At first glance the Lakshmipuram Hindu burial ground in Ulsoor, would look like just another place where cold souls rest. But on a weekend, the far end of the graveyard turns into cricket ground.
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A portion of the burial ground being used as cricket pitch Pic: Navya P K
A clearing in one corner of the nearly 15-acre ground has two ‘cricket pitches’ now – a unique solution to the shrinking playgrounds in the city. At the crack of dawn, teams of youngsters would rush to the ground to start playing in the better of the two pitches that lie perpendicular to each other. The rows of granite graves curving around the pitch, are for those who want to sit and watch. Charged matches, shouts and occasional commentaries, and you have a full-fledged playground here.
Ring side view: These matches have quite the fan following Pic: Navya P K
The oldest player here is 45 years old and the youngest, 10. This graveyard has been a playground for at least 40 years for the residents in the nearby Lakshmipuram, Saraswathipuram, Andhra lane and Harijan Colony. Social divides do not matter here – people from different religious and economic backgrounds use the ground. But with graves occupying more space increasingly, the ‘playground’ has been shrinking.
J Dinesh Kumar, one of the older players, reminisces about earlier times when there were six pitches in the graveyard. "Until a few years back, people even played football here," says another player Brijith Panikker. Kumar, 39, himself was captain of one of the teams. "‘Nasty Boys’ – that was the name of our team. I can’t remember why we called it so," he says, chuckling.
Resident of Cox Town, Kumar started playing here around 15 years back, after he took charge of his father’s shop in Lakshmipuram. "I met other shopkeepers here – many of us were of the same age. We got together and started playing in the graveyard. After a few years, I formed my own team," he says.
There are no hard and fast rules – you could be bowling for one team and the next moment fielding for another team in the next pitch. The member of one team would play for a rival team sometimes. All players invest in buying the wickets, balls and bats, which the teams share.
Occasionally there are full-fledged tournaments between all teams, complete with viewers, commentators and betting. "For some tournaments we would build this small temporary shed in which someone would run a commentary on the mike, and we play with small bets of Rs 10 or 50," says J Ravichandru, 30, Managing Director at JP Sanitation, who has been playing here for 16 years. Among older players, there are some who can field right in between the graves.
There are team rivalries too. Kumar looks serious while narrating instances of a fight; when one team lost or one player supported the opposite team. Some members who stopped playing here because of fights have found new patches to play – like the vehicle parking lane of Chinnaswamy cricket stadium.
The UltimateZ team Pic: Navya P K
As the ground’s area is decreasing, many teams have dissolved. While there were around eight teams some 15 years back, today only four teams play here. Kumar’s team itself is no more, as some team members don’t come regularly. Today, all the senior players have come together to form one team, ‘The Ultimatez’. The team has its own logo and sky-blue jersey. Though most of the team members are employed and married now, they make the game happen every now and then.
But why the graveyard of all places? Players say that pitch here is very good compared to regular playgrounds. "Somehow the water gets absorbed very quickly and we can start playing even an hour after a rain. There are too many people to drink up the water," says Manjunath, Captain of Ultimatez, pointing to the graves. "And where else would you find such a green and spacious area?"
Interestingly, there has never been much opposition to public playing in the ground. "Teams have been playing here for so long that people are used to it. They do not mind," says Kumar. Lakshmamma, 50, owner of the burial ground says she’s known about these cricket matches all along. "I have no problems that they use the space as a playground", she says. ⊕