‘I can still leave a ball outside the off stump if I want to’ — Sunny Gavaskar, dapper in sunnies
Deepa Malik and Abhinav Bindra, the first medal club
In 1976, Sunil Gavaskar was working for Associated Cement Companies. He had no work but make factory visits and meet people. Yet he would reach office conscientiously at 9.30am. “I had nothing to do. I had exhausted reading all the files. To pass my time, I started writing about my experiences,” said the batting legend, taking the audience at Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, held from January 25 to 29 in association with The Telegraph and co-hosted by Victoria Memorial Hall, on a trip down 22 yards of memory lane. Those sheets, on the advice of a journalist who saw him at it in office, became the corpus for Sunny Days.
“No one writes an autobiography after five years in international cricket. But that is how it came out,” said the author of three more bestselling books, at what was his first appearance in a literary meet.
Moderator Kishore Bhimani brought up an infamous description in Sunny Days of the Sabina Park crowd that bayed for batsmen’s blood, “with shouts of ‘Kill him, Maan!’. Gavaskar wrote that they “hadn’t graduated from the trees, where they belonged”.
Check out the queue of fans at the Author’s Lounge for Sunil Gavaskar, the original Little Master
He admitted that it was “totally wrong” of him to have used such strong words but pointed out that feelings about the West Indies tour were “very fresh” when he was writing. “We were getting four bouncers and a beamer in every over. The bowler’s excuse for the beamer was that the ball was slipping from the hand. But it cannot come at 100 miles an hour then and be so accurate. It was deliberate. The purpose was not to get you out but cause body harm.”
When t2 asked him about his post-retirement fitness level, the Little Master said he suffered from a condition called “shin splints”, which prevented him from running for long. “The Indian team would do a lot of running during training but I would stop after two-three laps. They thought I was shirking.”
He recounted an incident when he went to play the Bicentenary Test at Lord’s in 1987 a few months after retirement.
Kunal Basu and Anupam Roy get their swag on for the t2 camera
Anupam is swamped by fans for autographs and selfies
Because of a drizzle, a warm-up match was called off and everyone, including Dilip Vengsarkar who, in Gavaskar’s words, “wasn’t enthusiastic about this training”, went out for 12-13 laps of the ground at Old Trafford. “I was the only one sitting in the dressing room. When they came back huffing and puffing, Allan Border, the captain of our Rest of the World XI, shouted: ‘Why didn’t you run?’ with some adjectives and adverbs in between. I told him if I could not bat the whole day only then could he point a finger at me.”
In the Test, Gavaskar batted all day to score 188. “Border came up to me and did this,” he said, gesturing repeated bows as the audience burst into applause.
Gavaskar the writer has one more up his glove. He had planned a book on great captains in the late ’90s. “I wrote six-seven chapters and even had a title. Perhaps I will finish it when my schedule becomes less hectic.”
The legend signed off with a flash of his famous wit. On being asked whether the ball off which he was given “caught out” in his last Test innings of a heroic 96 against Pakistan had touched his glove or not, he answered completely at a tangent, leaving the questioner nodding his head. Noting that, he quipped: “I can still leave a ball outside the off stump if I want to.”
The evening of Day 3 was dedicated to nazms, as Javed Akhtar recited some ‘classic’, and some ‘fresh-from-the-oven’ self-composed verses, Bengali poet Srijato for company. “Main jo paise ke liye likhta hoon woh kabhi yaad nahin rehta,” smiled Akhtar, adding that his verses have more questions than answers, leaving the crowd with much food for thought.
Play a sport, be a sport
Two trail-blazers of Indian sports took the stage together at Kalam to talk about memories and memorabilia — Abhinav Bindra, the first Indian to win an individual Olympic gold, and Deepa Malik, the first woman to win a Paralympic medal for India. Neither had access to any source of collective knowledge when they started out.
“It was all trial and error. I wanted to be a rifle shooter but ended up buying equipment for pistols. I had to go overseas to get that knowledge,” said Bindra.
But with Olympic medals coming in shooting, things have improved “a little bit”. “In the first Nationals I had taken part in 20 years ago, there were 200 shooters; close to 6,000 participated in the last one. Now there are coaches who can differentiate between rifle and pistol equipment. The only missing link is the lack of facilities at the grassroots in the initial stage when techniques are formed.”
But parasports remain in the doldrums. “People used to ask me if parasports meant jumping in parachutes from planes,” said Deepa Malik, who won a silver at Rio de Janeiro in shot-put (F53 category). “Few know that in wheelchair sports, there are eight categories, classified according to muscle groups. But there is still not a single coach in India with professional training, no course for coaches, no disability sports psychologists, leave alone volunteers trained to handle and shift athletes during competition. Yet, look at the talent pool — 19 people went to Rio and brought back four medals while three narrowly missed out.”
Moderator Ashok Malik brought up the issue of India not creating knowledge pools. “We create cities without museums,” he said, citing Gurgaon.
Victoria Memorial Hall curator Jayanta Sengupta agreed: “There is an absence of museums and museum culture in India. We don’t have a strong archival tradition.” He hailed fellow panelist Boria Majumdar’s initiative of opening a sports museum in Calcutta. “We need to preserve our legacy. A museum tells stories through the artefacts it displays,” Majumdar added.
How can sports get a fillip? “Each of you can contribute. Play a sport on Sundays as a family and go watch sports events. Perhaps the sports museum can inspire you to do that,” Bindra, the chairman of the government’s Target Olympic Podium scheme, urged listeners at another session the day after, in conversation with Joybeer Dutta Gupta.
Nandana Dev Sen and Palash Mehrotra posed for the t2 camera after raising a toast in the last session of Kalam 2017 at Calcutta Club. Titled ‘Indian Spirits’, the session dwelt on drinking habits in India, with snippets being read out from House Spirit: Drinking in India — Stories, Essays, Poems, an anthology edited by Palash. Nandana, who presented the women’s perspective, admitted to not owning a corkscrew, even though she loves wine. “Drinking is an outdoor sport in India. We might be one of the world’s largest whisky consumers but it’s also taboo. In Allahabad, where I grew up, they would hire a rickshaw or a boat for an hour and drink,” said Palash.
On a bright Sunday morning, sitting on very English premises, author Kunal Basu and singer-composer Anupam Roy discussed difficulties, or otherwise, in writing in English, Bengali and in Anupam’s case, Hindi.
“I believe the Bengali community is the only community that is bilingual, in the literal sense. And I have gone around the world raving about the same, till one day, my own words came back to haunt me. I had never written any novel in Bangla,” said Basu, who released his first Bengali novel Robi Shankar at Kalam.
Having gone to an English-medium school, Anupam confessed to spending a lot of time searching for the right word, the right letter, while writing in Bengali. “I have unconsciously used lines and phrases I have read as a child. In the song Tumi jake bhalobasho from Praktan, the line ‘Kothar opor kebol kotha, ceiling chhutey chaye’ is borrowed from Sukumar Ray’s ‘kothar opor kebol kotha’ in Abol Tabol,” he said. As for Hindi, “The only words that keep coming to me naturally are pyaar, dil and the like.”
For Basu, writing in English and Bengali was never difficult, thanks to actor Utpal Dutt and poet Mangalacharan Chattopadhyay, his English and Bengali teachers in school respectively. “When I realised the last person to have written a full novel in both languages was Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, I had to tell a story in my mother tongue,” the writer of The Japanese Wife and Kalkatta said.
Text: Sudeshna Banerjee,
Trina Chaudhuri, Zeba Akhtar and Ramona Sen
Pictures: Rashbehari Das, B. Halder and Pabitra Das