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August 6, 2002

Taking the buzz out of bunking

Roshan Paul

When I first read that St. Joseph's Boys High School, my alma mater, had decided to introduce cricket into the school curriculum, I felt sharp pangs of jealousy. Were they serious? Officially sanctioned goofing-off for credit? Lucky bacchhas!

Cricket in the school curriculum The goals of this path-breaking change include opening up new avenues for students in the new economy - from sports journalism to sports psychology - as well as introducing an element of fun in the otherwise dreary subject list. There is an even better advantage though, and you can check with my family on this. With boys playing cricket in school, maybe they will refrain from signing up in dozens for summer coaching camps; which means their families will be able to go on holidays. Between my 5th and 10th standard summer holidays, my family didn't take a single major trip because I was playing cricket every day of every summer. This changes all that. Sisters everywhere must be jumping for joy!

I also feel sorry for the actual cricket team, though. One of the perks of being in the cricket team in St. Joseph's used to be the opportunity to bunk class (and often, even exams) at the drop of a hat - for matches of course, but also for practice, team meetings, and hell, even just to talk to the coach. I haven't been out of school long enough to forget the kicks derived from bunking class, but it was just that: a kick, an excitement about doing something the rest of the class couldn't. After all, there are only so many samosas you can eat in the canteen.

Now, with everyone playing cricket, that thrill disappears. No more can the team amble into class mid-way through the second period (we had to have breakfast and several cups of coffee after early morning practice) and feel everyone's envious eyes upon them. The class knows well that it too will be belting a ball around in a couple of hours.

I also wonder what Mr. G. would make of it all. In a school brimming with colourful characters, the now retired Mr. G. was one of the most psychedelic. And the most acerbic. I still have one of my math exam papers, where next to my barely-passing grade, he had penned in his meticulously neat script, "Mr. Paul, I think it's time to bury the willow and resurrect the pen." For someone as devoted to discipline as he was, it would frustrate him no end to see the team members saunter into his class just before the bell rang. And boy, did we know it!

You're out! Although we prolonged his agony as much as possible, he eventually got revenge - on me. Catching me playing book-cricket while he attempted to explain some deviant of Pythagoras' opium-addled brain, he thundered, "You may think you're going to be the next Don Bradman. Well, let me tell you, you're not. In thirty years, you'll be selling used furniture on Brigade Road!" He then paused for effect, drew himself to his full height of 5'5" and solemnly, theatrically, and more than a little triumphantly raised his index finger upwards. "You're out!"

I still wince at the memory.

Besides envy, the other emotion I felt on reading the report was nostalgia; an intense nostalgia for the glory days of school cricket. A la James Joyce, my memories of school are inseparable from the sweet sound of leather hitting wood every morning and evening. Even now, that sound is sweeter than anything a musician could compose. Unlike Joyce though, I also have memories of hitting winning runs, of having a thousand delirious class-bunkers and old boys chanting my name as I ran into bowl, and of raising aloft the all-important Cottonian Shield in our biggest rival's own school ground. Sigh.those were indeed the days!

As I sit facing my laptop, ensconced in small-town America and shamelessly jealous of the boys who get to play cricket for class, yet applauding the school's decision, I'm reminded of a warning the ever-melodramatic Mr. G.'s issued to me. As I strolled out of his class to `talk to my coach' three days before the ICSE prelims, he commented, "My boy, it's time to put down the cricket cup and pick up the cup of life." Absolutely! Take notes, boys.

Also read: Bangalore school makes cricket compulsory



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