Baloo the peasant’s son had a powerful arm. He trudged off to the fields every morning to till the earth while it was still soft and smelt fresh. The morning fog danced in the pre dawn glare of firewoods crackling merrily at the sooty kettle. Even the rooster had its head tucked in its warm breast, while a few cows lashed its tails at the large mosquitoes circling its rump like Somali pirates.
Baloo had to milk the cows, pump the wells, tie knots, all before dawn that strengthened his arms so much so that the local headmaster let him attend grammar school to be in the wrestling team. Not that Baloo was a bad student, but it would be taking untold liberty to call him a good student either. The teachers asked him easy questions if at all, and the bright boys helped him with homework in return for Baloo walking them safely home unaccosted by bullies. The boys called him Baloo Pehlwan, and when he was not listening, Baloo Full Toss. Full Toss ? Yes, “Full Toss”!
Wrestling was very unglamorous compared to what Baloo had in mind. True there were greats like Gama, Sandow and Dara Singh in wrestling, but Baloo’s dream was to play cricket. The players always looked smart in their crisp uniforms and were surrounded by the most beautiful women. Every flash of the bat and bounce of the ball was religiously followed by thousands on the field, and millions worldwide that dodged spouses, bosses, teachers and parents to catch the action live on TV sets and computer screens.
Baloo fancied himself to be a fast bowler, and admired speed monsters like Garner, Lillee and Thomson. As such, every morning before the sun came up he began his practice. A long gallop from the cowshed to the hand pump, a hop over the thorny rose, the menacing look, arms thrown backwards, a quick glance at the sky, then his arched back unleashing its fury like a coiled spring, the red leather ball hurled with great menace at the stoic trunk of the badly pockmarked coconut tree. Whoosh, THUD ! Another fresh gash on the trunk.
However, there was one problem with Baloo’s delivery. It never bounced once. It was always a Full Toss. His arms so coarse and stiff with hard labor that it had no sense of any finesse. It was a catapult, only capable of hurling at great speed. The whole village knew it, and the surrounding villages, and even villages next to it. Gangly kids with quick reflexes just steered the ball for a lightning boundary or even a six ! The enormous power in the deliveries carried the ball to the fence on its own.
However, Baloo’s village let him bowl since nobody dared oppose him, and he intimidated the new batsmen with his fury although he hit the ribs more often than he hit the wickets. This was a sore point with Baloo, and he prayed to Lord Hanuman under the peepal tree every morning, “ Bajrang Bali, make me a real bowler admired formy skill, not feared by my friends”.
One day it happened. It was a Sunday morning. Matador trucks with loudspeakers and TV cameras arrived at the cricket ground. There was a contest on for the “Fastest Arm on the Planet”. There was a catch though. All throws were to be Full Tosses at waist height over a marble plate. This puzzled many competitors, and the best bowlers fumbled because of the strange requirement. Not Baloo. He stepped up to the mound, creased his eyes, looked at the plate, aimed at the glove, and let loose. Whoosh, THUD !
The radar clocked 105 mph, the fat man in the director’s chair with a limp panama hat covering his plump face jumped up like he was stung by the large mosquito chasing the cows and exclaimed, “ STRIKE ! Holy, Moly what have we got here ? This boy is a natural”.
Soon Baloo was flown to a training camp in Arizona and signed up for a big team playing a strange game called baseball. The prize money of a Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars was incomprehensible to Baloo and his family. They celebrated by erecting a shamiana and having non stop kirtans for the whole village for seven nights. There were plays and a mela. Old enmities were forgotten, new friends were made and fifty bullock carts full of men women and children came to the railway station for a final goodbye.
In Arizona, Baloo woke up for practice every dawn and hurled a white leather ball without the run up to the delivery. Standstill, focus, aim and throw. This time the batters really trembled and missed the pitches. He even got them out without having to crack ribs or hit wickets.
It was a “Homer”. Bajrang Bali had answered Baloo’s prayer.