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That Ball game on the sand.

Vinod took the night bus back as he had a shoot. I had few more days to kill in this idyllic

locale all by myself now and I was itchy to discover something new. Whenever in trepidation always have gone by my instinct. The morning felt fresh and I grabbed my tea cup and walked towards the beach. It was around 9am, the boats in Arabian sea was glistening with reflection of the sun now slowly inching to play the noon sonata. The horizon was dotted with boats mostly painted in electric blue and white stripes and an Indian flag on a mast that differed in size depending on the size of the boat. The beach looked vast on both sides with few fishing boats that had docked and selling the wares. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the first catch. I rushed back, kept my cup and sauntered out with my camera, bare feet. These morning walks on the wet sand had become a kind of ritual. The crabs were on their merry dance as the waves kept hitting with with regularity, creating a mist of spray every time it retreaded. I walked past few hutments to the left of the resort as you walk by the beach side. The morning catch looked promising in the lone boat that was slanted a bit and group of tanned men of all ages stood tiredly by it. I smiled and they smiled back. I wondered how well we can communicate sometime even though we don’t understand each others language. Music and gestures are perhaps being sometimes better communication tools than language.

I was now a kilometer or two from vretreat, walking north on the beach towards Valiyaparamba village. Towards my left was the Orchestra of the vast ocean. Towards my right the backwaters played peekaboo amidst the coconut tress. The drone of the fishing boats on the sea was interspersed once a while with of a lone ferry that criss-crossed the backwaters, making its time bound commuter halts at the ferry stops. I kept my pace up. It was slowly heating up but the cool breeze from the sea made it feel like I am in front of a giant air cooler.

Something caught my attention. Few hundred meters away there was clearing of sort. As I kept my pace up a football field appeared. And there on that sand that was bit levelled two goal boats and a bunch of boys driveled a dirty white ball with a gusto that I had rarely seen. For a country that had yet to find a footing on the Global soccer map, India has amazing enthusiasm for soccer. Specially in the small states of West Bengal, Kerala and Goa. And every four years irrespective of the fact that India is not playing we find a kind of jubilation that people partake in supporting their country colours. What was earlier Agrentina and Brazil has now spilled over as support for European teams depending on which country one’s club heroes are playing for. But it is local teams, allegiances to owns hero’s playing for it that kept this game sustained in a country that otherwise sees cricket with more maniacal following. Unlike Mohan Bagan and East Bengal on the Eastern Shores which has following depending on which side of the Bengal border you come from, Kerala another soccer crazy stole the spotlight mainly due to a maverick soccer player who started as a a soda seller. I M Vijayan, an Arjuna award winner and crowned Indian Player of the Year in 1993, 1997 and 1999 started from humble roots and eventually became the highest earner in Indian club football as well as a regular in the India team. Surely, there were a host of other players like Baichung Bhutia and a Sunil Chettri who has shined out but Vijayan will stand as a lone man who by his sheer talent and grit done what many couldn’t; Make Soccer a household game to play, discuss and follow.

So here I am in an idyllic island rather a small piece of land between the backwaters and the might sea watching a game of soccer between eight barefooted teenagers in printed jerseys (Mataimal Brothers) from a village by the sea. I sat mesmerized seeing their attacking football, their barefooted defence in the now slowly warming up sand. It must have been quite sometime when I realised the game had wound up. For the while I was sitting at a distance I had clicked some pictures on my tele photo lens. As I reviewed it on the camera display I realsied that the mist from the sea had settled on my lens and blurred most of the images. I was trying to hide my disappointment when I heard a ‘Hello Sir.’ I looked up to see the rag tag team had slowly assembled there. I didn’t know how to react immediately…all I could say was ‘Good game’. I couldn’t speak a word of Malayalam and they spoke rudimentary Hindi peppered with English. But the ice had broken and they explained to me over the next few minutes on their passion for this game. How they never missed even one day of practice. Be it in the morning or after school. Today being Sunday they are playing at a leisured pace. I asked them why they don’t wear football shoes as they have their own printed jersey to which one young lad explained to me about the Brazilians playing barefooted when they started. I knew I had lost the debate. I smiled as they assembled for the official or should I say unofficial click of the brothers. I wondered that perhaps amongst these soon to be young men might be the next Vijayan.

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