By Hardik Rajgor
When I was 10, the first rains meant only one thing – football. That, and playing around in keechad.
This was a time before building WhatsApp groups and intercoms, not that anyone needed a reminder. The smell of wet earth minutes after the first shower was enough to draw everyone – from the six year-old kaccha nimbu to the 60-year-old building secretary, also kaccha nimbu, sr – to the society garden. The whole affair was more “Chhai chhapa chhai” and less Champions League with everyone splashing water at each other.
But the real deal was when the rains got heavier and the garden turned into a swamp. That’s when we football lovers would channel our inner Neymar and pointlessly slide around, throwing each other in the mud, and returning home only when we were covered in keechad from head to toe. And even after the rains, there were days when we’d pour buckets of water on the field to get the keechad wala experience.
This transforming experience was usually met with a slap from reality: “Are you mad? What if you catch a cold? Who will clean your shoes and clothes?” The barrage of questions from mum would begin when I’d return home looking like a tattered gunny sack. There are days when she’d stop me from entering the house. This is the same woman who now gets upset when I tell her I don’t want to play Holi because it’s too messy.
But keechad football is not harmless fun like Holi – it’s, in fact, a Herculean physical exercise, like having a Maharaja Mac. The field isn’t smooth and your legs often get stuck in the muck, much like vehicles on SV Road during the monsoon. Keechad football is also a test of your mental strength. Your mind needs to be prepared for what’s going to hit next – it’s similar to how you prepare yourself before attempting to board a Virar local. And like the Surf Excel commercial taught us, we need to be convinced daag acche hai.
Be it keechad-filled fields or swamp playgrounds, running around in mud is a significant part of every childhood.
This rough and tough game is a bit like watching porn – you get disgusted the first time but as time goes by you start enjoying it. There is great excitement in making the perfect sliding tackle. Or pointing out that your friend has dirt stuck in his teeth. From plastic bags to kulfi sticks to soft drink bottle caps, you never know what you are going to encounter next. And the ultimate climax comes when you kick a ball and also splash keechad on your opponents. It’s only then that the adventure feels like it is worth it.
But today keechad football is not as desirable as it used to be. Artificial turfs have sprung across cities and today’s boys and girls who go to fancy IB schools prefer to rent out indoor stadiums. Back in the day, public parks and grounds were all we had and it didn’t matter that they were more uneven than Mumbai’s roads.
Today, children in the building cringe at the thought of playing in muddy fields and dusty grounds – “Eww, so gross. What if we catch an infection?” And that is enough to make me slip into the “hamare zamaane mein toh…” mode and instantly feel old. I tell them about the Swamp Football World Cup, the 19th edition of which was held in Finland earlier this year. And about the fun we’d have stomping on a ground full of sludge. They all look at me the way I’d look at my uncles when they’d tell me about the time they’d walk 15 kilometres, climb a hill, cross a river and a rainforest, just to get to school.
Be it keechad-filled fields or swamp playgrounds, running around in mud is a significant part of every childhood. No expensive turf can match that joy. I vote to bring keechad football back.