The original little master Sunil Gavaskar visited FD Block on Saturday morning. Though the venue was hosting a Rabindra Jayanti programme at the time, the official reason for the batting maestro’s visit was the inauguration of a blood donation camp, organised by Bidhannagar Sporting Club, which was underway inside the air-conditioned community hall.
A medium-sized crowd had gathered under the canopied seating area, providing an audience to artistes Sovan Sundar Basu, Pampi Basu Thakur and the little children of the block who danced. Once the dance got over, the tots, draped in mini saris, dashed for the community hall, autograph books in hand. But Gavaskar had not reached yet. Even if he had, chances are this pack of autograph-hunters would not have known him.
“Baba bolechhey tai,” was six-year-old Meheli Ghosh’s admission on being asked why she was queuing up. The most forthcoming of the lot was Aishani Gupta. “He plays badminton…no, bat-ball,” she quickly corrected herself. But the world’s first batsman to score 10,000 runs would not count among her favourites. “Buro hoye gyachhey,” the six-year-old said, writing off the 62-year-old.
Also waiting inside the hall was Sreeradha Bandyopadhyay. Not for Gavaskar’s arrival, though. The singer who stays in CE Block was awaiting her turn on stage. “Once Gavaskar reaches, I will stop singing. There is bound to be chaos and everyone’s attention will shift. But I plan to announce this beforehand so I am not misunderstood later,” she said.
She did not have to cut her programme short as Gavaskar, never known for scoring at a brisk pace, would take much longer to arrive. Sreeradha sang eight songs starting with Bhalobashi bhalobashi, which drew vigorous nods of approval from civic chief Krishna Chakraborty, seated in the front row.
| Bidhannagar Sporting Club president Pradip Sengupta hands over a silver ship and a cheque to Sunil Gavaskar. (Right) Sreeradha Bandyopadhyay. (Below) Girls of the block on stage. (Anindya Shankar Ray)
But her recital would not go uninterrupted. A youngster who was making his way to an empty chair, tottered and was caught by a photographer before he hit the floor. As the boy lay unconscious on the carpet, Sreeradha stopped till he was carried indoors.
Sagar Chatterjee, it turned out, had come all the way from Dum Dum Park with only jol-muri as breakfast. “My pressure must have fallen after I gave blood,” said Sagar, embarrassed at the attention. The organisers, without any snacks to offer to the donors, asked the volunteers to let them recuperate in the air-conditioned room.
As news reached of the Scorpio fetching Gavaskar pulling up at the gate of FD Park, there was a rush for the first glimpse of India’s greatest Test opener, prompting club president Pradip Sengupta to issue an appeal over the microphone: “At FD Block, we have hosted celebrities like Kapil Dev without any chaos. Please stay put in your seats.” Did the appeal work or did the heat of the sun melt the surge of enthusiasm? Whichever be the case, Gavaskar, clad in his IPL commentator’s shirt, could make his way up to the stage without making headlines.
After receiving seemingly innumerable floral bouquets, when at last he got the microphone in hand he started off with a graceful shot to the galleries: “I know a little Bengali. In fact, I know more Bengali than my son Rohan does.” The audience broke into applause.
Rohan had made Calcutta his home when he represented Bengal in the Ranji Trophy. “I can never thank Calcutta and the Cricket Association of Bengal enough for this opportunity which also allowed him to play a few matches for India,” said the doting father.
Thankfully, the angry husband did not surface who had sworn not to play at Eden Gardens anymore after his wife Marshneil was pelted with fruits to protest the omission of Kapil Dev from the side and the team’s scoring rate that rivalled a snail for pace during a Test match against England in 1985.
But he did recall that Eden has not been one of his happy hunting grounds. “I have never been able to score more than one hundred here.” Truth be told, he scored two, in both innings of the same Test against West Indies in 1978-9.
Recalling the experience of playing before a capacity crowd at the ground, he said the ovation of 90,000 people was “one of the most heart-warming memories” for a cricketer.
He spoke also of the “outpouring of affection” that he experiences “right from the airport till I reach the hotel”. “This is something I do not get even in Mumbai. When your active days are over, what gives you the most satisfaction is not your bank balance but the love balance in the hearts of people.”
A cheque for Rs 1 lakh was handed over to Gavaskar in the name of Champs Foundation, a charity he runs to assist retired players in distress. After a brief meeting with the blood donors, he was off.
A handful of people was lucky enough to get Gavaskar’s autograph. Among them was an excited Meheli, so what if she didn’t know whose autograph she had taken!
Rohan Singh, a teenager from Ultadanga, was the last among select children to hand Gavaskar a bouquet and the first to get an autograph. But neither he nor his brother Rahul had a clue as to what records he had set or what his full name was. Both admitted to being Sachin Tendulkar fans.
But those from an earlier generation who got within handshaking distance were in seventh heaven. “I have dreamt of Gavaskar in my youth. I felt like falling at his feet but I could not as I had to maintain decorum,” said a beaming sub-divisional officer Malay Mukhopadhaya.
MLA Sujit Bose’s aide Rajesh Chirimar was inexplicably introduced by the presenter as belonging to “Sunil Gavaskar fan club” when he went up on stage. Later, he admitted he had no such club but he was a big fan himself. “I cherish the pages of Sunny Days (his autobiography) where he speaks of the barbarism he had to face on the pitch and from the galleries in the West Indies. Remember, those were the days without protective gear. What we see today is civilised cricket, with restrictions on even the number of bouncers in an over.”
When Gavaskar left, the chairs under the canopy quickly became empty. But few of those who clamoured for his autograph as he left went inside the hall to donate blood. Had they done so they would have got the precious signature on the donor’s certificate they would have been handed.
Sengupta had got Gavaskar to sign a bunch of certificates the day before. But the number of donors remained stuck at 21 well after the little master had left. “Perhaps it was the heat that kept donors away,” reflected a staff member of People’s Blood Bank, which was in charge of the collection, when contacted later.