In Focus

Bringing Back The Thrill Of Gully Cricket

By Manu Shrivastava

(This is part of the series #ChangingColoursOfColaba that details how Mumbai's most historic precinct Colaba has changed over the years and how, despite overwhelming changes spurred with time, residents are fighting back to retain their original flavour even recreate it to match its past glory)

There can be no greater joy for Indians than watching a ball being hit hard and high, between fielders and hurtle towards a boundary line or a fielder stretch out beyond his means to stop a run and save a match. Two years of lockdown triggered by COVID-19 pandemic had left children in a lurch. The prohibition on movement in public spaces compounded by the acute dearth of play-space triggered by shut clubs, gardens, playgrounds and recreational opportunities hit children hard. 

FIRST SERVE: Septuagenarian Dorothy Yazdegardi bowling the first ball of the tournament
With the third wave of COVID-19 now behind us and Mumbai all set to open up for good, the 'Under Arm Box Cricket' tournament organised by the 3rd / 4th Pasta Lane Residents Association on Sunday, 27 February 2022 came as a welcome blast from the past. After all, on the day, the nostalgic memories of a generation playing with wild abandon on the same streets, but without the present-day traffic, came gushing in for the lane's residents - some parents, some grandparents.

Inaugurating the event was septuagenarian film actor and Dubash Lane resident Dorothy Yazdegardi, the senior-most member and vice-president of the association, who 'bowled' the first ball of the tournament at 6 pm. "With children playing on the roads, dodging oncoming traffic entering into No Entry zones every day, it was a risky affair. "It was important to ensure things got streamlined," she said.

BY THE CHILDREN: The Box Cricket tournament being inaugurated as Navin Jain, Krishna Pawle,
Santosh Pawar and his four-year-old son Yuvaansh watch on
"The Box Cricket tournament, we've grown up with as Gully Cricket, was a huge hit on the day. Both girls and boys played with a lot of enthusiasm. Everyone from children to parents even grandparents partook in the event. Why, people from the neighbourhood even beyond the Pasta Lanes had gathered to watch the tournament," added Dorothy. 
Colaba is incomplete without Cricket. If you'd ask any old resident, he'd speak at length about how it's in the Gullys of Colaba that the most competitive cricket was played and that too 'in his times' and sadly 'no longer'. So, for residents struggling to tackle the problem of parking, the passage of vehicles entering through No Entry zones and the dearth of play-space for harassed children, to host a tournament of 'Under Arm Box Cricket' as the erstwhile Gully Cricket is known and tackle all their problems in one clean sweep, was a winner all the way. What a bunch of spunky residents, and led by their children, have done is address brand new problems with the oldest trick in the! And what better way to win than ensure everyone does. All at one!    -   Gajanan Khergamker
Hitting the nail on the head was 3rd / 4th Pasta Lane Residents Association's president and Munshi Chambers resident Krishna Pawle who said, "Today, there is hardly any interaction between residents of the lane. From a time when everyone knew everyone in the lane, things have changed drastically over the years." That apart, the issue of a surge in vehicles parked and plying about the lane is a grave one.

SHOWCASING: Krishna Pawle with the trophies in tow
"When we were young, we had so much space to play on the roads. Now, there's very little space left for children owing to parked vehicles," he adds reminiscing the times he played with the lane's residents decades ago. The day brought back old 'lane friends' to play together, in a new avatar and, this time around, with their children even grandchildren in tow. Children, added Pawle, provided the perfect opportunity for parents to bond despite dearth in time and fast-paced lives.

Munshi Chambers' Kalpana Matching Centre owner Navin Jain couldn't contain his excitement speaking about the Box Cricket event for which he even helped set the rules. "I used to play cricket all the time as a child growing up in the pasta lanes. The gully cricket tournament brought back a stream of memories of the days when I could play freely without any worry. I just wish the next generation can experience the same," he maintains.

A COLLECTIVE WIN: The smiles say it all
On that Sunday, all of a sudden, the modern-day stress of anonymity and closed-mindedness gave way to a warm fuzzy sense of familial bonding. Everyone belonged to a team and fought in friendly banter and...won! Everyone won! The teams that started off with eight players being registered for each surged, on the day of the tournament, to a record-breaking 13 players in each of the eight teams. The eight teams had their names culled out of the Hindi Film Industry's best included Dil Se, Pushpa, Ishqbaaz, Dilwale, Sooryavanshi, Gully Boy, Dil Bole Hadippa and Mohabbatein

The teams included children from five years to 12 years, 12 years to 15 years of age and those above 15 years of age that included parents, even grandparents. So, all in all, three generations of the Lanes' residents played together.

HITTING HEIGHTS: Krishna Pawle and Santosh Pawar lifting an exuberant participant 
Sukh Niwas resident Santosh Pawar, popularly known as Robert, was nostalgic on the day. He was excited that he got an opportunity to play with his four-year-old son Yuvaansh for Team Dil Se which finally won. "We managed to recreate a 'stadium' experience for players and spectators. The energy levels peaked that evening as the children's josh was so contagious that spread to their mothers too who joined in the celebrations," said an exuberant Pawar.

CONTAGIOUS FERVOUR: The participants' mothers were as excited as their children if not more
The three-hour event was hosted by Dorothy Yazdegardi, association treasurer and Sukh Niwas resident Jitendra Ramalingam and Porbandar Castle resident Nazish Naik. "It was sheer nostalgia for me as memories of having played in this lane as a teenager came alive for me," says Naik who was accompanied by his two-year-old daughter Zysha at the event. "I hope she can get to play like I did when I was young," says Naik buoyed with a new-found hope now.

NOSTALGIC: Nazish Naik (in black) with Jitendra Ramalingam hosting the event
From the incessant complaints of children playing endlessly on the Lane's streets making a racket till late at night day after day to this day when parents, the elderly and the children played with joy and in tandem, it was cricket which brought them together once again. A generation's gap was swiftly closed and gully grouses withered away into oblivion. The past, they say, holds lessons for the future. And, it took the game of cricket on the streets in the open, just like it was in the past, that led to all issues being thrown to the wind. On that day, everyone won as they always had and will!

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