Darkness under the lamp: How Indian blind cricket team will celebrate Diwali

One of the most traditional and popular rituals of Diwali is lighting a lamp. Almost every Indian lights a candle or a lamp and places it in front of his/her house, illuminating the entire country during the festival. But a group of cricketers celebrate the festival of lights with a touch of difference. Players of the World Cup-winning Indian blind cricket team do not light candles, but make them with their own hands in the hostel of the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled in Bengaluru. Reason? The candles are distributed for the others to light. “Diwali is known as the festival of lights, but to give it a flavour of light for our blind players, we engage in candle-making,” Vivek Kumar Singh, vice-president of the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI), which is the cricketing wing of the Samarthanam Trust and is affiliated to the World Blind Cricket Council and Paralympics Committee of India, said.

“We see to it that we give candles made by our own visually-imparied people to others. The players cannot light candles for the fear of getting burnt, but they can surely offer them to people. We also have more than 350 kids as part of our trust. We try to bring that joy to all of them by sharing candles,” he said. Singh also explained the reason behind the idea. “It is said that the Diwali light ends the darkness in our lives. That can be more inclusive by sharing our candles. So, we came up with the idea,” Singh added.

A majority of the players, who usually reside in the hostel throughout the year, take a break during the festival to go home and visit their families. It’s no different this time around. However, Shekar Naik, the captain of the team, recalled the time the team spent Diwali together. “We were at a camp in Bhubaneswar during Diwali last year. We ensured that we finished our training by noon on the Diwali day, and spent the evening with students of a university. We then went for a dinner party hosted by one of our team members. It was a special feeling being together as a team on that day, and it brought us good luck. We won the World Cup a couple of months later in December,” said Naik, who led the team to the Blind Cricket World Cup in South Africa last year as well as the T20 World Cup in India in 2012. Ajay Kumar Reddy, the vice-captain of the team who is currently in his hometown in Telangana, said the festival makes them feel a lot “like normal people”.

“Each and every member of our team is like family for me, and Diwali is a chance for us to leave all our sorrows behind. We truly believe that life should be colourful, and the festival gives us something to cheer about,” Reddy, who prides in being the fastest bowler among all the blind cricket teams around the world, said. 21-year-old Amol Karche, the only player in the team from Maharashtra, enjoys the festival for a completely different reason.
“The team loves eating sweets, and we are more greedy about that than anything else,” the Baramati resident said with a chuckle. “I’ve come home this year due to my sister’s insistence. I’ve ordered my mother to make good food during Diwali. I don’t see any difference between how a normal person celebrates the festival and how we do because in the end, it’s all about the festive spirit.”

Not just good food, the players also enjoy bursting crackers much like others, albeit with a few modifications. “The players take support of their friends to burn crackers,” Singh said. “They increase the thread of the sutli bomb so that it takes more time to burst, and they can hold each other and go to a safer place. “The blind players also cannot light rockets, so they light the sparklers and throw it in the sky. They feel ‘hamra bhi rocket ud raha hai’. That’s how the players try to enjoy themselves,” he added.

Singh, who is also the president of the Jharkhand unit of the association, revealed how the players make it a point to meet each other even while they are with their respective families. “We have players from various parts of the country. Even if they go home to different states, they make it a point to meet their teammates who reside in nearby places, especially on the evening of Diwali. When they are with their families or friends, they can feel a bit awkward because they cannot burst crackers and do a lot of things what others can. So, meeting your fellow players helps in that regard,” Singh said.

Skipper Naik has an added reason to celebrate Diwali this year. The 28-year-old from Shimoga became a proud father for the second time last month. And he has one message for his ompatriots as he gears up to celebrate the festival with his family. “Diwali is called the festival of light. However, we do not feel dim. We can’t see, but to sense that the entire country is lit up makes us feel really good,” he said.

India won the first-ever Blind Cricket T20 World Cup held in Bengaluru in 2012, defeating Pakistan by 29 runs in the final The team also returned home with the 40-over Blind Cricket World Cup held in South Africa last year. It was India’s first victory in the fourth edition of the tournament