July 6, 2023, turned out to be a red-letter day for me, courtesy my seven-year-old daughter and my alma mater. As I walked into the “shed” at Modern High School for Girls as a parent and caught the first glimpse of the gleaming World Cup trophy my daughter so wishes Virat Kohli and his teammates will win later this year, my heart skipped a beat and my mind was flooded with memories. Of my schooldays nearly three decades ago, when the “shed” was nowhere near its current swank avatar and rather remained true to its name. But peeking from the crowd of happy reminisces was another golden memory of a letter.
It was a simple, long, white envelope with my name and address written in a slanting hand in blue that I picked out of the letterbox on coming home from school one afternoon. Those were still the days of letter-writing, and I would regularly receive letters from friends and family living outside Kolkata, so I didn’t think too much though the handwriting seemed unfamiliar. Once upstairs, of course, I quickly tore open the envelope and out came a white letterhead with the same slanting hand. On the top left-hand corner was a red-and-gold Ganesh, but it was when my eyes fell on the tiny gold face on the bottom right-hand corner and the signature next to it that I gave out a shriek that brought my mother running from the next room. It was a letter from none other than the Sunil Gavaskar, the very man who had scored an unbelievable 10,000 runs (10,122 to be precise) in Test matches.
The simple, white envelope the letter arrived in – still a prized possessionSohini Bhattacharya
When I had written a long letter (read ode) to him several weeks ago and posted it to “Samudra Mahal, Worli, Bombay”, I hadn’t dared to imagine that the Little Master would actually reply and that, too, in his own hand.
I am no cricket aficionado and started watching the game when I was around 13 to fill my rather lonely afternoons when my mother and father were both at work and I had a holiday or got home early. I lay on the sofa in the drawing room, watching matches on our Uptron colour TV. I don’t remember when and how I started following the game closely. Looking back, it remains a surprise why I became a Gavaskar fan and not perhaps of the big-hitter Srikanth or the stylish Ravi Shastri for whom girls would fall. This was in the Eighties and, a few years later, Gavaskar would retire. But I still remained a die-hard fan, looking out for charity or exhibition matches he still played, listening attentively to his commentary during later matches and watching every episode of Sunil Gavaskar Presents on Doordarshan.
‘Looking back, it remains a surprise why I became a Gavaskar fan and not perhaps of the big-hitter Srikanth or the stylish Ravi Shastri for whom girls would fall’TT archives
My first experience of watching a cricket match in a stadium was in Hyderabad. It was an India-Pakistan exhibition match and my high point was watching Gavaskar on the ground. The match also remains memorable for another completely different reason — Imran Khan was supposed to play the match but arrived only halfway through it and was still allowed to join the game to keep the crowds happy.
Sachin Tendulkar with ‘Gavaskar Sir’TT archives
It was only much much later that another short, young boy from “aamchi Mumbai” became my hero and at least one of the reasons for that was perhaps the fact Sachin Tendulkar himself considered ‘Gavaskar Sir’ his icon.
Cricket, for me, is setting the alarm to wake up and watch India play the World Cup in Australia/New Zealand and then crying because 'Tendulkar played so well, but the rest of the team let him down'. Cricket is returning home in pin-drop silence in the Metro after an abandoned World Cup semi-final. Cricket is disbelief and anger at the unfairness of the Duckworth Lewis Method in sending South Africa home. Cricket is watching matches with friends at Eden, skipping classes to get hold of tickets at the last moment. Cricket is trying to relive those days with a visit to the same stadium with colleagues.
And yes, cricket is a yellowed envelope tucked away in a broken box in my loft that I manage to bring down every July 10. Happy birthday, Little Master!