- Somerset Maugham
Disclaimer: Sports journalism in Mica has recently seen some aggressive columns and some incredible responses. We should all remember that gallantry can go a long way in the way in determining how people look at us.
A major share of the credit for the infamous Amaltas-Gulmohar rivalry of 2009-10 goes to Rohit Taneja. If it had not been for his constant raucous sledging prior and during the first two matches, the series might have even proceeded peacefully for its entirety, a controversial and arguable assumption though it is.
The usage of ‘credit’ in the opening line of the previous para is not frivolous; it is a conscientious effort with considerable thought being dedicated to it. For if Rohit Taneja had not dared to stir the beast out of the Amaltas lair, the latter’s notoriety would not have been as widespread as it eventually became. And Gulmohar would never have found a reason to become united and fight not only a bully, but also their own internal ghosts and come out triumphant.
There was another man who deserves as much accolade as does Taneja. In the Orientation of May 2008, he introduced himself to his class as ‘Chuna’. Later, the girls at Mica often sighed that he was the only hot man around (though his room-mate of first year had his own share of admirers). The cricket fraternity regularly saw him mysteriously bound out of Silver Oak in the wee hours of the morning, always being the last to enter the field.
The testimonial is dedicated in memory of the glorious fourth match of the series, which at its outset stood 2-1 in Amaltas’ favour. The tournament was already a cracker. After a convincing win in the first game, Amaltas had been pushed into a corner in the second by a tight bowling display by their opponents and Rohit’s shenanigans. However when all seemed lost, numbers nine ten and eleven (Shakey, Vipul and Sachin) rose superbly and found it in their hearts to snatch a miraculous a victory out of nowhere.
Sweet is the joy of victory and bitter the sorrow of defeat. After two consecutive losses, Gulmohar wanted to change everything from their batting order to their captain, while Amaltas declared to all and sundry that they were a team of eleven batsmen and an equal number of bowlers. They did not care who led their team because the respect for all eleven was universal (Vipul captained Amaltas in one of the games). A few misplaced souls (example: me) found new reason to stake loyalties to their abodes.
Then a few days later, when all seemed lost for Gulmohar, their strongest lad - Rohan Pujari - put the author’s first half century on a Mica ground completely into the background by an even better effort, bludgeoning everything that came his way into Silver Oak, even orbit, and gifted Gulmohar their maiden victory. It was truly a magnificent effort, eclipsed only by a fierce tiff between Nakul and Dilip that is now remembered for reasons I best not highlight. At the end of it after Pujari had guided his bat to Planet Special, Amaltas could not stomach defeat and erupted angrily when Gumohar’s ecstatic boys threw stumps all around to announce their feelings. All memorable moments now - the useless fight, the threats, the passion, the rivalry of it all. But what I remember most fondly is Mihir (someone who had never stepped on the Mica cricket field before) waking up from a deep slumber and running groggy eyed to the field, uncomplainingly half way through the match, and faithfully support his mates by fielding because Amaltas was suddenly left with ten men. We lost the match, but it was the first official statement of the hostel’s bonds.
There was a palpable buzz around the fourth match. Gulmohar wondered if they could win again, Amaltas asked if Pujari could be stopped but what no one doubted was the possibility of a fight between the two giants. Amaltas put up a good score yet again and put Gulmohar on the back foot by taking quick wickets. And then strode in Nakul Sud.
He prodded, he defended. He glided, he stole. He complained of the light and of unseen forces. And then with two overs left in the game, and when even his staunchest fans would not dare hope, he rose and changed the equations and the complexion of the series forever. In front of fading grey light, and a decently sized crowd, he dug his back foot deep into the soil and hoicked and hoicked and gave Gulmohar the most incredible victory ever seen in the grounds of Chhota. And when he won, the boy whose voice could melt honey roared like a lion and shut every single mouth that belonged to Amaltas that day when dusk fell. He just stood there mid pitch screaming and pumping blood, while all others went beserk. The image stands frozen in time, and for me the memory is an ominously silent black and white image with every expression on screaming a thousand words.
In the future, Gulmohar would fittingly go on to win the series. Amaltas would however command respect for never refusing a challenge come hail, storm, half fit team or full strength. Bhati and Pubby would threaten to kill each other while a visiting faculty from ESPN would look on bemused. But life would again also become normal. Rahul Gadi would sincerely try to improve the mess every day, Amaltas would proudly hoist a flag made of rags and Gulmohar would go on to claim a hundred academic prizes. Abhay Mehta, of course kept winning hearts with his adorable yet weird ways. MCL however knew that its thunder had been stolen and sadly reconciled itself to the fact that hard as it might try, it would not be able to match to the levels of play and passion seen in the described series. Mica had not seen such scenes before.
It might not happen ever again. Time and again, twenty two boys (and no, we can’t call them men on account of how they behaved) who had lived happily together for a year in Palash, drew daggers at each other during the series. Some took it personally, some enjoyed the absurdity of it all, some bystanders came to counsel while some others judged. But the fact is that it was the greatest rivalry ever.
The time has come again. I, room number eleven Amaltas, class of 2010, ask Gulmohar to play for pride, spirit and old times sake. This alumni. We are back.