers?’
‘Can I also play, sir?’ John, a class II boy, looked hopeful.
‘Can we all watch it, sir?’
‘Will we get a holiday, sir?’
‘Is it a battle-of-the-sexes match, sir?’ Hemant of VIII B asked cheekily.
‘Get lost, all of you!’ Mr Jagmohan’s stern command bore instant results and the boys vanished from the scene.
The principal turned to Sunderlal, his bonhomie replaced by annoyance. ‘That Amar! A walking public broadcast system! I don’t know what madness made me mention the match to him. Now what?’
‘Now we should make an official announcement.
The students have only a hazy idea and they’ll start spreading wild rumours. Let me speak with Mrs Priya in the afternoon and tomorrow you can tell the students at the assembly.’
‘Oh, must I do that? All right.’ Mr Jagmohan returned to his room, looking morose. He realized that as the principal, he couldn’t escape complete responsibility and, though his doctor had advised an absence of excitement for some time, he sensed a lively time ahead. He sighed, feeling sorry for himself.
The next morning, Mr Sunderlal met Mr Jagmohan before the morning bell and updated him. ‘I spoke to Mrs Priya and the school’s sports teacher. The date, according to Mrs Priya, has to be 15 March, since that was Nadkarni’s express wish. But she doesn’t know why he had chosen that date.’
‘So that it clashes with the exams, why else?’
Mr Jagmohan snorted. ‘Nadkarni always placed cricket and sports above exams. All play and no work was his philosophy.’
Mr Sunderlal looked annoyed at yet another slur on his friend’s memory. ‘Whatever it is,’ he responded, curtly, ‘we’ve decided to stick to 15 March. Mrs Priya wanted to know if their team should come here or we should go to Target School. I thought we should be the hosts since that’s what Nadkarni would have wished and she agreed; so that’s settled.’
Mr Jagmohan nodded absently. Mr Sunderlal continued. ‘Next, I spoke to Anuradha, the sports teacher. We have decided on a Twenty20 under-15 match. The match can start at two in the afternoon and end by 5 p.m. Our Nadkarni trophy matches are twenty-five overs a side, but we thought we’d reduce this special match to twenty overs. Not because we need to give the girls a handicap . . .’
The word ‘handicap’ caught the attention of Mr Jagmohan, who had all but stopped listening, and he sat up, agitated. ‘Eh, handicapped? Who is handicapped?
And you should say “differently abled”, Sunder.’ He looked at him with disapproval.
Mr Sunderlal shook his head, exasperated. ‘No, Mr Jagmohan, no one is handicapped. In a sporting contest, a handicap is an advantage given to a weaker side or person to make their chances at winning more equal. Surely you must have heard of a golf handicap?’
Mr Jagmohan tried to appear bright and well informed.
Copyright @ Penguin Random House India