Atanu Kr. Chowdhury
A couple of months after the Language Movement (Bhaxa Andolan) of Assam in the early Sixties, the NF Railway cricket team had a match with the Port Commissioner at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta. The team, on arriving there, came to know that the match had been shifted to Kharagpur. Accordingly, the team moved to the destination. There the team got down to practise for the encounter. Next day, the team management received a telegram, intended for a core member of the team: “Mother serious, come home” – a typical cause in those days for any person who genuinely or otherwise required a sojourn home at the slightest pretext. The team manager asked another member of the team to accompany the unfortunate player back to Calcutta. As they were travelling back to the capital city, a young person noticing the returnee with a worried look and a suitcase in hand, enquired, “Kothai jat seesh?” (Where are you going?) “Gauhati, Assam,” came the deadpan reply and he also informed that his mother was serious, so he had to rush back home. “Oh! Aapni Assamer lok? Aapni Asomiya?” (Oh! You are from Assam? You are Assamese?) – the tone of the voice rose. “Oi khane Bangali nidhon hochche.” (Bengalis are being killed there), he referred to the then unfortunate disturbances between the two communities on the adoption of State language in Assam. Saying so, the person started heckling him. A few other young people joined in. Soon, it became a bit physical. He noticed that the person accompanying him, who was also a well-known cricketer, quietly gave the slip and moved away from the scene. The person targeted was happy for him, that at least he was safe and the hooligans hadn’t noticed him. If something serious happens to him, there would at least be a witness. As the ‘torture’ continued, a co-passenger noticing his name on the suitcase, called out to the leader of the pack “Oi! What the hell are you doing? He is a well-known cricketer, in fact, captain of Assam’s Ranji team.” The hooligans froze, as if lightning had struck them. They were struck with remorse and acted as if they were willing to do anything to restore confidence in the young player. By this time the train had arrived at Howrah. The person who saved him from further ignominy asked for the suitcase. Hesitantly, he uttered, “Oh my God! My ticket is with my teammate. What will I do?” The pack, along with the guardian angel, cried out in unison “Aapnitu cricket player! Aapnake tu ticket laagena.” (You are a cricket player! You don’t need a ticket). It was music to his ears, coming from sports-crazy citizens of an equally sports-crazy State.Heaving a sigh of relief, he and the saviour parted company with the pack. As they hurried off on the platform towards the exit, he heard a voice from amongst the latter “Chinta korben na, aapnar maayer kichchu hobe naa” (Don’t worry, nothing will happen to your mother). He was amazed – these were the same people who not long ago were baying for his blood! He didn’t look back, perhaps he wanted to hide the tears rolling down his cheek. Arriving at Dum Dum, along with his accompanist who had surfaced once danger disappeared, he came to know that no ticket was available. His teammate somehow persuaded the person and a bucket-seat was arranged behind the cockpit. On arriving at Guwahati airport, he dashed off home. However, as he entered his residential compound, he was taken aback to see his mother, hale and hearty, sitting on their verandah. Munching betel nut, a favourite pastime for most Assamese, her lips were crimson red. As her son enquired angrily, she nonchalantly retorted, “Your sister is getting married, you need to oversee the setting up of the pandal,” though the marriage was a month away! It had almost cost him his life and moreover, he had to miss an important cricket match unnecessarily. Sometimes, in those days, sports and family obligations got mutually separated. The flummoxed cricketer was none other than the well-known cricketer of yesteryear, octogenarian Badal Thakur, and the person accompanying him to Dum Dum was another legendary cricketer of Assam – late Ashwini Rajbonshi.