The Case of the Missing Ball
From where I sat, I had an unobstructed view of the playground. It wasn’t a huge maidan where people assembled for rallies but a small open space in the otherwise congested Nehru Nagar where housewives walked in sports-shoes and boys from the nearby slums and small three storeyed buildings assembled to play every evening. It reminded me of Delhi where every Kaloni (colony) has a park of its own. Lush green spaces with a walking track, playing area, shrubs and flowering trees and many birds. (Oh the birds of Delhi!) But this playground was just an open space, but a welcome respite from the standard view of a Bombay property - living rooms of other people.
It was a lazy evening, work seemed boring so I called up a friend. Even as we spoke, I was looking out of the window. The playground was beginning to come to life but what caught my eye was a small boy, standing not taller than three and a half feet, dressed in old faded jeans and a purple shirt. He wore glasses and was playing catch with a red rubber ball by himself. He seemed quite engrossed in his little game and I wondered why he wasn’t playing in the ongoing cricket match.
As I continued the conversation, he threw the ball a lot higher than before and it fell down, but this time outside the boundary of the ground. The boundary wall was much higher than three and a half feet so he had no clue where the ball had fallen. All he knew was it was outside the boundary wall. It had landed not far from the wall. But, a group of college going boys were passing right then and one of them picked up the ball (as is the convention while passing a playground), he threw it back in hoping that some fielder would get it. Little did they know, that it was a one man cricket team playing with the ball. Just then, the little boy after dodging aunties in sportshoes had managed to go out onto the street.
The college boys told him to look for it inside and walked away. From my vantage point, I could see where the ball had landed inside now. It was much farther away from the main gate and our hero in purple returned to retrieve it. But alas. He could not spot it. He ran towards the gate, looked out, came back in and stood still, looking in all directions around him. I hoped he would spot it but alas. By now, I wasn’t paying attention to the call but looked intently, waiting to see what would happen.
But I wasn’t the only one with his sights set on the ball. Another boy of the same height and age moved surreptitiously towards the ball. He was a fielder for the ongoing match and he had noticed the ongoings curiously. He stood next to the ball, all this while keeping his gaze fixated on the purple chasmiss boy who was standing at the same spot. The moment he looked away, the fielder picked it up and made a dash for the boundary line, where along the walking track lay many garden pots. He hid the ball behind one of them and resumed his position. The chasmiss boy continued to stand there, dejected.
It was time to climb down from my perch. I anyway needed chai and had resolved against the in-house masala tea made by the staff for in favour of the flavourful Rajwadi chai made by the jolly Marwadi at his stall that stood at the junction, about two hundred meters away. So passing security, I ran down the many floors, crossing another security desk I reached the other side of the ground. I peered in through a gate that was never open, wanting to signal the boy but I couldn’t find him. Ah damn.
I decided to go have chai anyway, and as I exited the cul-de-sac, I saw him. Walking dejectedly towards the slums. His shirt was torn and his jeans were faded, his small face behind the black rimmed spectacles was crestfallen. I walked upto him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“You’ve lost the ball, right? Come with me. I know where it is”
He didn’t react but I egged him on.
“Chal chal, jaldi”
And he followed. We walked in silence till the gate and I stood back. From there, I could see the fielder and the pots where the prized possession was hidden. I told him to go look for it there but told him to walk on the walking track quitely. I didn’t want to be the mediator of a confrontation. So he did just that. I waited. He looked through the pots and then stood up and looked back. From where I stood, I couldn’t tell if he had found it so I egged him to look further. But he shook his head and showed me the ball that he had unearthed. He smiled and threw the ball high up and I turned around.
The Rajwadi chai would be waiting for me.