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From The Cheap Seats

The watchers in cheap seats applaud it all/with puny wooden drums, instead of words.

From The Cheap Seats
Photograph by LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/Getty Images
From The Cheap Seats

As soon as he comes out, the thunder starts
from fifty thousand throats the sun made dry.
You almost hear the fifty thousand hearts,
In ragged unison, beat for one boy.

Ten years ago they mispronounced his name
At Lord’s, where, with a catch, a myth began.
Tall, cold, and arrogant, the captains came
to break this boy, and found he was a man.

Thickset and stocky, he takes guard today.
Designer stubble coarsens his young cheeks.
What fetches thousands here to see him play?
You feel the watchers stir in the cheap seats

Suddenly as the sun, he finds his power.
So, when the ringmaster assumes his place,
flashes and whipcracks fill the acrid air,
though he shows no emotion in his face.
The great show’s on the road, the circus tent
made of leached sky. The tricolour hangs slack.
Not many people know what it once meant.
The marvellous boy refuses to turn back.

The watchers in cheap seats applaud it all
with puny wooden drums, instead of words.
Fireworks explode round fences as the ball
soars up in its huge arc to threaten birds.

Now strings are pulled, the tricolour unfurled.
But he’s empowered, not reined by any rope.
Tatters of colour, shreds of sound, are whirled
around the cheap seats, in a rage of hope,
while with his bat he reinvents their world.

(Moraes wrote this poem for Outlook’s January 4, 1999, issue on Sachin Tendulkar.)

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