Back to Eden Gardens, scene of my first cricket memories

Twenty-six months. More than 800 days, to be exact. I hadn’t stepped inside a cricket ground in India. Rather, I wasn’t allowed to. All because of a series of untruths paraded by a cricketer and the subsequent social-media vitriol that followed. Yes, I have served my ban. Complied with every condition imposed on me. And yes, I am now entitled to go back. To the Eden Gardens, or any other stadium in the country. As we parked the car opposite the Club House and stepped out, it all started to come back. The same chatter, the same intensity and the same noise. This was my world. The Cricketer had snatched it away from me for two years. But then, the two years are now done and truth is out there in the form of Banned: A Social Media Trial.

Sharmistha was with me last night. She hardly ever goes to a cricket match. But then, it wasn’t just any other match. It was a match that gave me back a life that had seemed lost. She wanted to be there. For, she knew I was anxious. For two years, she has held me together, and it was important she was there with me. Our colleague, Debasis Sen, was there, as always. He clicked a few photos and recorded a video as we went in. I have to say it all seemed familiar. And yet alien. Did I really belong there, or had it all been taken away from me? As I reached the hospitality enclosure, I decided to walk out to the balcony and soak it all in. No, the heat did not matter. Every face that I saw in front of me made me feel welcome. Many waved at me and some even clicked selfies. Was it empathy? I would like to believe so. And as the game started, I was lost in the action. It was the same me who wants to follow every ball, understand every nuance, read every strategy. This was my world. And it will be my world yet again, come what may.

Image: Joy Sengupta

For a while, I had forgotten who was playing. In my mind, I went back in time to 1979, when I had first come to the Eden Gardens with my father. Thereafter, I hadn’t missed a game till I was forced to in 2022. One of the 2023 World Cup semi-finals was played at the Eden Gardens, and I was in my studio 15 minutes away. Yes, it was cruel, and every night I asked myself why and how lies could be paraded as truth? Why and how could The Cricketer do this and get away with it? And yet, as I was lost in time last night, I did not feel any rage. The loudspeaker, the floodlights and the fans – that was all that mattered. I won’t get the two years back, but I am not ready to waste a single minute more. Sport is where I belong, and sport is all I know. I can write and talk about it, and as Pullela Gopichand says, it is my world. No one can take it away from me again. I was stupid to think that my life was over. Sport is a balm, and that’s the life lesson I should have remembered. For 40 years, I have loved my cricket and loved my sport. And I love being at Eden Gardens.

A lot of my friends asked me how it felt to be back. The truth is, I had never gone away. In my mind, I had created a virtual reality where I would be lost every night imagining I was in the stadium doing what I do. And last night, the virtual became real. In flesh and blood. The bad dream was over. As I left the Eden Gardens, I did turn back to celebrate the best cricket stadium in the world. And promised myself one thing – I will be back soon. Every single match day from now on, I will be there, because I can look Eden in the eye and say that I did not bully or threaten The Cricketer, and I did not lie. Eden is my holy place, and as a devotee, it is my right to worship my idol. Whether The Cricketer likes it or not.

Also Read: Gautam Gambhir’s straight talk while I was banned for home World Cup