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Urge to work for good causes comes from within: Shastri

- EXCLUSIVE
- One-time playboy wears a very different hat
Ravi Shastri, in the city, on Thursday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: Former India captain and cricket manager Ravi Shastri is in the city for a charity event organised by Children’s Hope India (CHI), the CHI Cup, in association with the Tollygunge Club.

Proceeds from the golf event, being held on Friday, go to New Light, a charitable trust working with the children of sex workers in the Kalighat area.

CHI, incidentally, is registered in the US and its New York-based president, Kavita Lund, has also arrived. An active worker behind the scenes has been Veekay Tejpaul, who came from the US some weeks ago.

Shastri, who is a “strategic adviser” to the SPS Group, spoke to The Telegraph at the ITC’s Fortune Select Loudon on Thursday afternoon.

The following are excerpts

Q This time, you’re in Calcutta for something very different...

A I’ve always been inclined towards doing my bit for charity, for good causes, and this is as good a cause as any... The funds that get raised will help in the education of children from a red-light area. That is wonderful.

When were you approached on behalf of CHI?

During the England Test here two months ago... A dear friend, Vinoo (Virender) Nath, asked if I’d like to be associated with the fund-raiser and I didn’t have to think twice.

The CHI Cup could become an annual event...

Absolutely... The next time, more people like me could be supporting it, institutions may support it in a big way. Education is so important and the deprived need the means to go forward. Education will open the eyes of the children from the red-light area... They needn’t think of joining the profession of their mothers.

Will you be teeing off?

I’ll probably play nine holes, though I haven’t played golf for a long, long time. But I like the sport.

Have you had a favourite golfer?

Two... Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods.

You’ve done plenty of work for Unicef as its national goodwill ambassador. What was that experience like?

I’ve gone to the rural and semi-urban areas... I’ve done a lot of work in Bihar, focusing on education and eradicating polio... I’ve indeed done some serious yards... In fact, since you’ve raised it, I’ve also gone to townships in South Africa and worked on the outskirts of Colombo as well.

Is there an outing which stands out?

Some years ago, I’d gone to a village in Maharashtra, where only one mother was reluctant to allow her child get the polio drops... Eventually, she said she’d relent if I administered the drops! I did so and there were cheers in that village... There have been other instances as well... I’d begin the day around 9.00 am and would tour till about 6.00 pm... Believe me, I’d sleep the best those nights... The outings gave joy, gave so much satisfaction.

That’s big, coming from somebody who had the image of a playboy...

Call it an inner voice or whatever, but the urge to work for good causes comes from within... While working for Unicef, I wouldn’t hesitate to stop at a chaiwallah for a steaming cup of tea... I’ve eaten the local delicacies and enjoyed doing so. Sometimes, security would be an issue, but there were people to handle that.

Sachin Tendulkar, for one, is involved with charity work. However, should more from the fraternity be promoting worthy causes?

I suppose time is an issue... But, yes, it’s never enough and the more the better.

Is there a message for cricketers, in particular?

Not a message, but if there’s time, then lend your name to a good cause.

What have exposures with a difference taught you?

It has been a humbling experience... It’s not the fault of the individuals that some have been born into a particular situation, that they’re part of the underprivileged... So, the least that the rest of us can do is to give them the chance to lead a normal, healthy life.

You’ve mentioned ‘a humbling experience’...

Working for worthy causes and making those trips for Unicef have helped me stay grounded... Exposure to different environments has broadened my perspective on life.

Have you had a role model outside cricket?

As for sport in general, it’s Muhammad Ali. I haven’t met him, but he’s been my hero from childhood.

Has somebody not associated with sport left a lasting impression on you?

Indira Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, JRD Tata... Each in her/his own way.

Will you elaborate...

Mrs Gandhi was very charming, had such a personality... Then, you cannot but admire Mandela for everything he’s done... Meeting him has been an experience... As for Mr Tata, I won’t forget the way he invited me to join him in his private aircraft for a flight to Jamshedpur from here, and the patient way he waited for my luggage to arrive on the belt. While I was embarrassed no end, Mr Tata stood for all of 30 minutes, not saying anything... Outside the airport, a crowd had gathered and when we sat in the car, some in the crowd started banging the windows... They wanted a piece of me... My embarrassment kept growing and I desperately wanted the car to move... Seeing my discomfiture, Mr Tata tapped my shoulder and said ‘Ravi, there’s no harm if you wave... It will bring a smile on their faces’... I’ll never forget that evening and Mr Tata’s humility.

Back to what has brought you to Calcutta... If the CHI Cup does become an annual event, could we expect you to tee off in 2014 too?

Why not? But if I can’t come owing to TV assignments, then there’ll definitely be someone else to take this forward, to give the children in need the chance to have a better life.

The final one... Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has talked about you opening a sports academy in the Jungle Mahal area...

We’ve spoken about it... The academy could be anywhere in the state, but we (the SPS Group) need the land first. The emphasis at the academy would be on cricket and soccer.

Footnote: Set up 21 years ago, CHI is already associated with two projects in the city. Besides, it has been working with organisations in other parts of India, including villages in Rajasthan.