"Ready?" shouts Kabita Sah, one hand on her hips and the other casually tossing a lime green tennis ball in the air. There is an answering nod from the other side and Kabita gets into position. Taking a few steps backwards, she makes a running start along the dusty path and sends the ball rocketing over her head in a perfect bowl. It bounces once on the hard ground, finds a snag and careens wildly, flying over the head of the batter. "No ball," shouts Ramesh RC.
Every evening, on this small stretch of dusty path in the alleyways of Dhumbarahi, local boys and a few girls gather to play cricket, football and sometimes, marbles.
"If one of us has a bat or a ball, then we play cricket. If there is only a ball, then it's football," says Kabita,12, who bowls and bats like a pro. Kabita started playing because of her brother. An avid cricket fan, he would gather his friends in the empty lots behind buildings and construction sites to play with a tennis ball and a piece of wood. "At least we have a bat now," says Kabita, before turning back to her bowling duties.
With few parks, playgrounds or public spaces, the alleyways and empty lots of Kathmandu have become a sportsground for its children. Between the end of school and nightfall, the city kids congregate with tattered footballs, worn tennis balls and whatever else they can find.
Usually, the one who brings the ball gets to make the rules. In this evening's cricket match at Dhumbarahi, a fly ball over a nearby wall is a six, if it touches the back wall then it's one run and if it hits or breaks a window, you're out. Street football, too, has some rules of its own. The goal is small, usually just two bricks about five paces apart. The ball has to roll through the posts, it can't fly over. That is a "high goal" and doesn't count.
A few kids even play golf, after acquiring a golf ball from somewhere. As children do, they improvise: a few holes in the ground, a hefty L-shaped pipe and they're teeing off. They don't know golf rules, except that the ball needs to go into the hole and whoever does it with the least number of strikes wins.
In the outskirts of the Valley, five children looked like they were wrestling in the middle of a field. On closer inspection, it turned out they were in a scrum over an oval rugby ball. "I've seen this on tv," says Nirmal Pandey, 13. "Your team has to get the ball to the other side, and the other team tries to stop you."
They have no proper equipment or sports fields, and sometimes don't even know the rules, but Kathmandu's youngsters put boundless energy into their hotly-contested, makeshift games. A long boring day at school is relieved by a tussle in the grass, a sprint for the crease or a slide for the ball. Playing on concrete and litter-strewn surfaces means there are often injuries and often tears, but grazed knees are usually quickly forgotten to return to the game, until it's dark and their parents call them home.
Pranaya SJB Rana
PICS:SAM KANG LI