Douglas Adams © Getty Images
Douglas Adams © Getty Images

May 25, of course, is Towel Day — in memory of the man who told us The Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. An awestruck fanboy Abhishek Mukherjee pays homage to the inimitable Douglas Adams — a man who combined cricket and science fiction to an almost ridiculous extent in one of the most outrageous books of all time.

Douglas Adams was seriously tall. I mean, he wasn’t really as tall as Mohammad Irfan, hence his height remains his second-most talked about feature. However, it should not be forgotten that he was six feet tall at the age of 12, and the astonishing vertical growth stopped only after he reached 6’5″. He was so tall that his form-master apparently asked everyone to ‘meet under Adams’ instead of the mundane ‘meet under the War Memorial’ or ‘meet under the Clock Tower’.

He also loved the rhinoceros to the extent that he had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a rhinoceros suit. He also loved gorillas, but the idea of mountaineering in a gorilla suit perhaps did not appeal to him as much. This was probably due to the fact that gorillas are remotely connected to our ancestors, and as we all know, humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner.

Meiosis and birth; or rather, the other way round

Adams was born on March 11, 1952 in Cambridge. As if to celebrate his birth, Fred Trueman and mates toyed with the Indian batting line-up in the same way that ostriches don’t; Vinoo Mankad was pulled out of Haslingden to play at Lord’s the Mecca of cricket which would go on to feature in Adams’ work. This paragraph is not about that, though.

This paragraph isn’t about it, either. It’s too short a paragraph to contain something so important.

When Douglas Noel Adams turned one, and was probably trying to take a cat apart to see how it works (the obvious first outcome of which is a non-working cat), James Dewey Watson and Francis Harry Compton Crick discovered the double helix structure of Deoxyribonucleic Acid at Cambridge University. The acid went by the rather cool acronym of DNA, leading our hero to emphasise that he was ‘the DNA in Cambridge months earlier’.

1974: The summer that changed everything

We all remember 1974, don’t we? I know it was seriously long back. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. In addition to that, people possibly still thought that digital watches were neat.

Something of serious importance happened in 1974 as well. India were bowled out for 42 at Lord’s (see the way cricket, India, and Lord’s keep coming back?). He never forgot the incident. Lord’s, along with 42, probably continued to haunt him — and he was smart enough to realise that he could not get rid of the impact just with potatoes.

So, in 1979 (which was when India toured England next, and Dilip Vengsarkar scored his first Lord’s hundred), five years after ‘The Summer of 42’, 42 happened. Mankind got to know The Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything —a fact that even Google acknowledges (see image below) till today.

When questioned on the choice of the number, Adams politely responded that it was “a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also six and seven. In fact it’s the sort of number that you could, without any fear, introduce to your parents.”

Screengrab of Google's homage to Douglas Adams and 42
Screengrab of Google’s homage to Douglas Adams and 42

Krikkit

Life, The Universe, and Everything came out in 1982 (are you surprised that it had to coincide with India’s next England trip, and Vengsarkar’s second century at, er, Lord’s?). This is the paragraph which will act as the prelude to the one where Lord’s is about to come into play.

It features the Krikkit Wars, and how “the night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the entire Universe.” And then, there were the dazzling spectacle: “The three pillars stood out clearly now, three pillars topped with two cross-pieces in a way which looked stupefyingly familiar to Arthur’s addled brain.”

The Steel Pillar (which the left one, which was ‘clearly made of steel or something very like it’), obviously, represented the Strength and Power. The Perspex Pillar (‘the right-hand, transparent pillar creating dazzling patterns within it and a sudden inexplicable craving for ice-cream in the stomach of Arthur Dent’) represented the forces of Science and Reason. The Wooden Pillar (the one at the centre) stood for Nature and Spirituality. Between them, of course, lay the Golden Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace. Together, rather predictably, they formed the Symbol of the Wikkit Gate.

Of course, there is the small bit that Arthur Dent, the protagonist, and his mate Ford Prefect, landed in the middle of the pitch at Lord’s Cricket Ground riding a Chesterfield sofa amidst great cheer during an Ashes Test, with England needing 28 runs to win. As you may have guessed it, this is the long-awaited paragraph.

And then, at the end of the book Dent does what every sensible man is supposed to do when he finds a ball in his bag, and realises that he is on the turf of Lord’s. The book also features the Ashes one of the only two components of the Wikkit Gate not destroyed by the robots.

There is more, but this is not the place for that.

Possibly the most topsy-turvy ride in a book involving cricket. Or Krikkit. Ever.

Legacy

Douglas Adams passed away at an age of 49. Or rather, blackness swam toward him like a school of eels who have just seen something that eels like a lot. Or maybe death just received him in a loose and distant kind of way, like an aunt who disapproves of the last fifteen years of your life and will therefore furnish you with a basic sherry, but refuses to catch your eye. Or maybe he heard the announcement “This is flight 121 to Los Angeles. If your travel plans today do not include Los Angeles, now would be a perfect time to disembark,” and disembarked from life. Or maybe he died, just like that.

His memorial service (where they possibly thanked him for all the fish), held on September 17, 2001, was the first church service broadcast live on the web by BBC. Of course, just like all of us, Adams felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it. And now that the world was Adams-free, Ajit Agarkar scored a hundred the very next year at Lord’s.

He would not have thought very highly of the IPL, I guess. He would probably have considered it as something similar to “introducing Al Capone, Genghis Khan and Rupert Murdoch into the Isle of Wight the locals wouldn’t stand a chance”, or in other words, a force created to destroy the happy residents of the sport. Neither did he like the fact that we make our own lives miserable for “small green bits of paper that aren’t really unhappy themselves”.

Even then, amidst all the match-fixing and other horrors that try to overcome the spirit of cricket (or even Krikkit), we still know that the sport is, well, mostly harmless. The road ahead can be hazardous, but I guess it will always allow us enough time and opportunity to remember to bring a towel with us. Any towel.

Happy Towel Day, everyone. Do remember the golden words: Don’t Panic.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)