Galli Cricket: An Escape
Our relationship with the unofficial national sport is much more than a passing fancy
Buildings. Faceless and numerous. Plentiful. Boring. Buildings are boring. If there was one thing I could change about Mumbai, it would be the buildings. Not poverty or hunger. That would be too meaningful. Buildings.
All they do all day is stand there, not being parks. Old buildings look fed up, hunched over in narrow gallis, stained with acid rain and years of parasitic occupants. Newer ones look pleased with themselves; smug. Bright and artificial, with their fancy clubhouses and promises of a better life. At night, they form constellations of shining lights in the distance– an image never forms.
Walking through the roads, the buildings swallow you whole, a fish-eye view of a world trapped by brick and concrete. It’s a sickness that grows with each passing day, being trapped between the buildings. In the years spent with every day more similar to the last, the streets grow narrower, the buildings larger, more cavernous and dangerous.
They eat you alive, the buildings. they feed on the repetition, the ambling life of dreams unfulfilled. Every frustrated scream not screamed, every thought of going away not lived is another day of substandard bliss. And yet, in this suburban patchwork of boring grey and hellish brown there lives a cure to the growing resentment of routine and habits of the place you lived and loved but never really lived at all: galli cricket.
The buildings looked down upon me. Each one more daunting than the last, a virtual who’s who of the Mumbai skyscraper community. Antilla, check, Imperial Towers, check. Like stern parents, they strongly disapproved of the game I was playing. And every time a wind blew, they whispered, “Galli cricket is for children”.
The wind cooled warm nights and heated arguments in the vacant basketball court, but brought with it the cruel suggestion of rain. Games ran long into the nights, powered by malfunctioning lights and intense competition. The crack of a tennis ball leaving low-quality willow is unmistakable, the dangerous sign of a batsman hitting ripe form.
Nobody was safe in the confines of the court– from flying balls or thinly veiled sledging. Excuses are made to parents and girlfriends to stay that one game longer, to live in fantasy that one hour more.
Whatsapp groups with weird names and terrible jokes bring an oddball group of friends together. There is always the one who makes sure everyone comes, the one who is perpetually late, the one who will argue every time he is out and the one who nobody really knows. There’s customs and habits and rivalries that form and break with the whim of an impromptu draft pick.
Equipment is fluid.
Bats vary from age old size 4 bats with no grip to a Grade One English Willow Kookaburra. Balls range from standard tennis balls, which have no place in galli cricket, in my opinion, to the beauties made by the men and women at Headly (no connection with sports brand, Headley, incidentally). In fact, most of the playing conditions are fluid: number of players, bounds, runs, weather, mood. The only thing that is constant in that furnace of a cricket field is the feeling of tapping my bat in the makeshift crease. With every tap, I am transported into a different time and place, a different reality. In that moment, as I transcend from self to the cricketer of my imagination, as I bat through the fear of time passing too fast, I realise that this feeling, this freedom from the buildings that have haunted me all my life is what I really want and in my mind I scream at the city from my secluded vantage point in the middle of all these buildings.
“Take me away on a long vacation; take me to grounds I have never seen. Take me to my imagination, where there are crowds cheering for me. Whisk me away from his hellish, monotonous place, with all the buildings in the world, and take me to a place with strange rules and stranger people, tall and short, old and young, fat and thin. Drag me, kicking and screaming, to that oasis of novelty, where things happen that have not happened before, where history is not playing over and over on repeat like some demented dream. Bring me to the gallis and the compounds, where bats, balls and banter are shared, to live a different life. One where I’m not just a face in the crowd, but one where I am a king my own fortunes. Take me, Mumbai, through your uncoordinated roads and traffic, to the place where I will be whole. Take me to the games of cricket played on the street, the hours spent in covered in dirt and mud, appealing and bickering, hitting sixes and taking wickets that go unrecorded. Take me to that place, where rules, fields, players and luck is temporary, that place impervious to the reeling head of routine, before it is too late.”