By Sam Sooppersaud
On Sunday, September 21, 2014, relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, turned out in the hundreds at Idlewild Cricket Complex, Rosedale, Queens, New York, to join in the Celebration of the Life of Jimmy Maharaj, and take in a cricket match played in his memory. The previous night God blessed the proceedings by sending down a few rain showers. (You know what they say, that blessings come from above). The rain did not dampen the field of play, just livened it, so play went on without any problem.
The planning committee for the occasion, headed by Shadi Khan, a lifelong friend of Jimmy’s, had been planning the event for months. Printed T-shirts with Jimmy’s photo on the left chest were distributed by the organizers and worn by the players who participated in the game, as well as family members and friends. The extra T-shirts were given out to spectators. Numerous fans were seen sporting the smart white shirts with the very vibrant smiling Jimmy on the left side of the chest. A white tent was erected. And served as the location for “tons and tons” of goodies and food dishes; fried rice, chow mein, fried chicken, curried chicken, dholl puri, fruit salad. In the drinks department, nearly everyone’s choice of beverage was provided. There was an abundance of eatables to keep the “non-stop” eater busy for the whole day.
Jimmy’s lovely wife Asha and their children took part in the day’s affair, courageously smiling, but under the smiles you could see the emotional hurt. They were very gracious to all, mingling and conversing with fans, cricketers, and friends. Jimmy’s spirit was alive on this day. This is the way he would have wanted it, had he been with us physically at the ground. He was always one to “move around” and meet the folks. Talking with that welcoming smile etched on his face. He talked to strangers and friends alike, in the same manner, as if he knew everyone for the “past one hundred” years.
Who was Jimmy Maharaj? If you don’t know who Jimmy was, then you probably arrived in the City last night. Maybe you’ve never gone out to a cricket field where he once enjoyed his game, or maybe you’ve never gone to Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, New York where Jimmy was a very visible personality, and who was loved and respected, whether he was at cricket or attending to one of his many businesses. He elevated himself socially and economically, but maintained his very gregarious personality, always seen talking and laughing with the folks around him.
Jimmy Maharaj and his “buddy’ friend Shadi Khan, left their homeland Trinidad, when both were still teenagers. It is a great testament to the word “FRIENDSHIP” that they remained close friends up to the end of Jimmy’s life. Like many at that time they came to the USA to “live the American dream”. They both worked hard towards obtaining that dream. I am happy to say that both realized their dreams. Due to their hard work, success came their way. Both were in business. The Maharaj family and Shadi still attend to their many business concerns today.
Jimmy did not sit back and isolate himself while enjoying his success. He spread his resources around the game of cricket, which he loved “like life itself.” He was always spending his money sponsoring cricket tours, paying for this, and paying for that. If there were something missing that would benefit the game because of the lack of funds, Jimmy would see to it that the problem was solved. His pockets were never zipped. His wallet was never closed. His heart was always open.
During the day’s event at Idlewild Park, numerous folks gave their recollection of Jimmy’s life:
Dr. Sham Ali said of Jimmy: “Cricket is flooded with characters of all genres, and for the greater part those characters contributed uniquely to the novelties of the game. Jimmy was one of those characters, which you loved to hate on the cricket field, but loved to have as a friend. A perfect match for him was opening the batting and getting a few runs, that include one maximum, then opening the bowling and completing his spell, and thereafter having the substitute player field for him, while he engaged the opposition from the sidelines…”
Shadi Khan: “It is with honor today, that we celebrate the life of Jimmy. Our friendship rolled back to the years when we were young boys in short pants playing cricket, the game we loved, on the streets of St. Helena, Trinidad. Today we remember Jimmy for all the joys, and at times, headaches that he brought to the cricket field, his numerous contributions to the development of cricket in the US and Trinidad, and his undying love and passion for the game. He will forever remain in our memories. May his soul rest in peace.
Sheldon Gomes: “Jimmy was a funny guy. He always made you laugh. He was never one to stay quiet. We had good times with Simms (cricket club). I remember a time we were in Staten Island. Austin Hutchinson told me that if Jimmy did not bat at number 11, then he has to open the batting. As the captain, I put Jimmy to open the batting and he made a century. From then on, he never let me forget it. He wanted to open batting all the time. It was fun knowing him.”
Krish Prasad: “One time we arranged to make a cricket tour to California. We did not have enough funds to take a full side. So Jimmy told me that we should take ten players. I reminded him that we would not have a full side. He replied, “Yes, I would be the 11th man.” He had a way of putting things that make sense.”
Austin Hutchinson: “Jimmy was always doing something for cricket. He was a first Vice President of USACA. He was Manager of the Regional cricket team. He went about his tasks seriously. Boy, it was great to know him and play cricket with him.”
Sandy Maharaj recalled: “I have memories of us getting up Sunday mornings and preparing to go to the cricket park with Dad. We spent many weekends at different parks, but it was fun. My Dad loved the game and we, kids at the time, loved every moment of it. My Mom wants to thank everyone here who came out for this game. He loved his friends and his cricket. Thank you, so much.”
Shadi Khan then presented Jimmy’s widow a portrait-sized photograph of her husband, signed by all the players, friends, acquaintances, and well-wishers. A bouquet of flowers enhanced the occasion.
Hey, for a moment I forgot that I am reporting on a cricket game also. So back to the game. It was fun. The game was played in a spirit of fun and togetherness. Even some fans were invited to put on the pads and take a knock. A few bowled an over or two. This was characteristic of Jimmy’s life, open spirited and accommodating. The Sheldon Gomes X1 took first strike and made 130 runs in 20 overs. The Shadi Khan X1 batted out the full 20 overs.
Umpires Steve Kalloo and Pandit Dill Jankie did a good job of officiating. However, they showed good leniency in rendering their decisions. This all added to the success of the day’s proceedings. I must point out that the umpires left their other umpiring duties to officiate in this game. Our thanks to them.
You couldn’t have asked for a better script for the ending of this saga (game). With two overs to go 12 runs were needed for victory. Skipper Shadi Khan invited Sunil to bowl the penultimate over. No, not that Sunil! Sunil Maharaj. However, he bowled a Sunil Narine kind of over, allowing only five runs. Seven runs were then needed in six balls. It came down to the final ball with four runs needed for victory. Eight fieldsmen were sweeping around the boundary ropes. (Only five fieldsmen are normally allowed out of the circle). The umpires were smiling and took no action. It was a good gesture on the part of the umpires. The ball was hit to long off and the batsmen scampered for two runs. Game over, Gomes X1 won the game. Wrong. The Umpires consulted and decided that the last ball was a no-ball. As a result one run was added to the score. The game was then tied. Complicated? Jimmy would have found an answer to all of this.
The last ball now had to be re-bowled because of the no-ball. Nah… Let’s put it off. It would be bowled next year, when we would once again play the Jimmy Maharaj Memorial Game.