We were an odd bunch of children in seventh or eighth standard playing cricket in a small, triangular park with no walls amidst small houses in a government colony. What the people living in those small houses did not know was that these children had a written Code of Conduct drafted by one of them - a 13-year-old kid. And that they followed the Code to the last detail.
The elders of the colony possibly did not have an idea of the kind of internal struggle that went into the making of the Code, neither were they aware that the Code used such sophisticated concepts as Democratic Decision-Making, Separation of Powers, Decentralization of Authority and Accountability through Referendum to the general body. What's even more surprising is that even the kid who drafted the Code was not aware of the existence of these concepts. He was simply observing human behaviour, coming up with imaginative solutions and responding to the immediate needs. He was not a genius. He was just a sincere problem-solver.
This is an otherwise insignificant story about a small cricket team of young children that had its own, little battles to fight, but what's striking is the way it took up the challenges and responded with a rusted, long-discarded, old-fashioned weapon - Integrity. Interestingly, these kids of 12 or 13 made their own laws founded upon honesty and self-belief, and followed them unwaveringly.
To begin with, playing together was not a choice we made. We played together simply because we played in the same park and played too amateurishly to play with older kids who played far better and would not let us spoil their game. We would get a chance to play with them only when they were short of fielders. The good thing was that they did not play for too long any day. They would play for an hour or so and then leave the park to us.
I had two hours to play everyday. Not a minute more. My mother was always quite strict about it, which I resented everyday to no avail. So, I had to make the most of my two hours. On Sundays I had four hours to play our weekend match with teams from other parks of the same locality.
Each player of both the teams contributed a certain amount towards the prize money, and the winning team took the entire prize money and redistributed the double of the contributed amount to each player. This provided the additional motivation to the players to give their best to the game.
But that did no good to us, for we lost all the time unless our opposition made a determined effort to make a gift of the game. We were actually a team of the leftovers - the team of those who would not be allowed to play for any other team. Perhaps, that was also the greatest binding force - the oneness of the discarded auto-engineered by the cohesive force of utter uselessness.
We would lose, but would keep playing weekend after weekend. Victory or loss did not matter to me, for I played to play alone and tried squeezing in as much play as possible into my precious playing hours that were subject to tyrannical parental determination. But I was not particularly great at the game. I batted with one-point objective - to be off strike at the earliest without getting out and without wasting any deliveries. So, I was the calm, easygoing batsman who never seemed troublesome, but ended up doing a good deal of harm.
When I was promoted up the batting lineup, we kept losing, but the margin started declining progressively. In other words, we were not really winning, but were resisting defeat better.
Captaincy or the Captain was not significant in our team, for it was understood that good bowlers would bowl the critical overs, best batsmen would open, and hitters would follow down the batting order. So, it was about following a settled strategy rather than making on-field decisions. Therefore, our Captains were, in effect, Captains for the purpose of the toss. I was asked to captain the team. I refused and continued playing my usual game of trying my best to not get out. A couple of weeks later, the question of captaining the team came up again. And I politely turned the offer down, again.
When I was asked the third time to shoulder the responsibility, and I refused yet again, the team wanted to know the reason behind my persistent refusal. I responded by saying that I abhorred the idea of 'toss captain'. I could captain the team, but I had a condition - on the field, my command was to be the last word; no questions, no discussions. Contrary to my expectations, the team agreed forthwith.
It was the end of 'toss captains'. The team had their first Captain and also their first and foremost law: The Captain was the unquestionable sovereign on the field, and his command was the law . And we were still a team of 12-year-olds, who didn't play very well. We were soon to be dubbed 'The Paper Team'. The fight had just begun.
*Part one of the two-part piece.