March 31, 1964. It was the day the last tram in Mumbai was to go past his home. Bharat couldn’t believe this day could even dawn in his lifetime. The trams had become a part of his life – watching them from his window overlooking the tram tracks, watching them while he crossed the road on his way to school. Watching it while he played street cricket in the open space compound between the two buildings.
He heard the disquieting news from his older, college going sister. Almost all the tram drivers had become his friends and he waved at them while they steered the tram, standing up, clanking as the tram trundled past him. He could see the faces of the passengers seated at the window, in animated discussion with others. And what a joy it was to travel in the decorated tram on January 26 each year to mark the Republic Day celebrations. Children and grown-ups alike loved to go around the city lit up for the occasion, and it was even more fun travelling in the trams, decorated with colorful lights bulbs. For some inexplicable reason, that tram was called “American tram”. Wow!
Occasionally he would run up to the last terminal stop – Kings’ Circle- where it was fascinating to watch the turn-around of the big tram, the conductor alighting from the tram, slowly lifting off the pantograph from the overhead cables running across and gingerly walking over the tracks to re-align it on the other side. The cables crackled as he maneuvered to complete the process. Regular passengers would then quickly start filing in the tram for their snail-pace journey to different parts of the city. The city may never sleep but the lucky passengers traveling regularly in the trams slept comfortably, amidst the rattle and clanking.
It was a Tuesday. Bharat had already made up his mind to board the last tram from Kings’ Circle to Dadar TT and then walk back home. None of his friends knew about his plan. The boisterous lot had instead organized a key tennis ball cricket match with the team from across the street. Why today? Bharat thought. His friends called him the Don Bradman of their building – Kapol Niwas – and he knew very well they wouldn’t let him skip the match at any cost.
In the evening, all of his friends gathered and his buddy Naresh called him up, cupping his palms over his mouth: “Ae Bharat, come right down, the match is about to start!”
Oh no, not today. Why don’t they play without me?
“No, I can’t come Naresh; not today. I am not well!” He yelled back from his window on the first floor.
Naresh and his buddies were not ones to give up on him easily. Naresh bounded up, two stairs at a time and came right into his flat. The main doors of those flats always remained open during the greater part of the day – a customary practice in the city where an eclectic array of communities lived.
“Oh, come on, you look all right, Bharat. Come yaar, we want to win this important match today.” He took his hand, leading him to the claustrophobic cricket ground below.
The helpless Bharat caved in. No ride in the last tram then.
His Kapol Niwas team was the first to bat. The umpire, was always from the batting team – no lbw appeals were ever entertained, causing the aggrieved bowling team to ask for ‘umpire change’ that never made any significant difference in the resolution of the appeal. As opening batsman, Bharat was the first to bat but his eyes were on that tram, not on the ball. Got dismissed, clean bowled for a naught. His side folded up for 57. He felt bereft.
When his side started bowling, Bharat chose to position himself at the boundary where the tram tracks were the nearest. As minutes ticked by, the time of the last tram drew closer. The dream of taking the last tram seemed to evaporate as the opposing team started scoring runs freely. He cursed himself for not scoring any runs but… where is the blessed tram?
Suddenly, the opponents started losing wickets, the last man came to bat and they needed just two runs to win. Here comes the tram as well, trundling along, people cheering along the route. In a sudden rush of blood, the last batsman, trying to be a hero, tried to hit the ball and missed it completely. The ball did not hit the wicket, scraped against a wall, along with a piece of coal, and rebounded to the fielder at silly mid off who pounced on the ball and threw it at the other end to break the three sticks serving as the wicket. The opponents were all out and lost the match by one run, but where is the ball?
The ball kept rolling down the cemented carpet of the ground, crossed the road and lodged itself exactly on one of the tram tracks.
Bharat ran after the ball to retrieve it but he froze at the track. If any ball got lost or disfigured in the play each player had to contribute to the price to replace the ball.
The last tram was nearing the ball. He stood there motionless, marveling at the sight and waved at the driver in his khaki uniform, with the turban on his head, smiling at him. Bharat pointed to the ball on the track, the driver smiled his little friend; he brought the tram to a halt. Bharat picked up the ball and having won the match, gleefully jumped onto the tram on its final journey to Dadar TT.
The last tram – he was to make it after all.