When all the boys batted for Arun

Now with the decision made, his fears and anxieties intensified. His father had decided to sell the chemist’s shop and the land that he owned to a land-developer and move to Sitapur, the big town some miles away.

It had been his father’s dream to be a doctor, but lack of finances had not allowed him to realise it. He’d had to satisfy himself with running a chemist’s shop in the village. Now with land prices at an all-time high, he hoped to move into town.

He wanted Arun, his only child, to attend a school which would provide him with the opportunities that he himself had been denied.

Arun was grateful but beset with doubts. At twelve years of age, he considered himself grown-up. How would he able to adjust to a new school? Would the boys consider him a village yokel, keep their distance and, or make fun of him?

They were all disconsolate at leaving the village — even his father. It was evident that he was overcome with sadness, but he maintained a brave front.

The money from the sale had seemed a great deal, but it allowed them to buy only a small flat in a crowded locality in the town. They were some advantages though. Friendly neighbours helped them settle down quickly and there was the ‘Modern High School’ nearby. Luckily, Arun was able to get admission as he performed quite well in the entrance test.

This did not allay Arun’s trepidations. His classmates regarded him with some interest at first, but his accent and ways caused them to draw away. Discouraged, Arun kept much to himself.

One day, when the bell rang after school, the boys rushed pell-mell to the playground. In no time they set up wickets and began to play cricket, their favourite game. Each of them had a bat. Arun’s heart leapt and fell. Cricket was his passion too.

Back in the village, the stumps had been sticks and the bat rough wooden slats cut into shape. Even the ball had been genuine only now and then. Standing forlornly at the outer edge, Arun hardly noticed that he was the only spectator. He was startled when he heard the words, “Do you want to join us?” It was Karthik, his classmate, who had been friendlier than the others.

“Yes, yes. I do,” he said. “But, you see, I don’t have a bat.”

“You can have mine for today,” said Karthik.

“You don’t mind?” said Arun, not realising that he had already taken the bat from Karthik’s outstretched hand!

After a few misses, Arun was able to wield the bat well; so well in fact that the boys looked at him with unconcealed admiration.

When the game came to an end, they dispersed. Handing the bat back to Karthik, Arun thanked him and told him that he had never played with a real bat before. He found himself confessing that probably he wouldn’t be able to afford one either. His father had been looking for a job, but had not succeeded.

“Never mind,” comforted Karthik, “You can buy one in time.” Arun went home much happier than he had in months.

Two days later, Arun and his father were in a bus on their way home.  They were nearly there, when Arun spotted a new shop chockfull of sports goods. Displayed were several cricket bats. He could at least feast his eyes on them if not buy one! Blind with excitement, he stepped off the bus even before it had come to a halt. His legs flew from under him and he fell with a thud.

The next thing he knew was that he was in hospital. He had suffered a mild concussion. The doctor was a kindly man and his eyes twinkled as he asked, “So you came to hospital instead of buying a cricket bat?” A weak smile was all Arun was able to manage.

The next day brought two great surprises. In walked Karthik with a big package in his hands. Placing it on the table beside him, he said, “Since you can’t open it, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a bat”.

“Oh, Karthik! How could you?” said Arun in a weak voice. “It must have cost you an awful lot.”

“It is a present from all of us. We want you in our team. You see, we are all batting for you,” he smiled.

Arun’s father, who had all along been standing there quietly, now said: “I have received a present too. A present from Karthik’s father who is the doctor saab himself. He wants me look after the drugstore.” Overcome with joy, Arun tried to sit up.

“No more excitement for you today, Arun,” said the doctor. Happy but tired, Arun sank back on the pillow. “Soon, very soon, I will be batting for my friends,” he said and fell into a deep sleep.

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