Calcutta: From taking off his sneakers in the Udayan kids’ dining area to serving chana subzi at their lunch and tucking into the chicken-and-rice preparation, Steve Waugh deviated from the conventional visitors’ script.
But, then, the Australian Test captain’s fifth publicised visit to Udayan, Wednesday, was destined to be different from the moment he left the Taj.
For starters, Steve (and wife Lynette) chose to keep the windows of their Scorpio rolled down throughout the hour-long drive. Specifically, that exposed Lynette to the sights and sounds of India within hours of touching down for the first time, besides allowing her to shoot from her Canon with ease.
Then, in keeping with the Udayan patron’s desire for “quality time” with the 300 kids, his trip was off limits to the Media but for the 15 minutes set aside for formally accepting a consignment of medicines from the Overseas Pharmaceutical Aid for Life (Opal) and 15 minutes for a Q&A session.
As it turned out, Steve spent around five hours (his longest) at the Barrackpore facility for the children of leprosy sufferers and left emotionally enriched.
That Lynette too was around, as a debutante, made the latest visit special. It certainly left her drooling.
“Over the years, I’d heard so much and seen so much footage that I didn’t feel a stranger when I got off the car. Moreover, my husband has always been passionate about his involvement… I had a great time,” Lynette told The Telegraph.
Incidentally, as part of the welcoming ceremony, Steve was first garlanded by nine-year-old Lakhi Kumari, who is sponsored by him. Touched, he wanted to thank her and sought the appropriate Hindi word.
Somebody quickly volunteered “shukriya.” Just as quickly, somebody ‘cautioned’ that word would really be more appropriate in Lahore and Karachi. Not wishing to be politically incorrect, Steve smiled: “In that case, I’ll say something else.”
The Waughs’ stop No.1 was the Bengali school (Class I-IV) and both actually parked themselves among students.
“It’s an amazing experience, for I just love kids… In fact, till the first of our three children (Rosalyn, who will soon be seven) was born, I was a pre-school teacher in Sydney,” Lynette remarked.
From the Bengali school, the Waughs headed for the all-girls’ wing (Nivedita House), via one of the dormitories. Perhaps because the wing was built from funds exclusively raised by Steve, that section will forever have a distinct sentimental attachment.
The Waughs, not surprisingly, spent quite some time there. Indeed, both didn’t think twice about squatting with the girls and sharing a daab.
Once through with the Nivedita House commitment, Steve and Lynette headed for the Opal-presentation.
[According to Opal’s chief executive and managing director, Geoff Lockyer, the Kilburn-headquartered Australian organisation intends making quarterly presentations. Besides, there will be a “regular flow” of doctors offering service voluntarily.]
That done, a cultural and yoga show in the Hindi school’s hall, which doubles up as the eating area for the kids, followed. Obviously, the Waughs couldn’t understand the songs, but their appreciation was genuine and generous.
With the kitchen staff requiring some minutes to arrange lunch, the duo strolled across to the mini poultry farm. Steve, as usual, had a number of queries which were promptly answered (again, as usual) by Udayan top gun Rev. James Stevens.
Back to the hall and the next 20 minutes saw extraordinary scenes: The captain serving chana subzi and Lynette helping out with the dessert.
As a photo-op it was terrific, but as the rights for Lynette’s trip have been bought by an upmarket Australian women’s magazine, New Idea, only the ‘official’ cameraman was kept busy…
Having finished with the kids’ lunch, it was time for the Waughs to have a quick bite (along with the Shamlu Dudejas). While Lynette preferred the packed (hotel) fare, Steve enjoyed the chicken-rice offering.
Of course, he didn’t forget to compliment the kitchen staff with that typical “well done, mate” or “well done, guys” line.
Four hours had passed, but Steve was in no mood for a quick departure. “I’m not rushing, mate ,” he quipped, while interacting exclusively. And, so, an impromptu ‘game’ of footie followed. There was a bit of cricket as well.
Before signing off, so to say, the Waughs had a few moments with Lakhi and Aloka, the girl sponsored by Mark. In a nice gesture, by the way, the other Waugh has sent a “special gift” for Aloka.
There was something “special” for Lakhi too, from Steve. But, then, no gift can be bigger than the recognition accorded to her by one of modern sport’s most revered icons.