The Fisherman's Net
As another crisp drive from 12-year-old Brandon Chanderpaul spills out of the nylon net and rolls on the cemented front porch towards his grandfather Khemraj, a toothless smile dawns on the sun-beaten wrinkly face. The famous name that connects the two on the family tree isn't present at the in-house net session. You see him on television, fighting a losing battle against the New Zealanders in a World Cup game.
But Shivnarine's presence is always there at his family home with uneven architecture - the result of a gradual construction update, not a plinth-to-roof planned effort. A Man of the Match prize car squats uncomfortably in the congested porch that has three miniature "shivlings" on a corner platform. Two hammocks hang nearby, almost encroaching on Brandon's play-zone. But one thing hasn't changed, from the mud house that Shiv grew up in, to the comfortable villa that Brandon is in today.
It's the nylon net. It has only re-defined itself. Khemraj and his forefathers used the net to fish. Today it stops balls that Brandon hits as the Chanderpauls transformed themselves from modest fisher folk to an elite cricketing family with a former West Indian captain. This happens to be one of the several success stories in the Unity Village, just an hour's bumpy drive down narrow dirt roads from Georgetown.
For most living in the impressive wooden houses on stilts, dangerously close to the Atlantic Ocean, tracing their roots means going back to 1834 when 414 indentured labourers landed in Guyana to work on sugarcane plantations. Over the years, the Indo-Guyanese community has steadily climbed the social ladder. For example that boy, Bharrat Jagdeo, one is told, who used to live a stone's throw from the Chanderpaul house - and way inferior to Shiv as a cricketer - is the president of the country.
Our first destination in Unity Village is Beer Garden (local pub), also close to where Brandon is hitting the ball. The owner of the place - a pretty lady with Portuguese blood, Anna Lee - is Shiv's first wife, and mother of his only child. She talks about her estranged husband's early days of hardship before directing us to her ex-in-laws' place. The news has been relayed, and grandfather and grandson, bare-chested, are at the gate. Pleasantries exchanged, it is time to talk about the most likeable cricketer across the West Indies. (It's an eye-opener for any outsider that Brian Lara doesn't quite enjoy that status).
It's strange to notice that Khemraj's conversation revolves around Shiv only when he is talking in past tense. When it comes to the present, it's always about Brandon. The club cricketer with a deep knowledge of the game relishes talking about the days of grooming his son and the 'work in progress' grandson. Ask him if Shiv, who spends most of his time in Miami with his second wife, happens to drop in at Unity Village often and a monosyllabic "sometimes" barely escapes from his mouth.
He soon switches to the early chapter of the story, one about a young boy with prodigious cricketing talent. He also loved to accompany his father to sea in his free time. But those were rare instances. Unity Village was more familiar with the sight of father and son moving towards a cricket field, not to a fishing trawler. An abandoned building close by worked as indoor nets.
"I used to throw the ball at him for batting practice, but the concrete walls took a big toll on the balls. In those days the balls were not just expensive, but also difficult to obtain," says Khemraj. The sight of a box full of balls of different colours and variety lying close to where Brandon is batting highlights the financial change that has occurred.
Shiv's stance as the junior cricketer wasn't so prominently square on, according to Khemraj, but that was something he developed over the years. Brandon's diagonally split legs, however, when facing the underarm bowling in his courtyard makes the question 'who is he imitating' quite irrelevant.
"When he was very young, Shiv asked him to switch to batting left-handed, and I saw to it that Brandon can throw with both his arms," says Khemraj. Suddenly, one ends up gazing at the bony youngster, hoping to catch some deep insight into the rather ordinary looking expansive drive with the optimism of being one among the first few to spot the future ambidextrous prodigy so early. It is tough to decide if it is the loving grandfather talking, or a coach with a sharp eye, when Khemraj relates how Brandon recently scored a brilliant 60 against a second division team.
Khemraj adds: "He is better than what Shiv was at this age." If it's the coach talking, a trip down memory lane at Unity Village is a sure to come when Brandon makes it big. Besides, West Indies cricket would have a lot to look forward to. Shiv's rise from a promising cricketer to an international star was the fastest Khemraj said he was aware of.
Switching to flashback, he said "I used to take Shiv along to watch big cricket matches in Georgetown. I once saw that Indian leggie Chandrasekhar who was here for a club game," he says.
In one club game, featuring West Indian captain Carl Hooper, the father advised his son to watch closely. "I told him try to play like these players. They have international class," he recalls. It seems Shiv apparently kept his eyes wide open, soaking up everything he saw. In a few years he was rubbing shoulders with Hooper and would even be involved in a record-breaking stand with him in a Test match.
By now Brandon has put down the bat and is beside his grandfather. The boy hasn't spoken a word since this unplanned visit. Very typical of his age, he stares at his feet whenever his name gets mentioned, but is wide-eyed when talk drifts to his father.
As one leaves and takes a final glance at the Chanderpaul home, the sight of two bare-chested figures in shorts only, separated by a generation and the nylon net in the background, plays tricks with the mind. They seem to be just fisher folk ready to start their day's work, until one remembers that the nylon net is no longer used for fishing but for batting practice. And the man who converted the nets to more profitable use isn't there in the frame.