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February 4, 2000


India Down Under

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Celebrating Harsha Bhogle

Zak Parkar

The Indian tour Down Under was a complete zero when it comes to unearthing, or confirming, heroes. In the 3-0 defeat in Tests, and the 1-7 defeat in ODIs, there was no single Indian who stood up and was counted. But then again, maybe it wasn't a complete flop? Harsha Bhogle, commentator, journalist and, incidentally, Rediff's Contributing Editor, is getting the kind of raves, from the Australian public, that they normally reserve for hyperachieving sportsmen.

There is something about Harsha, not the way there was something about Mary, but something real, something firmly planted on the earth.

'Is that the Parmelia Hilton? May I speak to Harsha Bhogle please?'

Ring ring - "Hello" - the voice across the phone sounded so friendly, so warm as if a long lost elder brother was meeting me after years.

'Is that Harsha?' I ventured tentatively despite the warmth in the voice across the phone.

"Yes, it is."

'Harsha, my name is Zaki Parkar; I have written a couple of guest articles for Rediff Cricket and I have sent you a number of e-mails... .'

"Yes, yes you are the one who wrote that passionate article from the fans and you are the one who is going to sing me Manna Dey songs."

I was on top of the world, the Harsha Bhogle actually remembers the anonymous me who had sent him e-mails.

It was 7:00 pm and I was at the WACA with my wife and cousins to watch the Indian cricketers at a training session. To tell you the truth I was at the WACA hoping I would meet Harsha. People were busy clicking photographs, requesting autographs and there I was in the midst of it all talking to Harsh my hero on a mobile.

'Harsha would you like to have dinner with us on Saturday, I can also sing you the promised Manna Dey numbers?'

"Give me a call on Saturday and I will let you know, it is going to be a pretty hectic day, we may have a media game."

'OK, what time would you like me to call you?'

"About 9:30-ish."

'Ok, talk to you then, enjoy your stay in Perth.'

We were at the WACA till about 8:30 pm. After dinner I decided to accompany my wife and cousin to the Hilton - they with the intention of inviting the players for dinner on Saturday and me with the intention of meeting Harsha. The players had gone out to dinner and Harsha was not in his room either, yes it was rude of me to try to ring his room at 9:30 pm, but I could not help myself.

Sachin and Dighe were the first to come back armed with McDonald burgers and Coke.

'Sachin, we would like to invite the team to our place for dinner on Saturday night,' my wife asked politely.

"Please ask Dr Bhargava our manager," Sachin replied even more politely.

We went outside the foyer to start our intezaar. Me waiting for Harsha and my wife and cousin waiting for the rest of the players.

At about 11:00 pm after another group of players had arrived, came Harsha. A lot fairer than he looks on television, better built than he looks on television and even more friendly and charming in person.

'I am Zaki,' I said pushing my hand in front.

"Oh hello, nice meeting you."

'You look tired Harsha, looks like you had a long day.'

"Yes it has been a long day actually."

Just then someone else joined in.

"Did you meet any of the players?" Harsha asked me.

And then I did the stupidest thing I have done in my entire life. Instead of saying 'I am not here to see the cricketers, but to see you Harsha,' I said 'yes I did meet most of them.'

Why in the world did I do that? Obviously seeing Harsha had loosened the connection between my thoughts and my tongue. Heroes have this capacity to do such things.

Yes, as I was telling you there is something about Harsha. Something that Tendulkar does not have; something that even Azhar does not have (despite me being a one-eyed fan of Azhar). I would go miles to see Azhar bat, but not a metre to meet him. No, I don't mean that in a derogatory manner. I know only Azhar the batsman, not Azhar the person. But I feel like I know Harsha the person and that is why he is a real hero to me, not a fantasy. But then there are different heroes for different folks. Let the world click photos with Sachin, let me have a nice chat with Harsha.

What is it about Harsha? May be the fact that I can never realistically be Tendulkar, but provided I am prepared to work hard I can be Harsha. He is like an elder brother at home and let us face it, they have always been our first real heros. We can demand money from Bhaiya to go and see a hit Amitabh movie and come home and talk about it with him. But Amitabh, we can only catch a glimpse of him from amongst the sea of people.

What is it about Harsha? He is like the boy next door who everyone in the neighbourhood looks up to. Honest, polite, hard working, respectful and a really nice guy who is an example to us college bunking boys. An example because he joins us on our cine-going adventures, but still makes the grade in class.

It was the summer of 1991 Down Under when I first heard Harsha on ABC Radio and I became a fan in no time. While Gavaskar had all the answers on Channel Nine, Harsha voiced the questions the lay man had and almost hesitantly gave us the answers himself. He was one of us, as if still in awe of the great names like Keith Stackpole sharing the commentary box with him. It was endearing! Listening to him was like watching a child explore and discover. Posing the questions himself and then gently giving us the answers. While the experts were telling us, Harsha was sharing with us. While the experts never remembered the statistics, Harsha like us the true fans, remembered every score from years ago. Here was a man who really knew his cricket. And even when he helped the experts with the details of innings played and wickets taken years ago there was no malice, just the enjoyment of sharing a secret!

In the years to come following his articles in The Sportstar became another passion for me. Azhar's biography - another masterpiece, I have lost count of the number of times I have read it ! His writing was just like his commentary - he was crazy about cricket just as we were, he admired Azhar and Sachin as much as we did, he questioned the team on our behalf without being asked to, he supported them when they needed to be supported and gave us insights as if he had been given the best seat in the house - not for himself but as our representative. For us Indians living Down Under with no coverage of Indian cricket, Harsha became a messenger. With the advent of cable television and the Internet, things are looking up, but Harsha is still our link with India - the voice of Indian cricket - our voice. Just like a family member representing us!

I have not met anyone who does not like Harsha. May be it is because there is still this child in us that looks up to the elder brother, the boy in us that supports the boy next door. Yes there is something about Harsha, and yes the next time I meet him I will tell him how I lost the plot upon seeing him outside the Hilton!

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