When 20-year-old Ankit Keshri died after an on-field accident, it was the end of an Indian dream
On the morning of Friday, April 17, Ankit Keshri freshened up and waited for breakfast. Usually his sister-in-law, Sunita, served it to him. She was busy that day, so his mother, Nirmala, gave Ankit his first meal of the day. It was paratha and aloo sabzi.
After breakfast Ankit, 20, an upcoming batsman from Kolkata, left the house. Before leaving, he told his mother he would call her later in the afternoon. It would be the last time his family saw him at home.
At 1.20 that afternoon Nirmala received a call. It was not Ankit. It was a team-mate, who informed her that Ankit was injured and had been admitted to a hospital.
Ankit's match that day was at the Jadavpur University Campus ground, where his club, East Bengal, was playing Bhowanipore in a quarter-final of the Division One Knockout one-day tournament organised by the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). It was an important match and Ankit was eager to play, but he was left out of the XI. Bhowanipore elected to bat.
A left-arm fast bowler called Sourav Mondal bowled the penultimate over of the innings, the 44th. Ankit had just come on to the field. He was substituting for offspinner Arnab Nandi, a first-class player for Railways, who had finished his quota of overs and gone off due to a mild ankle injury. Following the coach's instructions, Mondal positioned all nine fielders in the deep.
Mondal's knee had rammed into Ankit's head and neck. As Mondal went down, wincing in pain, Ankit lay flat. Blood trickled from his mouth
The third ball of Mondal's over, Bhowanipore batsman Writtick Chatterjee tried to loft over cover. He mistimed the shot but hit it high enough for Mondal to charge towards cover to attempt a catch.
"I tried to reach for the ball by stretching my left hand," Mondal told the Cricket Monthly. As the ball landed in his hand he felt someone crash into him. The impact of the collision pushed Mondal back four or five feet. Ankit had slammed into him. As he tried to get up, Mondal felt pain in his thigh and his left shoulder. When he turned around he saw that Ankit was not moving. "I was petrified," he remembers.
According to former Bengal cricketer Shibsagar Singh, fielding at deep cover, Mondal's knee had rammed into Ankit's head and neck. As Mondal went down, wincing in pain, Ankit lay flat. Blood trickled from his mouth.
Ankit was not breathing. Anustup Majumdar, also a first-class cricketer, gave him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then Shibsagar gave him mouth-to-mouth, after which Ankit began to breathe. He was then rushed in an ambulance, which, Mondal and team officials say, was parked at the ground for emergencies arising from the summer heat, to the nearby AMRI hospital.
Raj Kumar and Nirmala Keshri look at childhood photographs of their son
© Swastik Pal
Raj Kumar and Nirmala Keshri look at childhood photographs of their son © Swastik Pal
From Friday afternoon for over two days Ankit was at AMRI. On Sunday night he was moved to Nightingale Hospital on Shakespeare Sarani in central Kolkata. On Monday morning at 5am, the family received a call from Nightingale saying Ankit had suffered a heart attack. An hour later the family was at the hospital. Ankit was put on a ventilator. At 8.20am he was declared dead.
It is the morning of the IPL final on May 24, and Raj Kumar, Ankit's father, is in his two-storey house in Bansdroni, a suburb in South Kolkata. Three families live here: Raj Kumar's on the ground floor, his two brothers' in flats on the first floor. Just over a month after Ankit's death, the Keshris are still reeling from the shock and pain, trying hard to find answers to many questions.
It is a difficult first few minutes. Raj Kumar, wearing a half-sleeved shirt, sits slumped on a plastic chair, hands crossed, head bowed. Deepak, his oldest son, 11 years older than Ankit, walks across to sit atop a handmade mattress mounted on a wooden bed. Head tonsured, in a white singlet and blue shorts, Deepak, his face gaunt, stares hard. His three-year-old son Aditya is on the floor beside the bed and his wife Sunita stands by the door separating the living room from the kitchen.
Sitting across from Raj Kumar is Ankit's mother. She is quiet at the start, even as her husband shakes his head and speaks of his grief in broken sentences. Was she worried after the first phone call about Ankit's injury on Friday afternoon?
"No, I was not really worried," Nirmala says. "I just thought it must be an injury picked up while playing. I did not know it would be such a big injury."
On meeting Ankit, Nirmala was concerned. "When I asked him, 'How are you, Ankit?' he clutched my hand and started to kiss it without opening his eyes"
The family reached the hospital at 3pm that afternoon. "When we went, he was lying unconscious," Nirmala says. "One of the officials tapped him lightly on his shoulder and Ankit opened his eyes and then closed them. The official said it was a minor injury. We just thought better not to disturb him. The club told us, 'You do not need to worry at all. We will take care of all the expenses. He is our kid too. You don't worry. We will make sure the right care is given.'"
The next morning, Saturday, Ankit looked in good spirits. "He spoke to everyone, ate well," Raj Kumar says. "He said in English that he had had breakfast and juice and some medicine," Nirmala says. She remembers him saying there was no pain, and laughing.
Relieved, that night the family had their first proper meal in two days. But Nirmala remained disturbed. She says she stayed awake that night even as the rest of her family slept.
On Sunday morning, the East Bengal Cricket secretary, Sadanand Mukherjee, told Raj Kumar that Ankit was fine; the doctors had told him Ankit would be shifted out of the ICU to bed No. 516 of the general ward. Sunita recollects a call from the hospital telling them something similar.
The family reached AMRI at about four on Sunday afternoon. They went straight to the general ward, but there was no Ankit Keshri in bed No. 516. Ankit was still in the ICU. Confused, the Keshris spoke to Mukherjee. "He went upstairs and returned an hour later saying Ankit had got fever, so the doctors wanted him to stay in the ICU," Raj Kumar says.
On meeting Ankit, Nirmala was concerned. "When I asked him, 'How are you, Ankit?' he immediately clutched my hand and started to kiss it without opening his eyes. He asked me to touch his forehead. Something was not right."
Arijit Majumdar (right): Ankit's mentor and coach
© Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
Arijit Majumdar (right): Ankit's mentor and coach © Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
Later that day club officials informed them that Ankit was to be shifted to another hospital. The family was annoyed and worried on hearing this. "They [East Bengal officials] told us AMRI was charging them a lot of money," Nirmala says. "We told them, anywhere he goes, our child needs to become better soon." The club officials assured them that things were under control. The CAB had a tie-up with Nightingale Hospital.
The transfer to Nightingale was not easy. Ankit was just under six feet tall and Nirmala remembers how his feet were resting on her lap because the stretcher was small. The ambulance, the Keshris say, was ill-equipped, lacking even an oxygen tank.
Raj Kumar holds Mukherjee responsible for the transfer. "We were always told [by East Bengal officials] that Ankit is in normal condition. But we did not know exactly what was the case. We were kept in the dark by him."
In phone conversations with the Cricket Monthly, Mukherjee was evasive. He declined to talk in detail about the sequence of events, or about the reason for moving Ankit from AMRI to Nightingale. "What can I say? It was an unfortunate incident that happened. I can't say anything more."
Raj Kumar Keshri was born in Kolkata. His family migrated from Dhangaon, near Patna, Bihar in the mid-1930s. Ramkishan Shaw, Raj Kumar's grandfather, set up a paan shop and a tea stall in the Bhowanipore locality. Raj Kumar continued running the shops, and expanded the business by selling stationery.
"Open his Facebook page and you will find him say my first guru was my papa" Raj Kumar Keshri
He was passionate about cricket and wanted to play the game seriously. After his father's death, however, he focused on supporting the family. "Umar mera nikal gaya [My playing years went by]," he says. Raj Kumar is 61, short, frail, bespectacled, and speaks softly.
In 1999, a motorbike ran him over and broke his right leg; for two years he was virtually immobile. At the time the Keshris were living in a two-room house rented from a relative. One day a bored Raj Kumar asked his five-year-old son to bat in the empty space outside the house after he returned from school. He had placed a wooden box as a wicket, and Ankit happily swung his bat at the plastic ball. Raj Kumar began to acquaint his son with basic footwork, grip and technique.
When Ankit was eight, Raj Kumar sent him to the Pankaj Gupta cricket academy, which stood opposite Eden Gardens. Although Ankit would have different coaches as he grew older, Raj Kumar was his first. "Open his Facebook page and you will find him say my first guru was my papa," Raj Kumar says with pride.
Bulan Cricket & Football Academy is one of at least a dozen sporting academies dotting the sprawling Vivekananda Park in South Kolkata. The academy's office, a small room with a corrugated iron roof, is adorned with photographs. Some pictures show the academy's age-group teams posing with trophies. Three photographs are of individuals: Swami Vivekananda; Bulan Mukherjee, the late founder-coach of the academy; and Ankit Keshri.
Arijit Majumdar, Bulan's head coach, first watched Ankit bat when the boy was 14. At the time, Ankit was playing for Star Sporting Club in the second division of the CAB League. Majumdar was coaching at Bulan but was still an active player, a wicketkeeper-batsman for the first-division club Belgachia United.
Diary of a cricketer: Ankit took notes on ways to improve his game
© Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
Diary of a cricketer: Ankit took notes on ways to improve his game © Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
"I had begun my career at Star Sporting, and I used to go and watch their matches when I got the time," Majumdar says. "I saw, batting at No. 8, a small boy. They said he is a legspinner. It was an 85-over match. At that time in the second division the system was, you have to take ten wickets to win, or else it becomes a draw. The balls outside off stump, he wasn't playing at all. Whatever he was playing, he was playing with a straight bat, showing the full face. I asked him why he was leaving everything. He said he didn't want to get out. It really impressed me that he understood the cost of his wicket."
Majumdar took Ankit under his wing, and in time converted him into an opening batsman. He also facilitated Ankit's climb up the club cricket ladder. He gave him his first opportunity in the first division, at Belgachia United, and then convinced Pranab Nandy, the East Bengal coach, to sign up Ankit for the 2014-15 season.
Nineteen days after Ankit's death, when the Cricket Monthly met Majumdar, he was yet to resume duties at the three clubs he coached at.
"I can't believe he isn't here any more," he says. "I won't call him my student. Mera ladka jaisa tha [He was like my son]."
Ankit was part of a small group of players who were particularly close to Majumdar. They watched movies with their coach, went on end-of-season trips with him, and surprised him by decorating his house on his birthday. During the season Ankit would meet Majumdar every day, or call him if he was on the road with Bengal's age-group teams. Whatever they spoke about, Ankit would write it down in a notebook.
"I have this diary, so I can track the boy's mentality, his mind, so I can talk to him, figure out his temperament," Majumdar says. He opens Ankit's diary. The cover says 2007, but everything in it is from the 2014-15 season - skill and fitness training schedules, mental and technical points, analysis of innings played, future goals.
Ankit would tell Majumdar, "Why are you worried, I will play big cricket. I will play for India"
In an entry titled "Points to bat in Green Top", Ankit reminds himself: "Bend ur knee a bit while playing the ball pitching on stump on front foot."
In another entry, "My New Goal", he tells himself: "Whether I am performing or not I will keep my focus on improving my mental and physical skill of cricket."
Coaches and team-mates speak of Ankit as a cricketer obsessed with improving his game, and with facing throwdowns. "One more thing. if u think that u are playing a shot at ur best then also keep practicing that stroke."
Ankit had the confidence to go with the hard work. Majumdar says he would say, "Why are you worried, I will play big cricket. I will play for India."
"For a player, self-belief is very important," Majumdar says. "It isn't enough if you or I tell him. He had that belief that he could do it."
Ankit's progress through the junior ranks justified that belief. He first played for the Bengal Under-19 team in the 2011-12 season, and made centuries in three successive innings in the Cooch Behar Trophy. He played for the U-19 team for two more seasons. In 2013-14 he was the captain. In 2014-15, he was part of the Bengal U-23 team.
"We were very much thinking about him in the Bengal team for the Ranji Trophy," says Sambaran Banerjee, a former first-class cricketer who is now a state selector. "May not be this year, maybe two years."
Ankit's trophies and cricket equipment populate a part of his parents' house that has now turned into a shrine for him
© Swastik Pal
Ankit's trophies and cricket equipment populate a part of his parents' house that has now turned into a shrine for him © Swastik Pal
For Majumdar, it was a given that Ankit would play for Bengal sooner or later.
"I used to tell him only one thing. Once you get in, don't come back. Sometimes if you make your debut and don't taste success, you go to the back of the queue and new boys come in. Even if it takes time to get in, you shouldn't worry - but you shouldn't come back once you get in."
Majumdar geared Ankit's training towards this end, so that he wouldn't be troubled by the step up to the first-class level.
"He was a bit tall, so he had a few problems ducking bouncers. If you open in the Ranji Trophy, you will get a lot of bouncers, so we worked a lot on his ducking." They studied a Steve Waugh innings where, despite getting hit by body blows, he ended up making a double-century. "Didn't play the hook even once. I made Ankit watch that."
For the U-19 World Cup in 2014, Ankit was one of the 30 probables, but he didn't make the final squad. He was bitterly disappointed.
"Ankit got run out twice in three trial matches," Majumdar says. "He came back, he was very upset, said my dream is gone. I told him, 'Listen, I'm not sad. Because success won't come just like that, you have to fight for it.' I sat him down, told him to write an essay about his dream, and then we discussed it. All the anxiety in his mind, all the anger, he vented it all out. I asked him, 'Do you think life will always go smooth? When you're batting, does the bowler always keep bowling the same kind of delivery? He bowls bouncers, yorkers, even full tosses. You defend the good balls, take runs off the loose balls. Life is like that. Sometimes you'll get bouncers, you need to duck them.' His anger slowly went away, and he said, 'Chalo, let's go out.' We went and watched a movie."
"We were always told [by East Bengal officials] that Ankit is in normal condition. We were kept in the dark" Raj Kumar Keshri
Another of Ankit's books that Majumdar has with him is a slam book, the kind that gets passed around in classrooms at the end of a school year. Ankit had filled it in on April 23, 2011.
For "Inspiration", he wrote: "My dad and Rahul Dravid", and then, as a hurried afterthought, squeezed in "Bappa da" before them. Bappa is Majumdar's daak naam, pet name. Rahul Dravid is one of Ankit's inspirations, but his "Favourite (Filmstar/Cricketer)" is Sachin Tendulkar.
"Sachin is a natural talent, Rahul Dravid got there by hard work," Majumdar says. "You can follow him, you can't follow Sachin. He had a god-gifted talent. So we used to watch Rahul Dravid, talk about his temperament, his shot selection."
For "Ambition", Ankit wrote: "Want to play Test matches for India."
His game was geared towards the longer format, his biggest strengths the ones Majumdar first spotted when the 14-year-old boy left everything outside off stump. "Grammatical cricket" is what East Bengal coach Nandy terms it.
"He was a genuine opening batsman," Nandy says. "Very good temperament and he can play the shots. But he is very, very keen to play long innings. Whole day he will bat. That's why I had taken him."
This was reflected in Ankit's first season for East Bengal. He sat out all their 45-over and T20 matches, but he was a regular in the two-day, 85-overs-a-side first-division games.
The nets at Bulan Academy, where Ankit trained hard to play long innings and work on his stroke development
© Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
The nets at Bulan Academy, where Ankit trained hard to play long innings and work on his stroke development © Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
Though he wouldn't reveal it in the company of his East Bengal team-mates and coaches, it bothered Ankit that he wasn't being selected in the short-format matches. "In his mind he always had this question, because people would tell him that he's a 'days' player," Majumdar says. "He would ask me, 'Am I only a days player?' I said, 'Look, a good batsman can change his game to suit any format, and it will come with maturity, so don't worry, for now work on your strengths.'
"Towards the end, we were working on stroke development. Because he needed more shots for the one-day and T20 formats. Pranab sir [Nandy] said, 'Bappa, look, if he needs to get to a bigger level… in between he gets a bit stuck. So the two of us talked for two hours, decided that he would start his sessions one hour early so he can practise his lifting shots, or to chip the ball over cover or mid-off."
On January 14 this year, Ankit was dismissed for 88 in a first-division match against Sporting Union Club. Three days later, against Young Bengal Sporting Association, he was out for 88 once again.
Ankit's diary reveals his frustration: "1st 88 runs waala innings I missed 210 runs. 2nd 88 runs wala innings I missed - it could have touched - 240 or 250 runs."
In the match against Young Bengal, Ankit was out trying to force the pace against a spinner. He resolved that it wouldn't happen again.
"If u feeling that u a bit slow to make 200 then don't force it," the diary says. "170 runs is better than 88." And then, once again, as if to fully internalise the lesson: "170 is better than 88."
Majumdar says Ankit had been yearning to score a double-century.
For the Under-19 World Cup in 2014, Ankit was one of the 30 probables, but he didn't make the final squad. He was bitterly disappointed
"There's a bowler by the name Soumya Pakre, a left-arm spinner," Majumdar says. "He scored a century. Ankit read that in the paper and came to me and said, 'If bowlers are getting centuries, then shouldn't batsmen be doing something even bigger?' I said, 'If you don't get a double-century you're not a batsman at all.'"
At the High Court Ground ten days later, East Bengal chased down 421 in 82.1 overs against Dalhousie Athletic Club. Ankit finished on 201 not out.
"The day he scored it, he told me, 'Now I've scored 200, am I a batsman now?' I said, 'Yes, you are, but tell me if you won the game or not?' He said, 'Yeah, we won.'"
"That day he was very happy," Nirmala remembers. "He said on his own, 'Aaj janta hai, Mummy, hum double-century kiye.' He used to say I will go very high in cricket. I will not take a job because I'll get tied down by work. I will play for India. Everyone will see me on TV and then when people see you they will say, 'Look, that is Ankit's mummy, Ankit's papa.' He would say one day he would put us in the media. I never imagined we would be in the media for this reason," she says, holding back tears.
Mondal, the team-mate involved in the collision, was one of those who gave Ankit hours of throwdowns.
"There were days he never used to go back home. He used to practise late and stay back at a friend's house. The guy was dedicated. He had a special talent, a special gift." One of those talents, which Mondal admired as a fast bowler, was Ankit's ability to leave. "He knew which ball to let go."
After the collision with Ankit, Mondal got back on his feet to complete the over. East Bengal won the match and entered the semi-final of the tournament. The coach, Nandy, told him that Ankit was fine and there was no blood clot in his brain, but Mondal remained anxious.
Ankit Keshri's death, unlike Phillip Hughes', was news for only a brief time
© Getty Images
Ankit Keshri's death, unlike Phillip Hughes', was news for only a brief time © Getty Images
According to Mondal, the club had told the players they could not visit Ankit that day as he was in the ICU. For the next two days, Mondal says, he kept checking on Ankit with Nandy and club officials. He was told Ankit was recovering. "In those two days I had come out of a lot of tension."
On Monday morning East Bengal were back at the Jadavpur University Campus ground to play their semi-final. "I was tying my shoelaces. Suddenly one of our support staff broke the news that Ankit is no more," Mondal says. "I was stunned. I completely went blank. I just could not believe what I heard."
In the dressing room, Mondal remembers, Nandy rang the hospital and the family to confirm the news, and then began crying. The match, against Mohun Bagan, was cancelled immediately.
Amid the shock Nandy said something that on any other day would have elicited a hearty laugh. "Sir told me in Bangla, 'Sourav, normally you are slow on the ground, but you had to sprint at your best to kill a guy.' Those words kept ringing in my ears. That eventually I killed a guy."
People tried to console Mondal, but he closed up, retreated into a shell.
Eventually Mondal told Nandy that he had to go and see Ankit "one last time". The coach feared Mondal was not in the right state of mind, but Mondal prevailed and went to the ICU at Nightingale.
"He would say one day he would put us in the media. I never imagined we would be in the media for this reason" Nirmala Keshri
"His mother was lying on the floor and crying helplessly. Ankit's sister-in-law was trying to hold her. Looking at them, I did not have any words to go to them and console them as I could not control my own emotions. I seriously did not have the guts to tell them anything. I kept telling myself what can I possibly go and tell her and console her."
On seeing the body, Mondal felt that Ankit "looked like he was sleeping"; he broke down and was ushered out by his team-mates.
He then shut himself off. He knew the media was hungry to talk to him. "I had nothing to say to them. I switched off my mobile phone. Those seven, eight days I did not have any clue what was happening. I went completely blank. I was staying up. I wasn't sleeping. I would get out of the house early and sit in some place alone. I just wanted to be alone where people won't ask questions about Ankit. I wanted to get lost in the crowd."
Mondal wanted to go visit the family but was told by East Bengal authorities not to. "They said we would be going to their house as a team, paying our condolences. We want you to wait for us. So I said, okay, fine."
A journalist arranged a short phone conversation between Mondal and Raj Kumar, who "told me whatever Ankit could not achieve I want you to go and achieve". According to Raj Kumar, Mondal told him he would meet the family soon. He still has not, and it is something that rankles with the Keshris.
Ankit's hopes and dreams were to do with playing Test cricket for India
© Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
Ankit's hopes and dreams were to do with playing Test cricket for India © Karthik Krishnaswamy/ESPNcricinfo
On April 29, East Bengal organised a memorial service for Ankit, which Raj Kumar and Mondal attended.
"After the service I was told that is Sourav Mondal," says Raj Kumar. "He was standing by his motorbike. He did not even have the time to meet me. What should we say?"
According to Mondal he did not approach Raj Kumar that day because he was "completely mobbed" by the media and the CAB officials, and he was told not to visit the house by the East Bengal secretary, Mukherjee.
"As I said I wanted to go to them alone even much before the condolence meeting was held, but I was stopped. When he [Mukherjee] heard that I wanted to go on my own, he was petrified. He called me up and told me, 'Don't make this mistake. You will make a big mistake. The club will suffer. I know it is not your fault, but don't do this.'"
Mukherjee, for his part, says, "I don't remember what was said at the time. But I don't remember the club asking players not to visit [the Keshris]."
In times of such despair it is easy to believe conspiracy theories and imagine the worst. The Keshris began to wonder whether Ankit's collision was indeed an accident.
"It forces me to think whether the accident on field happened on purpose," Raj Kumar says. "My boy was talented, but it could be possible that [they thought], 'Let us do something that could derail his career.'"
"Sir told me in Bangla, 'Normally you are slow on the ground, but you had to sprint at your best to kill a guy.' Those words kept ringing in my ears" Sourav Mondal
"Hota hoga aisa [These things must be happening]," Sunita says, and adds that when they visited Ankit in hospital on Saturday, he had said, "Bhabhi, I don't want to play for the club any more. They bench the juniors players. The seniors are happy and satisfied once they get a job. And still the club plays the seniors. I want to take some rest before deciding what to do."
Mondal, 30, graduated with honours in accounts from St Xavier's College in Kolkata, and works as a senior auditor at the state's Comptroller and Auditor General's office. He gives the impression of being a mature and clear-minded man.
The collision and its aftermath were not easy for him on another front. His wedding was scheduled for May 3. His father, a retired civil servant, is immobile due to osteoarthritis, so the onus was on him, the only son, to make the arrangements and send out invitations. Mondal went ahead with the wedding, and was strongly supported by his family and his fiancée's.
He also returned to the cricket ground a few days after Ankit's death to play the postponed semi-final against Mohun Bagan.
"The first thing I did on entering the ground was I walked up to the place where the collision happened and sat there," he says. He took two wickets in the match, and then two more in the final, which East Bengal won. He has now moved clubs to Mohun Bagan.
Ankit's parents are upset that not enough has been done to help the family cope with the loss of their son
Ankit's parents are upset that not enough has been done to help the family cope with the loss of their son © AFP
"The basic mistake both of us made was we didn't call for the ball," he reflects. "One big reason for that was, I knew the nine fielders were on the fence. And Ankit was on the deep extra-cover boundary. He wasn't supposed to sprint in almost 60 metres. I knew that nobody was even close to the 30-yard circle so I don't need to call. I had no idea that Ankit would be rushing in from the boundary line to go for the catch so that he could contribute to the team's win. And at the last moment he dived. That thing keeps pricking me - that maybe we could have avoided that collision."
Mondal has decided not to take counselling. "This is my fight," he says. "I need to fight it alone. I need to understand in my heart and mind whatever has happened. One major thing I learned is there is no guarantee of anything in life. Not even life itself. So it is better to be prepared for any condition that might arise."
Has he moved on?
"To move on from an incident like this takes a lifetime. It depends on the kind of person you are. I am basically an emotional kind and that is why I was completely shocked by the incident. But after some point I had to give it a thought that I am going to start a new life [with my wife]. I cannot deny her that happiness. She also has some expectations, so has my family. I will never be able to forget this incident. It will always be at the back of my mind."
In May, Raj Kumar filed a case against AMRI hospital for medical negligence. One of his charges was that the doctors moved Ankit out without the family's consent
After a pause he continues. "On the field I remember him whenever I have a little bit of success to help my team win. I always will give him that credit. Maybe that is the only way I can pay my regards and respects to his departed soul."
In May, Raj Kumar filed a case against AMRI hospital for medical negligence. One of his charges was that the doctors kept the family in the dark about Ankit's condition and moved him to Nightingale without taking their consent. "It took an hour or 90 minutes to reach the other hospital," says Nirmala. "If they had kept him in the same hospital he might have been better."
According to Rupak Barua, the CEO at AMRI, Ankit had been checked by three consultant doctors upon admission on the Friday: a neurosurgeon, a vascular surgeon and a critical-care specialist. They concluded that "although Ankit had started to respond a little bit to treatment, the consultants decided few more investigations were required".
On Saturday, when Ankit had begun to talk again, Barua and the doctors were surprised to hear that the East Bengal officials had decided to shift him to Nightingale. "The patient was a little better. The club decided to take the patient out because they had a tie-up with Nightingale where they had some sort of discount policy. They verbally discussed with us that because of the cost part they are shifting the patient."
Keshri's team-mates at the hospital after hearing about his death
© Getty Images
Keshri's team-mates at the hospital after hearing about his death © Getty Images
Barua says the doctors told the officials that a few more tests were required. "They thought that we were unnecessarily doing these investigations, it was an unnecessary expense." Ankit, Barua says, was "haemodynamically stable", but still he was not "absolutely out of critical stage. The consultants told them that you should not take the patient right now as he was in critical care. But as a hospital authority we cannot stop anyone whenever they fill the risk bond and want to take out the patient."
Since Ankit was admitted to AMRI by East Bengal, their name was on the admission form. In his complaint against AMRI, Raj Kumar had raised the point about the hospital not consulting a family member. "That was a major allegation against us," says Barua. "But actually the rule is, whoever is signing the admission form, we consider them as a direct family member. In block letters it was mentioned, the hospital authority should contact this person only. That is the fact."
Subir Ganguly, a joint-secretary at CAB, told Press Trust of India that Ankit was shifted out of AMRI for better care. "It's nothing to do with the tie-up [between CAB and Nightingale]."
"CT scan revealed small haemorrhages," Nightingale's Dr Arpan Chowdhury, a critical-care expert, would note afterwards in an internal medical bulletin. "So we decided to put him under our neurosurgeon Buddhadev Saha. He was then put in ICU for constant monitoring. There's a chance of secondary brain injury to deteriorate further. From 8.30pm till 11, the patient was in uniformed state. Later on, he developed uneasiness and another CT scan revealed that the swelling inside the brain has begun to grow. We tried our best and was in constant touch with Dr Saha. But unfortunately the brain swelling (called Edema) began to grow despite all the medication and affected the heartbeat."
Barua says the doctors told the club officials that a few more tests were required. "They thought it was an unnecessary expense"
Are there lessons in this for East Bengal?
"That was an accident," said Mukherjee. "We should be more attentive. Something like this should not happen. In all these days it was only once that happened at our club. I don't want to say anything further." He hurriedly cut off the conversation.
While it is difficult to assign responsibility, the story of carelessness is a familiar one in India. It was, in fact, not the first such case in Kolkata club cricket.
One of the photographs in the trophy shed at Bulan Cricket Academy is of a boy in a red T-shirt, sitting on a bed, arms folded, looking straight at the camera. Twelve years ago, the boy, a 17-year-old called Rajnish Patel, had suffered a fate much like Ankit's. He collided with another fielder as both chased a catch in a practice match at Vivekananda Park, and suffered a shin-bone fracture.
"At the hospital they gave him wrong treatment and killed him," Majumdar says. "They put a plate in. Full body became septic. The doctors were punished, had their licences revoked, his mother fought [a case] for four-five years."
A day after Ankit's death, another club player in Kolkata, Rahul Ghosh, was hit on the helmet and was concussed. He was rushed to Nightingale. "He was given full security. He was given full state government support for his treatment," Ankit's brother Deepak says. "If the same had happened with Ankit he would have been alive today."
Ankit's death made headlines across the country but only briefly. It was a stark contrast to the death of Phillip Hughes, which brought not just Australia but the entire cricketing world to a standstill. Hughes was an international cricketer, so this was understandable. Even so, Ankit was forgotten soon after his death.
Ankit's cricket equipment lined up against the wall in a room that was being constructed on the first floor of his parents' house for him
© Swastik Pal
Ankit's cricket equipment lined up against the wall in a room that was being constructed on the first floor of his parents' house for him © Swastik Pal
When the news broke, the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan expressed their condolences on Twitter. But not one official from East Bengal or CAB paid the Keshri residence a visit. Kolkata Knight Riders put down Ankit as the 16th player on their roster for this IPL season and sent the family a framed version of the squad sheet, along with a letter promising them a sum of Rs 10 lakh (around $15,620). The Keshris are still to receive the money. According to Venky Mysore, CEO of the franchise, the payment was delayed due to tax reasons and regulatory checks.
During a meeting with CAB officials, Raj Kumar requested them to organise something where "kisi ke samne haath failana na pade [there would be no need to go begging for money]". His second wish was that a trophy be named after Ankit. Subir Ganguly, Raj Kumar says, assured him both wishes would be granted. The family has received Rs 10 lakh from CAB, separate from the sum KKR has promised, and Rs 5 lakh from East Bengal.
What do they aim to do with the money? Raj Kumar wishes to invest in a business; Nirmala and Sunita would like some of it to go towards fulfilling one of Ankit's wishes, helping the needy. "He would speak to old beggars for long time and give whatever he can. Give to people who don't have anything, he would always say."
" Hamara ghar mein sabhi jitna family hain na, cricket ka diwana hai [In our house everyone is crazy about cricket]," Nirmala says with a smile, when asked if she will stop watching cricket. She recalls a family wedding when all they were interested in was a cricket match on the day. As we talk, three-year-old Aditya, Ankit's nephew, moves around us, staring curiously. "Baccha ka diwana tha woh [He was a fan of this kid]," Deepak says.
"We are a very middle-class family, but we wished my Ankit played so well that we could improve our living conditions" Nirmala Keshri
Raj Kumar says Ankit was "maa ka bhakt [a devotee of his mother]". Ankit would sleep in the same double bed as Nirmala, in the living room. Raj Kumar would sleep on the floor in the same room.
Seven of Ankit's bats are by the bed, alongside a heap of awards, medals and prizes won during his short career. Ankit gave up his studies three years ago to chase his ambition of playing a high level of cricket. It is the story of thousands of young Indians who dream of playing for the country. Some realise that dream. Some quit while changing lanes on life's highway. And in some cases, like Ankit's, the dream ends abruptly.
"Middle-class has its worries about moving forward. The middle-class person wants to work hard. We are a very middle-class family, but we wished my Ankit played so well that we could improve our living conditions," Nirmala says, wiping her tears. "We had a lot of dreams, that by him progressing we would get better, we would have a name, but now what to say," Raj Kumar says.
Staring at his awards, medals and cricket kit - that is how, Nirmala says, the family will move forward. "What else is left?" she asks. "We will make a showcase and put it and decorate it with all his prizes. Watching all his gear is how we are living. We talk about it the whole day."
She fondly shows pictures of Ankit in childhood from a small, worn-out photo album. Baby Ankit in her arms. Ankit the child playing the forward defensive with a bat bigger than him. Teenage Ankit posing for the camera. Some day, if Ankit went on to play for India, they wanted to keep the pictures and turn the pages back. "Sapna sapna hi raha," Nirmala says. The dream remained a dream.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.