The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rajmata roots for Maharaj
- Royal reception for Gayatri Devi on Lahore touchdown

Lahore, March 22: In the sixties, it wasn’t uncommon to find the elegance-oozing Gayatri Devi at every polo fixture of consequence. That, of course, had much to do with her late husband’s obsession with the royal sport. In more recent years though, the Rajmata of Jaipur has often been seen at cricket matches.

In fact, this afternoon, she took an Indian Airlines flight from New Delhi to be here well before Wednesday’s Samsung Cup decider. “I’m keeping fingers crossed.... I hope I’m turning up at the right time,” Gayatri Devi told The Telegraph aboard the Airbus 300 which ferried dozens of other fans, too.

She has. And, on landing at the Allama Iqbal facility, Gayatri Devi — regal even in an ordinary chiffon — was received by Ms Shaharyar Khan, wife of the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman (and host), plus a clutch of politicians.

“Please meet the Rajmata, once the world’s most beautiful woman,” was Ms Khan’s introduction. Gayatri Devi, taken out of the aircraft in a wheelchair because of “bad knees”, blushed. “Please.... Please don’t take that seriously,” she implored, even as awestruck officials of the protocol department took her passport for speedy clearance.

Earlier, on the short-haul flight, Gayatri Devi revealed she was a “big fan” of Sachin Tendulkar and wanted him to sizzle two days from now. “He did get a brilliant hundred in Rawalpindi, but I would like a repeat when I’ll be watching the action live….”

Gayatri Devi is developing a liking for Rahul Dravid as well. “Isn’t he constantly growing in stature'” she asked. Before one could answer, she smiled and added: “Actually, I root for Sourav Ganguly (called Maharaj at home), too…. I mean, he’s from Bengal, where my roots are (in Cooch Behar) and a soft corner is inevitable. Moreover, he’s done a fine job as captain.”

Incidentally, this isn’t Gayatri Devi’s first trip across the border.

In 1987, for example, she was in Lahore as a state guest for the World Cup semi-final between Pakistan and Australia. The invitation had gone from the then President, General Zia-ul Haq, who was bowled over by her during his cricket-diplomacy exercise, in Jaipur, earlier that year.

Flight IC 845 had another VIP passenger: Filmstar-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha.

Speaking exclusively, the Union minister for shipping confessed soccer was his No.1 sport, but made the point about how he “couldn’t miss” what promises to be the shootout of the season.

“Asli game to Wednesday ko hai... Forget the past, only the 100 overs that day will matter," Sinha remarked, informing he had arrived from London just a few hours before boarding the flight for Pakistan’s most charming city.

Like Gayatri Devi, he “admires” Sachin. Again, like the Rajmata, he is growing into a

Dravid fan. “I don’t need to talk about his batting, but he’s such a good looker as well,” Sinha pointed out, adjusting his trademark dark glasses.

Well, if Sinha ever gives up netagiri and returns full-time to Bollywood — in a different avatar, that is — we may hear of a lead role being offered to Team India’s mainstay.

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