Updated: November 25, 2021 9:07:18 am
A stroll around the Green Park Stadium is an assault on your senses. It hits the ears first. The incessant squeal of tyres, the screech of rubber horns, songs belting from loudspeakers in e-rickshaws. Then it strikes the eyes, the riot of colours — the crisp white shades of elaborately-decorated hawelis, the crumbling plaster of houses revealing brown bricks, the near-dilapidated red-bricked mills long shut, the brown rust of shutters. The stench from the garbage disposal unit across the road, the odour of paan melting with the fragrance from the flower stalls.
The vicinity is frozen somewhere between the past and present. Like the stadium itself, neither too old-world nor too modern-day. The paradox is as pronounced inside the stadium. One half is roofed, stands decked with plastic seats, the other is uncovered and without seats, and when the breeze hits, you could watch the poplar trees swaying, as though in anger.
Some fear modernity would destroy the soul of the stadium like it did to Chepauk when the large pillars were demolished, and its proud heritage would be lost forever. The Green Park looks the age, but it makes no pretensions of blushful youth. But it still likes basking in the glorious tales of its youth.Some others feel the soul needs a different body and often strike a comparison with the crumbled Lal Imli building and the Elgin Mills, from where derives the name of the Mills End.
It’s the paradox of Green Park, in a sense it’s the paradox of the city too.
The rest of the state has been busy wiping out colonial and Mughal-era names, but not Kanpur. At least, a lot of old names are intact. Like the Carmac Street, or the Harcourt Butler Technical University, built after one of town’s British Governors, Spencer Harcourt Butler.
Even the Green Park stadium owes its name to Madam Green, who used to practice horse riding at the venue. A few metres away from the stadium is the Bob Woolmer Park, after the English cricketer who was born here. There is a ward in the hospital he was born named after him too.
It’s this paradox that makes Green Park unique too. And the stories and storytellers. It might not be the grandest of venues, or the most post-modern one around, or even the most relevant one, but it’s chaotic charm is unmatched. What the locals call the “rooh.”
Tales of Gavaskar and Imran
The old dressing room was a small two-room construction demarcated by a half-wall, where the sports hostel students spent their non-cricketing, non-cinema hours playing table tennis. Dragging the creaky table to a room in the basement was their first chore before a big game before they would tidy the room and make it look gleaming fresh. Match-days were a hazy blur of star-struck days.
“No selfies, no cameras, but the memories we have are as clear and beautiful as the highest resolution pictures,” says former cricketer and first-class umpire Sunil Chaturvedi.
It’s just like yesterday that he remembers a hot Kanpur afternoon and an irate Sunil Gavaskar. He and friend Shashikant Khandekar, also a local legend, were the 13th and 14th men, watching the game from an awning beside the boundary, when Gavaskar was run out after a mix-up with Gundappa Viswanath for a 180-ball 52.
“Gavaskar tapped the ball to mid-on and took off, but Vishy took a couple of steps and then ran back. Ian Botham rifled in a throw and he was caught short of the ground. He was furious from the moment Vishy turned him down,” recollects Chaturvedi.
Young Chaturvedi stealthily followed him to the dressing room, where he sat in a corner brooding and slipped into a soliloquy.
“I hid beside the wall and listened to him. He was talking to himself, ‘I am not a boundary hitter, I am a poor batsman who runs a lot of singles. Please run singles for me.’ It went on for a few minutes before he cleared his mind and joined the others outside,” he says.
A few years later, with the burning ambition to open with Gavaskar, he boarded the train to Mumbai, and they ended up as colleagues in the same company, apart from batting together in a few Duleep Trophy matches.
He later settled in Mumbai, but every time there is a match at the Green Park stadium, his memory rummages through a pile of recollections. One such had the whole of those assembled in a trance. “There was nothing like the sight of Imran Khan preparing for the nets. He first runs 13-14 rounds around the stadium, then does his warm-ups and slowly, gracefully, puts his gear, one by one,” he says.
Not only Chaturverdi, who was a cricketer and is cricket tragic, but even the common man, unstained by pretensions and nuanced perceptions of the game, could rattle out stories. Some of them are young enough to not have watched Malcolm Marshall’s scorching spell, or Mohammed Azharuddin’s Test hundred, or further back Jasu Patel’s nine-wicket haul in India’s first-ever victory over Australia, but describe as though they have seen it, stories passed on by their fathers and grandfathers, often with a hyperbolic spin.
It’s how cricket stories perpetuate in Kanpur, not as photographs or literature, but as memories passed on through generations. Lend your ears, and you could spend the whole day listening to their memories, sipping chai and nibbling kaju masoor namkeen and vaho pakodi. It’s something that continues to surprise Chaturvedi.
“From the outside, it doesn’t seem that the people are mad about cricket, but the moment a match starts, the stadium is filled. People literally jump from everywhere to watch,” he says.
So much so that the outer walls kept getting higher. Besides, there is a heavily guarded perimeter road to ensure that no one sneaks in, though stories are rife of many giving the policemen a slip. “In Kanpur, everything is possible,” says Chaturvedi, chuckling.
It’s a city that can be at the same time pragmatic and romantic. Like the Green Park itself.
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