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Nine-year-old Stalin left his cricket bat near the temple and started riding his bike. "I love this temple. This is how temples should be. I prayed to Lord Ganesha to make me a great cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar," he said.
There was hope and anticipation in his eyes. At the same time, he was slightly disappointed because he hasn't had a chance to bat in front of Ganesha.
"All the kids in the neighbourhood want to show Ganesha how they bat," he said. "I am yet to get my chance. Probably, I will be able to do it today."
Pointing to the girls who were cycling with him, he said rather contemptuously, "They are not interested in cricket at all. They don't go and pray there."
The girls protested vehemently, "We like cricket, Ganesha!" But before long they confessed: "Okay, okay, we don't like the game much. Who said it is so interesting? It is boring!"
"See? I told you they are dumb," Stalin exclaimed triumphantly and began cycling at a frantic pace, for the girls had gone far ahead of him by then!
It is said that cricket is a religion in India and the cricket mania here can only be compared to the soccer mania in Brazil. But it seems there is something more to cricket in India. Otherwise, how can anyone explain Lord Ganesha also becoming a lover of the game, and a Ganesha being named Cricket Ganesha?
When K.R.Ramakrishnan installed a small Ganesha temple in one corner of the apartment and named the God, Cricket Ganesha, his wife Saraswathi was amused; she thought it was quite childish of him to do so.
"I never used to watch cricket; but he was crazy about cricket. But I did not expect him to be so crazy as to name Lord Ganesha, Cricket Ganesha! Slowly, when India started winning matches, where its position was rather hopeless, I also started believing in Cricket Ganesha." Saraswathi said, with an amused smile on her face.
It all began when K.R.Ramkrishnan, General Manager (Legal) and Company Secretary at ACCEL ICIM Systems and Services Ltd bought a Ganesha to install in the north-east corner of his apartment as he felt a Ganesha temple should be there to guard the residents.
The day was March 11, 2001. The second Test match between India and Australia was going on at Kolkatta.
"India's position was very bad when I installed the Ganesha. Australia had scored 190 for 1 then. Australia had an enviable record of winning 16 Test matches in a row. I turned to Ganesha and prayed, 'If you are really powerful, let India win the match.' I was just testing his power. Immediately after that, Harbhajan Singh took a hat-trick. Though we were asked to follow on, we made a huge total of 600-odd. Laxman made the highest score ever made by an Indian, 281. Rahul Dravid also made 180. Harbhajan took 13 wickets in the match and we won the Test! "
No, Ramkrishnan did not name him Cricket Ganesha then. He wanted to Test the power of his Ganesha again.
"I waited for the Madras Test, and that also we won. After we won the Test series only, I started believing in his strength. And then I decided that I should name him Cricket Ganesha."
Inside the temple, not only a Ganesha, with its trunk pointing to right, but another one, with its truck pointing to the left, also is there.
There is a story behind that too. When Ramakrishnan found that his Ganesha was "helping" only the right-handed batsmen, he decided to have a God to bless the left-handed batsmen too.
"When I saw a Ganesha with a left trunk inside my friend's car, I asked him, 'Why do you have a left trunk Ganesha when the whole world knows that a right trunk Ganesha is the most powerful?' His answer perplexed me. He said, he was a left-hander and ever since he had a `left trunk Ganesha', things started looking bright for him."
Immediately, Ramakrishnan installed a Ganesha with its trunk pointing to the left. Believe it or not, he says, the Goa one-day match was played after that and Ganguly came back to form after a long gap and scored 74 runs in 83 balls.
No, it was not a coincidence, argues Ramakrishnan. "You see, I am an ardent fan of cricket, and I am also a devotee of Ganesha. I brought this Ganesha here to bring good fortune to all those who live in this apartment but something else happened. I never had any intention of helping cricket. But now, I feel this Ganesha helps cricket and cricketers! People may dismiss this as a coincidence but I will not. He brought luck to left arm seamers like Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. Yuvaraj Singh became the darling of all Indians. I will not say that it was by pure coincidence that both the right-handers and left-handers started performing well."
Sivanand Naik, who lives nearby, also couldn't believe the relationship between the Ganesha and the fortunes of Indian cricket.
"Initially, I also wondered, why a cricket Ganesha? Ganguly's knock at Goa, after Ramakrishnan installed a left trunk Ganesha, was the first turning point. The next was the NatWest Series. India's win made many in the neighborhood believe that there is a super power and this Ganesha loves cricket!. When I found many young boys including my own 11-year-old son praying for victory in the NatWest Series, I also went there and prayed! The whole thing may sound funny but it is true. I was also happy to see children praying for others. It's a good change."
According to Ramakrishnan, the deity that he has is the cricket incarnation of Lord Ganesha. So, every morning, while performing the Ganesha pooja, he recites, 'Om cricket vinayakaya namaha, Om all-rounderaya Namaha! Om wicket keeperaya namaha! Om sixer marnevala namaha! Om havame uchalkar gendh lenevala namaha! Om zameenpar girkar gendh rukhnewala namaha! ... .'
And, finally, there are special prayers for individual players too. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag, Mongia sarva deerkhayushman Bhava! Dravid, Laxman, Ratra, sarva deerkhayushman bhava! Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Tinu Yohannan, sarva deerkhayushman bhava! Also, anya Bharati khiladi deerkhayushman bhava!
But Ramakrishnan was quick to admit that it was not because of his prayers that India did well.
"Maybe, Ganesha wanted to prove something to the others. Let me add, if you just pray to God and write an exam, you will not pass. Similarly, if the players don't work hard, India will not win. If the selectors don't select the best players, India will not win. Sincere and collective efforts are absolutely essential for a win. If you play your part well, Ganesha will help you by removing all the obstacles that are there in your path. So, you cannot blame God whenever you lose. How can you win the Test when the selectors have not picked the in-form young players like Kaif? Yuvraj also is not there."
In short, cricket Ganesha would help only those who help themselves. If cricketers from other countries think that Cricket Ganesha would bring luck to them, they are mistaken; this cricket Ganesha will help only the Indian cricketers.
"Ganesha is an Indian God! Naturally, he will bless only Indian cricketers."
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
Design: Uday Kuckian