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Excerpt: Ranji’s Wonderful Bat & Other Stories

The World Cup draws close. In this story, Bond illustrates how insanely cricket-obsessed we are as a people

George And Ranji

When I heard that my cousin George had again escaped from the mental hospital in a neighbouring town, I knew it wouldn’t be long before he turned up at my doorstep. It usually happens at the approach of the cricket season. No problem, I thought. I’ll just bundle him into a train and take him back to the hospital.

Cousin George had been there, off and on, for a few years. He wasn’t the violent type and was given a certain amount of freedom, with the result that he occasionally wandered off by himself, sometimes to try and take in a Test match. You see, George did not suffer from the delusion that he was Napoleon or Ghengis Khan, he was convinced that he was selected to captain India—quite forgetting that the great Ranjit Singhji had actually played for England!

So when George turned up on my front step, I wasn’t surprised to find him carrying a cricket bat in one hand and a protective box in the other.

‘Aren’t you ready?’ he asked. ‘The match starts at eleven’.

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George sat down and asked for a glass of beer. I brought him one and he promptly emptied it over a pot of ferns.

‘They look thirsty,’ he said. I dressed hurriedly, anxious to get moving before he started his latest cuts on my cut glass decanter. Then, arm-in-arm, we walked to the gate and hailed an auto rickshaw.

‘Railway station,’ I whispered to the driver.

‘Ferozshah Kotla,’ said George in rising tones, naming Delhi’s famous cricket ground. No matter, I thought, I’ll straighten out the driver as we go along. I bundled George into the rickshaw and we were soon heading in the direction of Kotla.

‘Railway station,’ I said again, in tones that could not be denied.

‘Kotla,’ said Cousin George, just as firmly.

The scooter driver kept right on course for the cricket ground. Apparently George had made a better impression on him.

‘Look,’ I said, tapping the driver on the shoulder. ‘This is my cousin and he’s not quite right in the head. He’s just escaped from the mental asylum and if I’m to get him back there tonight, we must catch the eleven-fifteen train.’

The scooter driver slowed down and looked from Cousin George to me and back again. George gave him a winning smile and looking in my direction, tapped his forehead significantly. The driver nodded in sympathy and kept straight on for the stadium.

Well, I’ve always believed that the dividing line between sanity and insanity is a very thin one, but I had never realized it was quite so thin—too thin for my own comfort! Who was crazy, George, me or the driver?

We had almost reached Kotla and I had no intention of watching over Cousin George through a whole day’s play. He gets excited at cricket matches—which is strange considering how strange they can be. On one occasion, he broke through the barriers and walked up to the wicket with his bat, determined to bat at Number 3 (Ranji’s favourite position, apparently) and assaulted an umpire who tried to escort him from the ground. On another occasion he streaked across the ground, wearing nothing but his protective box.

But it was I who confirmed the driver’s worst fears by jumping off the rickshaw as it slowed, and making my getaway. I’ve never been able to discover if Cousin George had any money with him, or if the rickshaw driver got paid. Rickshaw drivers are inclined at times to be violent, but then so are inmates of mental hospitals. Anyway, George seems to have no memory of that incident.

Three days later, I received word from the hospital that he had returned of his own accord, boasting that he had hit a century—so presumably, he had participated in some form of match or the other.

*

All’s well that ends well, or so I like to think. Cousin George was not usually a violent man, but I have a funny feeling about the rickshaw driver. I never saw him again in Delhi, and unless he moved elsewhere, I’m afraid his disappearance might well be connected with Cousin George’s rickshaw ride. After all, the Jamuna is very near Kotla.

Excerpted from Ranji’s Wonderful Bat & Other Stories (149 pages, 199), with permission from Puffin Books (Penguin Books India).

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