The featured tellers at Jabberwocky, a monthly free event co-sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana and IndyFringe, are usually not professional storytellers or even polished public speakers of any kind. The organizers invite them because they are interesting people doing interesting things locally and because they fit the month's theme. The invitation is to briefly tell their own, personal stories about how they got involved in whatever they are known for around Indianapolis.
It's storytelling, so the tellers are not supposed to read aloud or recite a memorized piece of writing. Nor is Jabberwocky meant to be a therapy session. The speakers are supposed to think about what they're going to say ahead of time so that their tales are at least somewhat crafted, but the idea is not to showcase storytelling as an art form but as a tool for building community.
I haven't been to every Jabberwocky over the years but the ones I've been to have all been informative, illuminating and fun. I was lucky enough to be at the first Jabberwocky back in 2010, where each of the featured speakers was a professional writer. Each shared his or her personal experience related to the theme of "Writer's Block."
You can go to Storytelling Arts of Indiana's YouTube channel and watch snippets of several Jabberwocky speakers, including one of NUVO's managing editor, Ed Wenck. There is a rich variety! Jabberwocky is sort of like The Moth, a storytelling series that also features non-professionals. But it's specific to Indianapolis and often subtly celebrates unique features of our city. It is unlike any other spoken word event I've ever been to. (And I've been to a lot!)
I'm writing in detail about this month's Jabberwocky because it was an especially fascinating evening, filled with both information and ideas that were new to me and stories of being human that touched my heart.
A play-by-play recap
The doors of IndyFringe Basile Theatre open for refreshments at 5:30 p.m. and the storytelling starts at 6 p.m. After the three or four featured storytellers, there is usually an "open microphone" time where anyone can stand up and share a 3-minute story as long as it is somewhat related to the night's theme.
The theme was "Cricket." The three featured speakers included men that had played cricket professionally in India and at the international level before moving to Indianapolis for jobs and/or family several years ago. Later, during the open microphone time, four ordinary people shared a bit about their cricket-related experiences, which gave the evening some unexpected layers.
Samantha Cross was the master of ceremonies. Everyone laughed when she said that Chad the bartender had asked her, "This is the game they play on horses, right?" But I confess that I had confused cricket with polo, too.
Jatin Patel: Cricket as religion
The first speaker, Jatin ("just call me Jay") Patel, told us that cricket is "a bat and ball game." He held up some of the equipment that was resting on the Indy Fringe stage behind him. "You hit the ball with this flat bat and score runs. The team with the most runs wins.
"There are only two basic strokes: like in baseball" - he swung the cricket bat parallel to the ground from his shoulder - "and like in golf" - he swung from the side as if to scoop a ball off the ground into the air. "Everyone (in Indianapolis) knows cricket. They've just never tried it."
He gave us some ballgame history and then some of his own: In 1986, after playing professional cricket "at the highest level," he moved per his wife's request to Indianapolis from India, where "cricket is the most popular sport. It is the second most popular sport in the whole world behind soccer." In 1986 there were no cell phones, no Internet, and no news of cricket on any radio or TV in Indiana. He put a huge satellite dish on his home so he could get some news.
He also played cricket in the USA's major league, which gave him the opportunity to fly to cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago - cities with lots of immigrants that loved cricket as much as he did. He also played for an Indianapolis-based cricket team and helped them win some championships.
Eventually he retired as a player and began coaching youth. He is the founder and president of Indiana Youth Cricket and active in a number of national cricket organizations. He recently was named the director of the American Cricket Federation's new program to train and certify coaches.
"I'd love to see the kids playing here in schools and colleges. The city of Indianapolis is changing. We can try something new. (Cricket helps you) stay healthy, learn teamwork, and appreciate different cultures. In India we have many religions but cricket (is the one that unites us.)"
Sometimes it has been a challenge to find a good place to play or even practice. He has borrowed tennis courts and racquetball courts, but neither is ideal.
"We call cricket a religion," he said again."Once you get a field, you've got a place of worship and then the cricket pilgrims begin to come."
Prasenjit Singh: The silly point
The second speaker, Prasenjit Singh, is 30 years old. He told us that the best professional cricket players, like soccer players, train from childhood.
"Imagine a 3-year-old boy waiting on the veranda for his father to come home. I was that boy and my father brought me a cricket bat." Later, as Prasenjit grew and began playing on official teams instead of just on the street, his father would ask him, "How bad do you want it? Are you willing to sacrifice?" Prasenjit wanted it very badly, badly enough to go to practice even when he was tired or sick.
Competition was fierce and there was not a lot of financial support for a career as a cricketer. "My father's salary was $15 a month when he bought me that bat. For a while life was like a caterpillar walk: you go along and you go along and you think, 'I'm about to die,' but then suddenly you become a butterfly." Prasenjit got to play for a state team in India and then, in 1999, he was selected to play for an international team. He was 17 years old when he left for London.
He played professional cricket from 1996-2002. In 2009, "I got the opportunity to come to the United States as part of a business intelligence project." He also started playing for the Cricket Club of Indianapolis. Last year he helped them get to the Midwest finals - a great feat for a club that has existed for less than five years.
"Cricket taught me two things," Prasenjit joked. He pointed in front of him: when you are batting, there is a man from the other team close on either side, slightly in front of you. The one to your right is called the "silly point." Prasenjit learned how to improve his arguing ability from arguing with the silly point men that tried to distract him.
More seriously, cricket also taught him to be fit, not only to play the game, which traditionally lasts five days, but also because "you have to carry your own kit" and in India, anyways, you carry it while riding your bike to practice. Very few families have a car for each person.
Prasenjit introduced his mother, who was in the Indy Fringe audience after getting on a plane for the first time in her life. Prasenjit teared up trying to express his gratitude for her love, support, and teaching.
When he could speak again, he echoed Jatin by saying, "Cricket is a religion to us. It does not need a common language, color, or size. It is about giving your all. If you start the game, you have to finish it."
Before Samantha introduced the final featured speaker, she called Pauline Moffat, executive director for the Indy Fringe, to the microphone because, she said, she wanted to hear a female voice and because Pauline is from Australia and Samantha wanted to ask her some questions about how the sport is viewed in that country.
"Did you play cricket, growing up in Australia?" Samantha asked.
Pauline laughed. "I had three brothers always looking for someone to play, so yeah, I played. We played it everywhere - on beaches, in the street, in the back yard. It's part of growing up in Australia, playing sport, and cricket is a favorite.
"I also...I'd forgotten until I looked at a yearbook recently, but I was sent off to boarding school because I was bad, and I was on the cricket team there, too.
Pauline reminisced a bit more: "On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, everyone is feeling lethargic but it's also the day cricket starts, so you lie around on the sofa watching it on telly and waking up to cheer whenever someone scores...Cricket players are national heroes in Australia."
Samantha asked her about cricket in Indianapolis and Pauline spoke quietly for a moment of her admiration for Mayor Ballard's wanting to support cricket here. "He's embracing everyone that lives here (all nationalities.) We like to play cricket. Everyone can play this game, even tiny children...It's about community."
Raju Chinthala: Teamwork, leadership, discipline
The third official speaker for the evening was Raju Chinthala. I first heard him speak at the March Jabberwocky when the theme was "Sister Cities." He is president of the Indianapolis Hyderabad Sister City Committee. It was his idea to have a Jabberwocky devoted to cricket stories. I don't think he has ever played the game professionally but he loves what it teaches: "Teamwork, leadership, fitness, and discipline."
Raju, too, praised Mayor Ballard for the new cricket place that is being developed on the east side of Indy. I use the generic word "place" because Raju said, "It is not a stadium. People in the media have been calling it a stadium but it is not a stadium, it is a field. And it is not just for cricket. It will also be used for rugby, field hockey, and lacrosse. It will have banquet places, too. It will attract employees to Indianapolis."
A native Hoosier at my table, Mike Kirkmeyer, told me later that he is looking forward to the cricket tournament that is scheduled at the new place for this August simply because he enjoys going to all kinds of sporting events. "I think it's great!" he said.
When Samantha opened the microphone to anyone that wanted to share a 3-5-minute, cricket-related story, three people raised their hands.
Open mic: An old cricketeer
The first was Taylor Martin. He called his story, "Everything I Know About Cricket I Learned From Led Zeppelin." Taylor currently earns his living as a performer and producer of "Indy Magic Monthly" - a recurring show at Theatre on the Square that showcases a variety of local and nationally-known magicians. However, years ago he was the host of a talk-and-music radio show. A record by someone named Roy Harper came across his desk. On it was a track called "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease."
Taylor had brought a recording of that song on a flash drive and asked Indy Fringe technical director Patrick McCarney to cue it up for him ahead of time. We listened to just a bit of it in the middle of Taylor's story but it was a beautiful song about, I think, leaving a legacy. Taylor finished by saying that he'd been thinking a lot lately about what he could give to younger magicians, and hoping they would be kind to him as he tried.
Open mic: Birth of the Ashes
The second open microphone speaker was an Australian man named David Hart. He told me later that he has lived in Indianapolis for the past 13 years, working for a nonprofit.
He told us "The Birth of the Ashes," while holding up a large picture frame that held facsimiles of ancient score sheets and a yellowed newspaper photo of a ceramic urn.
"In 1882, Australia and England played a game of cricket," David told us. The colonists won and a certain Englishwoman was so upset and ashamed that she burnt one of the bales from the cricket field, put the ashes in an urn, and posted in a British newspaper an obituary describing the demise of the English cricket team.
"Now that urn is the trophy they play for. They have played for it every year since 1882," David told us.
He set down the "Ashes" picture and said, "Now I want to tell you why Aussie moms hate cricket. One reason is because backyard cricket breaks windows! The other reason... "
David turned and picked up the red cricket ball from the equipment pile on the stage. He held it with two fingers over the top and rubbed it against his hip. "If you're a bowler" (the person that would be called the pitcher in baseball, I think) "you spend an entire day rubbing a red ball against your white trousers trying to get a good spin on it."
We all laughed, imagining the laundry nightmare that rubbing would produce.
"Now I want to tell you why I don't like cricket," David said. Several of us non-jocks laughed in sympathy when he said simply, "I wasn't good at it."
He said that playing cricket was compulsory in school. If you weren't good at it, you wanted to be on the batting team and get your turn over early so that you could sit off to the side and read a book. Or, "if you were more advanced, talk to your girlfriend." David said he mostly read.
I think, though, that someone that has a framed homage to "The Ashes" and who admires the skill needed to play a game that traditionally lasts five days, must like that game at least a little bit. David told me later that the field changes dramatically over five days. At first, the grass is tall and slippery. Later, the grass has all worn away and the ground is worn rough. "You have to be able to play well in all conditions."
David also told me that to truly appreciate cricket, you have to have grown up in the culture.
"What do you think about Indianapolis getting into cricket, then?" I asked.
"Very brave. I'm not sure people will take to it right away." He did add that making the games shorter - three days, one day, or even just three hours - in other words, "Americanizing" it - is making it easier for Americans to embrace the game. "But cricket purists don't like it."
Open mic: Million Dollar Arm
Steve Teagarden was the last person to stand up for the open microphone. He just wanted to say that he had previewed a new movie called "Million Dollar Arm" and highly recommended it. It is about an American who goes to India to cull baseball players from their amateur cricket teams, and the culture shock that that those boys experience when they come to America.
I'd like to see that movie, but even more I would like to see at least one game of cricket in the new place in Indianapolis.