The order of events is probably mixed up here; I list only the ones that stand out in my memory.
I was eleven years old when I went to my first “proper” cricket match. It was a South Zone vs West Zone tie played sometime during the summer holidays, and because it was taking place at the Steel Plant cricket ground, I kept running into my classmates as my father and I wandered through the stands, looking for our vantage point.
“What are you doing?” I asked one of the boys, watching as he copied something carefully from one little book to another.
“Forging Mongia’s autograph. I couldn’t get one.”
I walked on, smug in the knowledge that my father knew one of the organisers and had requested him to have my autograph book filled up, with the result that I today own two autographs each of David Johnson and Sairaj Bahutule, among others. It honestly was a real relief not to have to worry about autographs, and focus instead on the questions I’d pelt our celebrities with. Being with an adult lent me some credibility, and so we were ushered into a narrow room where Nilesh Kulkarni sat all padded up and waiting for his turn at the crease.
He laid a paternal (or big brotherly, considering how young he was then) hand on my head as he said hello, then proceeded to answer my inane-beyond-belief questions with enormous patience, and probably much amusement. For what bowler has patience with a kid who, instead of looking up to him for inspiration, asks him whether he likes to bat and why he doesn’t go higher up the order? Nilesh Kulkarni, if you ever read this, please believe me when I say that you are one of the kindest people I have ever met.
While walking back to the stands, we ran into Syed Kirmani. We had a brief chat with him, when I happened to mention seeing him on the Bournvita Quiz Contest.
“What did I do there?” he asked.
“Asked questions?” pat came my ridiculously obvious reply.
“No. I did this.” And he walked away, stroking imaginary strands of hair on his shiny bald pate.
It was an extremely memorable day. I spoke to Nayan Mongia, gave Venkatapathi Raju a toffee, and was absurdly frightened of Noel David for some vague reason. My father had a long chat on test cricket with the then very young Wasim Jaffer. And when we got home, tired and happy, our first telephone had just arrived!
But I haven’t quite had a glorious career as a stalker. Ignominy followed when the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh teams were in town for a Ranji Trophy match. This time around, I had to do the hard work myself and went to the cricket ground with a friend and her brother, all three of us on her large boys’ bicycle. Failing to get within proximity of any player, we finally joined the mob around the team bus where Robin Singh was signing autographs in books handed to him through the window and throwing them back. An older, taller boy offered to get mine signed. Singh scribbled in it and threw it back, but unfortunately it was caught by “a long hand”, as the older boy helpfully put it.
The cloud on our little party was enlarged by a shocking discovery when we headed out. My friend’s bicycle had been stolen. You can imagine what a pretty sight we were when we trudged home that evening.
My few visits to cricket grounds after this sudden burst of activity have been rather uneventful, barring a dog scare on the sidelines at Rottingdean. The Indian cricket team is also getting much younger, consistently reminding me of where I’m heading. A stalker at eleven is funny. In her twenties, she ought to restrict herself to the Internet.