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Mr Editor & his Morse

Mudar Patherya recalls the many faces of Pataudi he encountered at Sportsworld

There were many Pataudis I knew when he edited Sportsworld, the magazine published by the ABP group, and I happened to cross his way for nearly a decade as a sort-of cricket writer.

The Pataudi who gambled on people; he walked into the office in January 1982 and told a 19-year-old me, “You are going to Kanpur”, which in his Morse was equivalent to “You will be covering your first Test — between Gavaskar’s India and Fletcher’s MCC — a week from now.”

The Pataudi who could be paternalistic but in his own way; when I went to report the series against Pakistan in November 1982 as a 19-year-old, his standing order was “Don’t leave without seeing me” when he heard I would be flying from Delhi; his parting safety net was “If you have any problem, speak to Arif (Abbasi, PCB chief and his cousin).”

The Pataudi who had his tongue firmly in his cheek; when the CBFS series organisers in Sharjah indicated that they would not pay for his phone calls but pay for his laundry while he was their guest, our man took a fortnight’s laundry from Delhi to the Middle East and dumped it with the hotel housekeeping.

The Pataudi who despite his granite demeanour could be pretty relaxed about things; when we were stuck in a traffic jam on Howrah bridge and I suggested that taking the crowded ferry across the Hooghly would be a quicker way across, he was out of the cab quicker than I was and within minutes, we had paid 50 paise and were rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi intent on asking ‘Pat, bhy you hiyaar?’

The Pataudi who never gave us, who had never seen him play, an inkling of how good he had been except once when we were at Dalhousie Institute; one of us asked him to stand in the covers while we threw the bat around; a ball went in his direction and while we presumed he would be a liability with a few beers inside him, our 47-year-old rifled the ball in from his wrist — not elbow — and the ball exploded on the chair we were using as a stump in front of a bewildered Rohit Brijnath; this was as close as we got to seeing what a one-man army he must have been in the covers in his time.

The Pataudi who could be petrified; he seldom flew because he was scared of flying (he would drink himself to obliviousness and then collect his boarding card), so one of our responsibilities at Sportsworld was to turn up at Howrah station to collect him from his coupe or drop him each time he came to our city.

The Pataudi who could be blunt; when we waxed eloquent on the legendary Frank Woolley (who we had read of only in Cardus), Pataudi concised his feedback in just two words: “Lousy coach.”

The Pataudi who could be sensitive to the inequity around him; whenever we encountered the waiters at the Oberoi Grand where he usually stayed, he would always enquire about how they were, how many years they were from retirement and to let him know when they were finished with formal service so that perhaps he could have the benefit of their service. Ditto with the train staff on the Rajdhani.

The Pataudi who would never tire of telling us how he kept Farokh Engineer “knocking” at the gate of Victoria Memorial one evening following a “planted” dressing room remark, “Come and see me at my large white marbled home this evening”. Or the kind of human shampoo they recommended on wicket-keeper Krishnamurthy’s hair as an antidote to curling!

The Pataudi who probably spent days and days reading but never drowned you with his erudition; he once sent our boss David McMahon (then engaged) this Ghalib scribble in flowing Urdu “Aashiqui sabr talab aur tamanna betaab, dil ka kya rang karoon khooney jigar honey tak?” and our bewildered Anglo-Indian went around the ABP office desperately seeking a translator.

The Pataudi who never forgot; we went to Tihar jail to play cricket (with S.M. Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath in tow) at the invitation of Kenneth Larkins (arrested for espionage). I clicked pictures. After we returned, Pataudi said: “Don’t use any; it would not be right to give publicity to someone who sold our national interest.” Two years later, I slipped one picture into Sportsworld and Pataudi sent me a politely brief message on the telex: “I thought we had an agreement.”

The Pataudi who was pretty human like all of us when he was home; we were shooting the Wills Video of Excellence: one-day cricket on his lawns (1 Dupleix Road) when he said: “Whatever you do, don’t go over on the other side as my mother can lose her temper.”

The Pataudi you could play a practical joke on; I did once, involving a conniving lady colleague from Sunday magazine, which, when revealed, made him …just smile and go beetroot-red.

The Pataudi who, after he had encountered an Iqbal line that I had used in one of my copies on the 1984 Pakistan tour, sent me a handwritten two-liner: “The next time you quote Iqbal, get Khushwant Singh to translate.”

The Pataudi who would write his occasional letter to one of us using his family letterhead with a Koranic inscription at the bottom (which was the family tagline): “Nasrum-minallahe wa fathun qareeb (By the grace of Allah a quick victory).”

The Pataudi who had a Sahara-dry sense of abrasive humour; when one of us asked him when he first thought he would be able to play again after the loss of an eye, he said straight-faced “When I saw the English bowling.”

The Pataudi who would bring a case of Heineken for the Sportsworld team whenever he came from Delhi and then took back a huge leg of mutton cased in ice to feast on in Delhi.

The Pataudi who always sat on the front seat beside the chauffeur.

The Pataudi whose copy you couldn’t rewrite; his thoughts were direct and he always had something different to say. The sad part is that Pataudi being Pataudi, he seldom wrote.

And Pataudi being Pataudi, once I left the magazine, he never wrote or responded.

It was just as he was; he cared but never showed.

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