“Lala Amarnath,” says Balan Uncle with a dazzling smile. Laxmi Shankar Balan, Balan uncle as we call him at Papaya Care, is nearing a century in his real life. At almost 99, memories are a blur, and narrations are patchy, yet what is unmissable is vein-throbbing enthusiasm when it comes to the love of his life – CRICKET.
Countless stories of senior residents and inspirations thrive all around at Papaya Care. It is our absolute honour to be able to share a chapter from the passionate cricketing era of Balan Uncle. We sincerely thank his son and family for helping us join the dots of his story and giving us a peak into the life of our legend.
Born and raised in Kerala, he moved to Mumbai in the late 1920s as his father worked for Railways. He stayed in Hindu Colony, Dadar, an area surrounded with cricketing stalwart’s like late Madhav Mantri, late Naren Thamane to name a few. A keen follower of cricket, he started playing for local clubs in Mumbai. He was part of the Kanga Cricket League and represented Maskati Cricket Club for 15 years. He was an opening seam bowler and had the reputation of being unplayable on a wet wicket with a new ball. The Yorkers and the speed helped his team win many matches. He distinctly remembered his sister waiting for the Monday newspaper that would carry his articles often. She would preserve the paper-cuttings well pasted in a book as memorabilia of his achievements. He represented Khatau Mills in local corporate tournaments viz Time of India Shield as well as Mill owners Association (a prestigious tournament for the owners of textile mills). Bagging the best bowler trophy in the Times of India tournament remains a highlight.
On his retirement from cricket at age 50, he coached the students of Somaiya College and later took up umpiring assignments. He was also on the panel of umpires in the Bombay Cricket Association. The connection with the game never faded away and remained intrinsic to his life. He not only guided his son into the game but also stayed an enthusiastic grandfather, watching matches with his grandsons. Those intense stares at the television screens, game discussions, and loud cheering for the Indian team were a given sight in the Balan household around the year.
The vast canvas of his life was truly exciting- A life lived well, doing things he loved. He remained an avid food lover who enjoyed his occasional drinks. A multilingual person, he could converse fluently in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, English, and Marathi. His family speaks proudly of his achievements and rare yet precious innings of cricketing life. Today the body may have become frail, or he may be wheelchair dependent but the childlike excitement with which he says, “As soon as I get better, I need to get to the ground and form my team.” Amen to that, Uncle!!!
We could not help asking for an autograph from our in-house hero. He obliged and sealed it with a sign, and so clearly at that 😊