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Cricket repays Lata debt
- Fundraiser match for hospital in memory of singer’s father

Calcutta, Nov. 28: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is today the richest sports body but, back in the summer of 1983, it didn’t have enough to suitably reward Kapil Dev’s World Cup-winning team.

That’s when the Voice of India, Lata Mangeshkar, stepped in. Thanks to her fund-raising concert in New Delhi, later that year, the BCCI’s coffers swelled and embarrassment was averted.

Now, the BCCI will be thanking Lata for that spontaneous gesture. With Raj Singh Dungarpur taking the lead, it has already approved a fund-raiser for the Pune-located Dinanath Mangeshkar Hospital, built by Lata in her father’s memory.

The match, one understands, will be between the Indian team and a Sri Lankan XI led by Arjuna Ranatunga. Tentatively scheduled for end-March, after the World Cup, it will be played at the Brabourne Stadium.

“Frankly, I didn’t know the BCCI was short on funds… The then president, (N.K.P) Salveji, casually asked if I could make some contribution and I gladly declared I would do a concert. Meri taraf se abhinandan tha… I wasn’t looking for anything in return, but I’m pleased the BCCI has decided to reciprocate for a good cause,” Lata told The Telegraph Thursday afternoon.

In town to inaugurate the First Lady of Indian cricket, Dona Ganguly’s school of performing arts, Diksha Manjari, she added: “Like most Indians, I’ve been obsessed with cricket… Indeed, in the not-too-distant past, a Test in Mumbai meant I would be off recordings for five days…

“In fact, my father, who was a decent cricketer, knew the C.K.Nayudus and Mushtaq Alis and, so, the children in the family were exposed to the big names from pretty early.”

According to Lata, her father’s drama company (Balwant Sangeet Mandal) had quite a few enthusiasts and it wasn’t unusual for friendlies at the drop of a hat. “The emphasis was all on fun,” she remarked.

Though “very keen” to garner autographs, Lata confessed she would feel “intimidated” and was “more comfortable” taking photographs.

Laughing, Lata recalled: “Once, an Invitation XI had come and I wanted to photograph Keith Miller. He didn’t oblige, insisting he wasn’t good-looking any longer, but promised to send an autographed book of his. He did.”

Among the most prized possessions at her Pedder Road residence in Mumbai, of course, is an autographed photograph of Sir Don Bradman. “I sent a request, through a friend, and the legend didn’t disappoint. I’ve been careful about preserving it.”

Reluctant to pick her favourite cricketer — “Aap bahut mushkil sawaal kar rahe hain” —- Lata eventually chose Sir Garfield Sobers.

“Talent and style apart, Sobers’ confidence was extraordinary… He was special,” she eulogised, adding that Vinoo Mankad, Richie Benaud and Sunil Gavaskar were also at the very top of her list.

“Dehkiye, har daur mein bahut hi acche players hote hain. Abhi to Sachin Tendulkar aur Sourav aur Rahul Dravid hain… Apne Sardarji (Harbhajan Singh) bhi kamaal karte hain.”

In Lata’s opinion, Sourav’s “calm and assured presence” sets him apart. “His captaincy is of a high order but, equally, I think he bats sensibly and reads situations well.”

Like the rest of the country, she is backing India to lift the World Cup. “I hope Sourav, too, becomes a World Cup-winning captain… We have the potential, only injuries shouldn’t come in the way.”

Incidentally, for now, the state-of-art hospital remains the somewhat reclusive Lata’s top passion.

“My father died young (in Pune itself, 1942) for want of proper medical care and it was my mother’s wish that I either build a hospital or a school in his memory… Last year, her wish got realised and I’m indebted to the Prime Minister Saheb for inaugurating the hospital,” she said, a shade emotionally.

[It’s not exactly a regret, but Lata would have been happier had the hospital become operational in her mother, Shudhamati’s, lifetime.]

As yet another well-wisher called (at her Taj Bengal suite), there was time for just one more question: Has she ever been conscious of her unparallelled stature'

The answer, preceded by a laugh, was an utterly modest: “Kabhi bhi nahin… Everything I’ve achieved is largely because of my parents’ blessings. Phir, guru-jano aur bhagwan ki kripa rahi hai.”

Even we have been blessed.

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