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July 12, 1999


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An imperfect idyll

Harsha Bhogle

I am numb. There are some things you take for granted and Jaisimha’s swaying walk, his cheerful smile and deep, cultured voice were among them. You think of Hyderabad, of the Fateh Maidan and of the Gymkhana and you think of Jaisimha. In creams and upturned collar.

Long after he had retired from international cricket, long after he had stopped playing for Hyderabad, M.L.Jaisimha continued playing senior division cricket. At an age when fathers watch benignly over the progress of their sons, hoping they will fulfil incomplete cricketing ambitions, Jaisimha continued playing alongside his son. Vivek was a beautiful young batsman and it was obvious that his father had been a huge influence; not just in the style he brought to his cricket but in the manner in which he continued to lend grace to the family name.

In Hyderabad, and among contemporaries of father and son all over India, the word `Jaisimha’ was just a different spelling of the word `grace’. Vivek was a couple of years younger than me, broke into the school team while I was already there and so, while I always thought he was a very charming young man, he didn’t surround me with the same aura. His father did, oh yes.

And that is why I am numb, I cannot believe that he will not rise again from his bed. And I cannot think of anyone in the game who will not be deeply affected by the news.

I was a young boy in shorts, not yet ten years old, when I first saw the MCC play. Not that distant club in London that places a “go away” tag on every guest, no. My MCC was always the Marredpally Cricket Club and it was full of people who laughed and drank and had fun. Half an hour before lunch, they had launched a terrible attack on my beloved Osmania team but in the break, as they opened the boot of the captain’s Ambassador and pulled out food and drink, there was an invitation to the opposition as well. My MCC always had a `welcome’ written on it.

I was too young to appreciate it but in retrospect, it was my first sighting of a really good cricket match with fun on the field and off it. It was reinforced to me many years later. Now 19, I was playing against the MCC in an `A’ division match and yes, Jaisimha was still playing. From the last ball of the 50th over, I missed a possible single to mid-wicket and the wicket-keeper, one of the four elderly gentlemen in the team, admonished me all the way to the pavilion. “Son, remember, you can lose this match by one run,” he kept saying. Two things about that struck me. One, that he was giving a young man very valuable advice; two, that he called me `son’.

That was the spirit Jaisimha brought to his MCC team. And that is why, when the fixtures were announced, we always looked at the date for the MCC match first. It was always like that -- three or four elderly, dignified people including Jaisimha and seven or eight kids. Those kids learnt to play cricket and they learnt to become charming. Ah well, most of them at least!

And he was always so approachable. Oh, my heart spills over as I write in the past tense. I remember calling him up in my first year at college and saying I wanted to write his biography. I didn’t know if I really wanted to, or even if I could, given that I was a mere three articles old, but I was willing to go along with my father’s suggestion. He invited me to his office, the old agency Advertising Consultants India Ltd (ACIL) near Paradise Cinema, ordered some coffee for me and told me politely how he had already spoken to someone about it and that if that didn’t come through, he would think of me.

As I walked down the steps of his office, it struck me that he could have said no over the telephone, that he could have asked me to call back and could have kept me hanging. Instead, he preferred to invite me to his office and that gesture made a huge impression on me. He had done that once before. Our school cricket master had invited him to the final of the Inter-School tournament that we were hosting. We lined up to be introduced to him and when it was my turn he smiled and said “all the best”. It didn’t matter to me in my excitement that he had probably said the same thing to everyone. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Jaisimha had told me to do my best and that was what I would try to do all day.

It is amazing how much small gestures mean to young men and as I look back at it all, I think Hyderabad was like that. No egos, just charming, friendly people, stylish cricketers. Maybe it stemmed from the fact that they weren’t always hard, competitive men. But they made friends because they were large-hearted. And Jaisimha had one of the largest.

A lot has been written about the fact that Sunil Gavaskar regarded him as his idol. Gavaskar got him to write the foreword to Sunny Days and when his son was born, he put in a little tribute in the form of his middle name, Jaivishwa. Gavaskar turned 50 this week and amidst the celebrations, he would have thought of Jaisimha. Gavaskar’s mind isn’t quite the open book his hero’s was, and he has often seemed a harder man, but there is a special place there for Jaisimha; a little pedestal that no one else can occupy.

If Jaisimha was a hero for all of us growing up in Hyderabad, Gavaskar was the idol. He stood for all the things you associate Mumbai with; success, achievement, professionalism. But more than anything else, for our generation he stood for pride.

Remember, when he started in international cricket, independent India wasn’t yet 24. I was ten when he made his debut and through my adoloscent years, he was a huge influence, probably the biggest.

As a generation, we were in search of a symbol that showed we could be as good as anyone else. And obsessed as we were by cricket, that person could only be a cricketer. Vishwanath might have been one but he was too nice, almost too fragile. He was another Jaisimha; stylish, elegant, good-natured. I am sure he was tough as well, but he didn’t wear his toughness on his sleeve. Gavaskar did, and so he became the custodian of our Indian-ness. We looked up to him but we wanted the world to look up to him too and we felt cheated when they didn’t.

I remember going to A A Husain, the famous book-store on Abids, and leafing through the new cricket books. Invariably I would turn to the index and to the letter `G’. If Gavaskar was only mentioned in passing, or if he was referred to with a touch of condescension (which was the overwhelming attitude of the English media to most good things Indian), I would put the book down. In those early years, the only openers mentioned were Barry Richards and Geoffrey Boycott, occasionally Glenn Turner because he played for Worcestershire. The only Indian ever spoken about was Bishan Bedi and while we were proud of that, we didn’t want the `mystery of the Orient’ to be emphasised.

Gavaskar was Indian in colour, in the language he spoke, even in the grammar he wrote in. In his attitude though, he was different from the Indians of that era. He was proud and through him, a little part in each of us became proud as well.

As he turns fifty, I wonder if he is satisfied in the level of pride the next generation is showing. This generation is completely different from the one that Jaisimha, even Vishwanath played in. Life is a lot easier and you can make a very good living even if you are a middle-of-the-road player. I fear sometimes that this comfort has started sedating pride. And that is why we need a Gavaskar revival. Not Gavaskar the commentator or writer, but Gavaskar the cricketer and the personality.

And the best way to do it is for Gavaskar himself to write an authoritative book on Indian cricket; Bradman’s Art of Cricket in an Indian context. I can see myself reading it already; the classical technique, its relevance and how it needs to be adapted to suit alien conditions; the mind-set, the need for toughness and the means to acquire it; the preparation and the single mindedness. And the last chapter will be on the pride of playing for India. And the night before he makes his Test debut, every cricketer will read it.

Gavaskar owes it to a new generation of Indian cricketers. He has left behind a monument in terms of runs. Now he needs to give us another. At 50, his mind rather than his bat can serve as an inspiration. In this jungle of commercial returns, the old lantern of pride needs to shine again.

But my Hyderabadi lantern will not. But somebody still needs to shake hands with little boys, say “all the best” to them and give them the feeling that they are the only ones in the world. Somebody still needs to make others feel special.

Take care Vicky and take care Vidyut. And you, Mrs. Jaisimha. It wasn’t my privilege to know you better but everybody tells me there was more than just a name in common. And that is why I know that charm and grace will still reside in your house.

Harsha Bhogle

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