When Hamid Ansari became the Vice President of India I kept wondering if I had seen him somewhere. Whenever I would see him presiding over the Rajya Sabha, his demeanor and conduct would remind me of someone I had encountered in the past. He was obviously partisan in a rabid kind of way. I also learnt how he brazenly used RSTV as an anti-Modi propaganda channel and a conduit to financially favor the left liberal and crypto-Islamist brigade of Bollywood (led by Javed Akhtar) long after UPA regime was gone.   

Now, the rest of the story gets a little autobiographical but please bear with this senior citizen who has experienced a childhood and youth full of some really seminal and pioneering achievements, and earned, if not global or national, local name and fame. So much so that he lost interest in being an achiever and lived life the way it came like a rolling stone.  

I was a popular kid in the small eastern UP town of Ballia. People believed I knew the whole of Bhagwat Gita. I also had the honor of sitting next to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on a jeep during a Shobha Yatra on probably his first visit to Ballia in 1969. I also delivered a 15 minute long speech before he spoke to a crowd of thousands at the Tehseeli School grounds. Among other pioneering feat of mine were leading the first ever strike in the Government College of Ballia that was not shut even during the British rule.

By the time I was 8 years old, I had established a Boy Detective Club, and would have had started the first film society in UP had Shri Satyajit Ray cared to respond to my letter written in broken English at an address published in the leading Hindi newspaper of Eastern UP called ‘Aaj’. He ran a film society movement in Calcutta and the newspaper had carried an article on it in its Sunday edition.

Local politicians feared me, as I would lambast them in my speeches in public meetings held on Government College grounds on important occasions like the Independence Day and the Republic Day. They would complain to my father but I don’t recall he ever reprimanding me for that. He didn’t reprimand me even when I was arrested during a student movement when I was doing my intermediate. The Chairman of the Municipality was our neighbor and he often complained to my father that I didn’t accost him. I believed he was corrupt and thus there was no way I could respect him.   

I also played a pioneering role in popularizing Cricket in Ballia. My interest in cricket grew thanks to the 3-volume Readers’ Digest Encyclopaedia. The 3rd volume had a section on sports that had line sketches of different Cricketing shots. They fascinated me and I started collecting all the match pictures from newspapers to make a scrapbook of such shots. None had taught me to do so. It was an invention of a small town boy.

In fact, while living in a small town, I was a global citizen in a way. I was quick to follow global trends, from Chess to Boxing. I taught kids to follow international rules of chess and even collected notations of Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer matches. In boxing, George Foreman was my favorite and I felt sad when a wily Ali defeated him. I liked Foreman because he held his nation’s flag in hand after winning the Olympic gold. That was a heroic thing for me.

I established the first cricket club of Ballia when in High School. I named it Youths Cricket Club and I still keep wondering if it should have just been ‘Youth’ and not ‘Youths’. Earlier, only kids of government officers could afford to play the game. They lived in the Civil Lines area that was divided from commoners by a Railway track. I made it a game for ‘commoners’. The sports teacher of my college was helpful. He handed over the Cricket paraphernalia that was rotting in his storeroom for years and thus we started the Cricket revolution in Ballia. We had to self-coach ourselves most of the time.

Love for Cricket soon ended class distinctions and boys from the Civil Lines area also joined the club and helped us, the commoners, learn the game better. There were times when boys from big cities like Patna visited Ballia to spend holidays with their relatives and grandparents and they became part of the club too.

Since I would spend my summer vacations in Calcutta, I would ask my sister to buy books on Cricket. I would use them to coach others and myself. She also bought me a Bradman style maroon colour Cricket cap and once gifted me a sweater the kind Indian test players wore. She ensured that this small town boy, her little and only brother, was well clothed and could fulfill his little wishes. But somehow, I never owned a pair of proper white trousers. 

It was around 1971-72. We didn’t know that our club was getting known beyond the borders of our town until some boys from a kasbah of the neighboring district Ghazipur landed at my door. The kasbah was known as Yusufpur. They wanted to have an invitation match with our team at Yusufpur on a Sunday. This was new but I said yes since the logistics were manageable. We could travel by train without ticket and the Cricket gear and a new ball could be borrowed from sports stores of any of the colleges. The issue of white shirts and trousers were to be sorted out too. I borrowed a pair of white trousers of my friend Arvind. It fitted me after some minor alterations.

We landed at Yusufpur. It was a college ground where the match was to be held. We had the pavilion in the veranda of a row of classrooms. We were surprised to find a whole lot of distinguished looking elders in ‘achkans’ and ‘churidars’ and ‘pathani suits’ who had come to watch the match. This was new to us. Our parents hardly cared for what we were playing and here the whole community had turned up to cheer up their boys. They were not impressed by us and looked at us quite condescendingly. They hardly spoke with us though we had some distinguished looking boys in the team one of whom is now a top-rung bureaucrat in Modi Sarkar. Let me term him as R here.

Unlike the uneven pitch, hard unmade and un-watered ground, we were used to playing on, this was a properly made and watered grass less pitch and the opposite team looked very professional, well dressed and excellently prepared. We obviously felt intimidated. We lost the toss and were called in to bat. I was the opener and the wicket keeper of the team. R and I opened the batting. I batted first. I could hardly see the ball and was also hit on my body a few times by it before being clean bowled in the first over itself. I knew our team wouldn’t last long under such onslaught as I walked glum faced to the pavilion braving the sneering looks and smiles of the distinguished ‘achkaned’ and ‘churidaared’ audience.

I sat there in the veranda desolately and saw something I had never witnessed before. They way the crowd was cheering for the local team was so unnatural and strange. I could sense their hatred and scorn for us. And there was this face that got stuck in my sub-conscious, the man in the black achkan, with a goatee, and a saturnine look.  He would pace up and down and shout Urdu expletives naming the local players if they missed a ball during fielding or a catch or let a ball go beyond boundary. It was like a kind of a war. We were not doing well anyway and this man wanted us to be decimated in a humiliating way. The rabid-hatred of the guy towards us was too apparent to go unnoticed.

I had lost interest in the game, so had others. It was like we were in the enemy territory. I had realized it was less to do with Cricket and more to do with religion. All the players of Yusufpur team were Muslims. Our team had only Hindu players. It was accidental and not by design. In those days rivalry between India and Pakistan teams was not yet so newsworthy.

I was one of those Sangh Swayamsevaks who would take his Muslim friends to RSS Shakha and Pracharaks or Mukhya Shikshaks would have no problems with that except that they would ask me to check with the parents of those kids. Our family tailor was Mohazzam Miyan and I always respected him as my elder. I never ever heard my father, the then Sanghchalak of Ballia, uttering a single word against Muslims or Islam to me. I had Muslim friends in College. Even in latter life some of my best friends were Muslims. I even ignored their affinity to Pakistan as natural and normal and thus forgivable.

But that hate-filled saturnine face with a goatee at the Cricket match at Yusufpur remained etched on the mind of the then high schooler forever.  

Years later, while visiting my home district Ballia, there was some conversation that somehow veered around Ghazipur’s mafia don Mukhtar Ansari and someone reminded me that he was part of the Yusufpur team then.

I had forgotten about it until I read in newspapers that Mukhtar was a nephew of Hamid Ansari. And then it dawned on me why did I find the saturnine face of the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari with his trademark goatee so familiar. 

Rajesh Kumar Singh 

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