The cricketers gather under the stone columns of Olympiastadium. The majority are brown. I knew no one, and sat at a respectable distance and watched the easy camaraderie among the others. I caught whiffs of punchlines and scents of anecdotes. After a while, S.K bounded over and introduced himself. I followed him to the field.
Cricket, they say, has been played in Berlin since the late 19th centuries and there are some legends about Hitler having either played the game or killed everyone who played it. The cricket played in Berlin is a game of immigrants – Australians, Bangladeshis, Punjabis, British, mainly. Most are permanent residents but there is a fair amount of lovers in the trenches. (Lovers as in “people who move to Berlin because of love” and not “people who love the game of cricket”).
The team I had joined was predominantly Punjabi – with a sedate group of elder Sikhs circling the pitch. Most of the team mates were from Harayana or Jalandhar region. They smiled at my Punjabi.
S.K. was clearly the star. My eyes followed him, his laughter, his bounding energy, his infectious smile. I wanted to be his friend. He was not – as is usually the case – a very good cricketer but he kept us all in his thrall. I asked him, as we lulled during an out, how he came to Berlin.
He came in a container. He was 16. He had left Punjab with little idea of what lay on the other side. Before he left, he had shown promise – in cricket, in judo, but those promises are still wrapped up in Haryana. He worked in a restaurant (as did some of the other players – some owned restaurants and one was a nuclear physicist). The hours were unforgiving and the cricket pitch a giant relief.
At the end of the game, we were all hanging out – lolling around on the grass, casually listening to conversations. Most were the conversations of the businessman trying to introduce an hour into his schedule, and some were the conversations of a home set at a firm distance from oneself. I was basking in the rare Berlin sun.
S.K. was with a small group and they were giggling uncontrollably. I shifted my attention from the blue sky (you have no idea how rare that is) and saw that S.K. had wrapped a dupatta around him and was singing a tune while acting the coquettish bride. The friends were gesticulating in accordance. One of the elders shifted his lawn chair and looked at the spectacle. Things slowed down. His gaze was firm though non-committing. One of the team’s leaders began to speak out loud. He told us that S.K was a talented actor and he wanted to become an actor on German TV and makes it to every audition he can find. He has yet to be cast in a role – German soaps and dramas apparently cannot find a place for a short statured charismatic brown man. Let us ask S.K to give us a performance. Every one hooted and hollered. S.K. ran behind a shed and emerged and said, he will enact a scene. The girl wants to go to school, but the parents are against it. She is pleading her case. The mother relents. She turns and together, the girl and the mother persuade the father. S.K. would play all three roles. It was a German family.
In the next few moments, I was taken away from the greens of Olympiastadium. S.K. yelled, he screamed, he cried, he modulated his voice, he changed his body posture, he enacted the most exquisite tableaux. My german at the time was not good enough to follow everything he was saying but I was impressed merely by the fact that his words carried emotions. That is hard to do in any language.
Some in the group of men, gathered to play cricket, seemed stunned by this one-man play. Its obvious gender reversal and its presentation of patriarchy. Some shifted uncomfortably; some made a shrugging comment; some walked a ways. When S.K. ended his scene, his face covered in his own tears, his body morphed into that of a teenaged girl just back from a seminal battle, his voice tremulous – we gave him a standing ovation.
I never saw S.K. after that. We exchanged some texts but it never materialized. He lives in Berlin, he works in a restaurant and he is the most integrated man I know.