Cousin CJ, in The Fear of Gambling, is a fictionalized portrayal based on some aspects I know of my cousin CJ. Though the formula should not be used in deducing that if CJ is CJ, then VK has to be VK (V.K. Perera), the thread in the story which relates to the guy growing up playing Cricket with the novel’s first person narrator is a subjective and nostalgic re-creation of a childhood battling out each other’s grit in the front yard cum Cricket pitch.
As a friend responding to the book points out, “the Cricket in the childhood story is a mirror of the intensity of the weightless world [we] occupy [as we grow up]”, while it can be contrasted by placing this very aspect side by side with the “adults” that the protagonists ultimately grow up to become. My friend writing from a part of the world where Cricket is not played that frequently, surely, doesn’t know the “weight” of that game consisting of bats and balls, as played by young adolescents. Cricket, out there in the blistering sun, was — so to exhaust the cliche — a “way of life”, per se.
Cousin CJ, of course, made a brief debut with the College First and Second XI teams; but, his contribution has been — as far as I know — as a player of “second choice”. His initial stint at the game came years before, at the Junior category; after which he hung up his pads, opting instead to play Table Tennis for the on par average college Table Tennis team. A “softer game”, by all means, with lesser star attraction. He, then, returns to the Cricketing field during his AL years, but, by then, it is already too late to establish one’s self as a prominent player. The question that I have often mused on long and hard is as to what made CJ hang up his pads, to opt for a TT racquet? Frankly, I have never asked him.
In FOG I refer to two outstanding memories of watching Cousin CJ play Cricket — each a memory of growing up; each a clear vision stilled in the bank of time. One of these is the inning where CJ with mindblowing tenacity hit 178 in one of the games we boys used to play every morning before school commenced. The one hour or so from 7-8 a.m was generally employed in “gentlemanly exercise” in the playing field, knocking off runs with a wooden bat, hitting soft balls to all corners of the then grass-lacking school ground, all hardcore. CJ would be an early arrival to this daily ritual, carrying his old Sunridges bat — now a left over from his Under 13 days. CJ was 14-15 at the time and a lanky speciman if ever there was such an item.
Of that 178, the greater part was spent with me, batting along with him in a partnership which — going by the numbers alone — should be quite high, of a total that I would not even try to remember today. I had gone in to bat at number 3, and CJ got in at number 4. CJ was a sheer treat to watch from the non-striker’s end, specially his stylish Lara-like back bend and the textbook perfect follow through of the bat after each stroke. He was equally prolific on either side of the wicket, but was had a liking for the off side, which he hit through with precise technique.
There were several others among us playing soft ball Cricket out there who were prodigious saplings just coming out of the pots. Rachitha Liyanage, who played occasionally, had plenty of muscle and a batting stance that reminded one of India’s Mohammed Azharuddin. He had a skidding gentle medium pace that bounced off the deck and whizzed past you. Liyanage went on to play First XI Cricket, playing as Vice Captain in his final year. Others playing alongside us included Samudu (First XI skipper, 2004), Samitha (Executive Tour Operator 2014), Vikum — a hard hitting, hot tempered six footer —, “Kotta” (a most graceful athlete in his senior years) and a host others.
Heenatigala Kanaththage Rushan Malinda Rathnayake, easily the best leg spinner I have seen since Shane Warne, arrived at school when we were in Grade 7. Malinda was a technically spotless batsman with a stance that was a cross between Roshan Mahanama and Rahul Dravid and with a gentleman’s temperament to match. His rhythmic run up ended with a wholesome leg spinner’s delivery that spun like a sexbomb. Malinda captained Kingswood at both Under 13 and 15, even earning a couple of hat-tricks that went well in his bag. But, unfortunately, he was a player whom the school authorities didn’t have a regular place for in the senior team. It is very unfortunate that the truly talented often get the blunt end of favouritism in team management. Malinda Rathnayake will always be for me the “perfect gentlemanly Cricketer”: someone who may have missed out — a chance lost to the Cricketing world. Today, Malinda is in Australia and from what I see, he still seems to hold on to his Cricket.
CJ’s 178 included a smattering of 40 runs off a single over: an over that cost the slow left arm bowling of my friend Gayan Asiri 41 runs (6×6 + 1 wide + 1×4). Asiri’s was an innocuous left arm spin, and he bowled in an action much alike India’s Sunil Joshi; only that the ball didn’t spin as much. Asiri’s expertise, however, was as a “specialist fielder”: as he was known to snatch off catches out of nowhere. He would lunge at a passing ball and the ball just seemed to stick into his outstretched palm. He, therefore, richly earned the epithet “Multibond”, though he was also known to drop perfect sitters.
The other clear memory of CJ at Cricket was a blistering 161 he hit in our front yard sometime close to 2000. This, perhaps, was CJ’s only hundred in our front yard which was the “traditional Lord’s” of the softball matches among the family. The ground plan and the rules and conditions of playing here, in the yard, is painstakingly laid down in FOG: an exercise I wouldn’t even dream of repeating here. But, CJ’s firestorm came after an unsuccessful appeal I had just made against him, trying to run him out. He was, that last “tour”, badly out of nick and he was badly out of his ground, too, trying to steal a quick one to my right.
CJ appealed back saying that he had made his ground alright — and in a game where we only had our word against each other — I decided to give CJ a “lifeline”, muttering to myself that he would anyway be had in a matter of deliveries. Then began the hitherto unexplained show of clinically precise, obsessively brutal batsmanship. Standing tall like a new age Will Smith and bending his back in resonance of Lara, CJ moved from score to score making me wallow in the mud and debris. The last 60 odd runs (from 100-161) was a maraud in the disguise of a batting display. CJ finally hit out of the yard (which, according to the rules, is “out”) — and as I remember, this was the last time we ever played in our front yard; thus ending a chapter of many matches together, growing up.
I wouldn’t have known it then, but that would have ended a childhood and young adulthood where the game of “soft ball Cricket” was a conviction; and a ritual around which relationships and loyalties were built. In FOG I let my wandering thoughts take over in a bid to retrieve the ambiance of a “personal history” which, in the context of the book, is used to re-read the historicization processes of our time. The book was written at a time when “history” was being collapsed into a personal deal, alongside the “nation” being made into the private property of a few. Likewise, rugby was the “personalized sport” of the Royal Offspring, while the “patriot” was the personalized battle cry against alternative positions that departed from the regime’s stances. How can one say that CJ and the narrator were lesser patriotic? That their history was a lesser history than what the regime wills us to believe in?
Truly an engaging project on which I have ever trained my concentrated energies through, The Fear of Gambling is the best effort on my part, yet. A self-absorbed cunt of an academic was heard saying that FOG is all about “Vihanga Perera’s life story” and as to how “presumptuous” I am to even write what I had written in a narrative that occupies 300 odd pages. While denying FOG to be my “life story” — a worthy experience I will never bale out through fiction — I also scoff the arrogance and ignorance of the baleful critic whose measurement of literature rings untrue to his trade.