Saturday, November 29, 2014

Phil Hughes - An End So Unexpected

There is a picture of Phil Hughes that flashes across my mind. He is looking up at the camera, a big smile on his face. Anyone who can smile like that is certainly someone who knows how to live. How to squeeze life out of every moment.

He was an unconventional batsman. The newspapers called him a maverick. It must have summed up his attitude to life. The smile certainly did. Phil Hughes it appeared, lived life on his own terms.

The first reports I heard of the injury sickened me to the stomach. I did not watch the pictures, the video. Something about the reports felt wrong. This is not how it should be. I kept hoping desperately that Phil would find a way back. All cricketers must have visualised and undergone what Phil must have gone through - that moment of misjudgment when you know its the wrong call - and then the crash of the ball into your body. Happens all the time. We get up and play on.

It's a game of cricket after all. What can happen? Yes, you do get hurt once in a while but nothing like this ever happens. Not to someone who is in the prime of his life, who is looking forward to playing the Test series, to fight his way back into the Aussie side, to Christmas, to a life with a loved one, fame, glory. As I read the flood of messages, gestures of cricketers current and former in the newspaper, my eyes brimmed over. Why? Why like this?

Life is cruel. Sport is cruel. Cricket is cruel.

But that is life. What we begin, must end sometime. We cannot stop living because we fear that life is cruel. We have to face it and deal with it. We have to look hard at it and learn any lessons it wants to teach us, sometimes as harshly as a sudden end to a bright spark.

The feeling that occupied me slowly when I heard the news that Phil bowed out, brought back memories of another incident early in my life. Back in 1988, when I was about 21, I lost a dear friend of mine. Krishna was my senior, a wise man, intelligent, full of life, energy and zest. He was among the toppers in Electrical Engineering. He was kind, considerate and compassionate. For someone who was two years my senior he did not need to show the kind of empathy he did. And yes, he loved his cricket and so, cricketers. Krishna was a fearsome fast bowler who could generate a lot of pace. Tall, ruddy, smiling, quick. He genuinely loved the game. He loved life.

I have many memories of Krishna. Of him beaming as he showed me a picture of mine in the Sportstar when I got four wickets in a Ranji game. Of him coming home and taking a pair of my shoes because he needed them. Of his expertise in palmistry and looking in amazement at the crisscrossed lines on my palm. Of him bowling Zakir Hussain, one of the best batsmen Nizam College had, neck and crop with a pacy incutter that sent the middle stump cartwheeling. Of his trademark follow through where he removed himself gently out of the pitch as if he did not want to intrude in the process. Almost apologetically.

And then of him standing in the well of a new lift he was installing for a lift company he had joined as a Trainee Engineer. I remember the building in Ranigunj, Krishna standing precariously in the well but still smiling. This was his first job. We had tea and promised to meet again. I was in my final year of college.

Then a month later I heard Krishna had died. He died on the field playing a Sunday league cricket match. He had bowled well and got four wickets. While returning to the pavilion the gentle giant complained of uneasiness. He asked for a smoke, then more uneasiness, then he asked for water and then collapsed. That was it. All on the same parade grounds in Secunderabad we pass by everyday. His terrified team mates rushed him to the hospital. But by then Krishna was dead. Massive stroke. Instant death. At the funeral our ruddy pink Krishna had gone so blue with the massive hemorrhaging that I could not recognise him.

I went numb for a few days. I had experienced death before, having lost my father when I was seventeen. But nothing prepared me in life for this. I searched for possible reasons why anyone who goes to play a cricket match, who has never had a health problem, who looks the picture of health, who bowled so well in that game, could just end it all. Could life give up on us one moment and go away without warning? Is it so fragile, this thread that keeps us hanging, that all our plans seem so meaningless? All our promise and potential and hopes count to nothing? Krishna's death impacted me far more in terms of dealing with life than any other incident in my life till then. It marked permanently the impermanence of life. It can just pack up and go. You are alive or you are not. The moment is all you have.

The only lesson I could take from Krishna's death was that there was no point stowing life away so we could enjoy it later. No point in anything but living our life when we have it. We don't know when the divine umpire might raise his finger in the most unexpected times, in the most unfair of decisions, and we might have to suddenly trudge back in the most unexpected circumstances to the pavilion. We cannot contest him, argue with him.

We can only be grateful that he allowed us the life we had.

As I think of it from the perspective of the divine umpire I can only think this. Why would he raise the finger so cruelly and dash the hopes of this young man in an instant? And then it struck me. If we have to return at an appointed time we have to return, but he could choose to let his favorite people exit in a special manner. He certainly did not let them exit in an unknown arena, in a place that gave them no joy. He granted them, Phil and Krishna, people who really really packed their lives with life and love, the pleasure of bowing out while doing what they loved the most, boots on. One cannot ask for more love, more compassion from the umpire.

 One can only accept the decision and return.

RIP Phil. RIP Krishna. 


Kiran Kumar Gutta said...

"That is like,'

63 not out forever.

Harimohan said...

You're right Kiran. That is life.

Anonymous said...

A very well-written article sir. Phil's loss to the world of cricket is irreparable.

Deeply touched to know that you still remember a senior whom you have lost long ago. Most of us, aren't like that.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Anon.