Birthday Specials – Gaurav Gupta – Super Sundays – Weekly Blog

It’s been a while since I have written a birthday special blog. Amidst the hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes miss out on appreciating the goodness around us. Last Tuesday ( Sep 17th) was my and good friend and former colleague at Coty, Gaurav Gupta’s birthday.

Gaurav’s journey as a hairdresser has been really inspiring. He started off his career in Sales in the pharma industry. After a couple of years, he figured out that this was not his true calling. He decided to take the plunge in a field which he was passionate about – hair dressing. A very unconventional career choice , especially after having started in sales, but Gaurav had the clarity and desire to follow his true passion. He learnt his craft and started off as a hairdresser in a salon and steadily inched his way up and today, he is one of the most respected trainers in Coty India. He currently heads the training (education) vertical for South India. He has numerous accolades to his credit, winning the Trendsetter award ( best trainer in India) multiple times.

Gaurav was the first person I had met when I had joined Coty. An extremely warm and pleasing personality, the biggest strength of Gaurav is his positive attitude in all situations. He had come in and taken over the South market in challenging circumstances, but his positive attitude and problem-solving mindset rubbed off on his team and he was able to turn things around. I had just joined as the Divisional manager for South and this quality of his was a great source of strength for me as I was initially finding it tough to manage the business. Gaurav would always have a solution when his team would come to him with issues. He also had a sound understanding of business, which is generally a challenge for many trainers as most of their focus is uni-dimensional ( majorly on training delivery).

We all need a colleague at work with whom we can talk freely- without inhibition and worrying about disclosure concerns. Gaurav was one such colleague, whom you could trust. He would always see the lighter side of things in stressful situations and ensure we find a way out. It is this quality which I think holds him in good stead. With him as my counterpart, I always knew that the training function was in safe hands and help me focus on the business side. Gaurav would never shy away from taking up challenges and would figure out some or the other way to come out of a problem.

We have travelled together a lot and I would make it a point to have Gaurav in meetings with top customers as his subject matter expertise would really go a long way in enhancing the quality of the discussion. All the customers held Gaurav in high regard for his subject matter expertise and his practical approach.  Gaurav reminded me of another Gaurav ( Gaurav Manjeshwar) in my Mahindra stint,who also was a similar personality and a subject matter expert. The other Gaurav will be a subject of a blog some other day.

One really good quality about Gaurav , which I really admired was his constant efforts to upgrade his skills. He would always be looking to learn the latest techniques and not rest on his laurels and this had a rub-off effect on his team as well.

Gaurav Gupta – it has been a pleasure knowing you. I am glad our paths crossed and I am sure you will keep marching on and achieve all your dreams. You have shown that passion can be converted to professional success even if you have started on a different path. Keep inspiring.

Belated Happy birthday and cheers to a colourful life. Stay blessed.

Jai Hind

Super 30 : Super Sundays – weekly blog

When things aren’t going the way you like, what’s the easiest option? Quit and hope that things will improve and start afresh. Blame it on “external factors”. Blame all constraints.  Look at others around and if you see a “similar to me” example of things not working, then maybe console yourself saying I tried my best but couldn’t manage. Go with the “new flow” and hope that someday things will work better.

My blogs had taken off quite well in the last six odd months when I had taken a break from corporate. Every Friday morning, religiously, the blog would be sent out. The positive feedback received from all my well-wishers kept me going and by the end of six months, quite a lot of people wrote back to me saying my writing had improved tremendously from when I started.  Then I rejoined the corporate world back in July. The first couple of weeks, I still managed to send in blogs. But after that, I just couldn’t manage.

I leave from home by 8 :30 am and come back by 7 pm or later, which I think is the case with most of us working in the corporate world. There is outstation travel on need basis.  Weekends are free. Technically speaking, this should be no impediment to taking out a couple of hours in a week and doing something which you like – writing in my case. But life doesn’t exactly happen as you plan. I just couldn’t manage to type in those characters. I blamed it on everything happening around me – my work, the fact that we had a new born kid , household chores etc etc. I allowed this to be the new normal and was ok to not do something which I had started to enjoy and blamed the “situation “ for this. Ironically, just when my writing quality had started getting better, I couldn’t manage to write. I took the easier choice – when things get difficult, just quit or postpone. Nothing wrong with this approach but in my case, I was not feeling happy about it. I was feeling miserable deep inside that I was not able to do something which I loved. I hoped that the long weekend during Independence Day would re-invigorate me but then I was faced with the writer’s block. I typed in three sentences and shut my laptop. By the end of August, I had a strange creepy feeling that it was all over slowly. I hoped that I would get back to blogging but it just didn’t happen. My worst fear – “the situation will control you” instead of the other way around had come true.

A lot of my friends asked me why my blogs had stopped suddenly. I blamed it on work saying work had made it tough to focus on this. Faced with a difficult situation of managing multiple priorities, I chose the easy path – giving up instead of fighting it out. Until yesterday, when I saw Super 30 .

My first memory of Anand Kumar was in 2014, when he had come in as a guest speaker in the Mahindra Annual Sales Conference. I was an Area Sales Manager in those days. Until his session, a host of senior leaders had come in and delivered typical corporate presentations. Kumar had about 10 slides, mostly pictures and spoke in Hindi throughout. He was in tears when he spoke about how, despite coming from an economically weak background, he had got a seat in a prestigious foreign university, on the back of his research papers being published in international journals,  but due to lack of sponsors, he had to give up his dream of higher education. He had reached out to ministers and various sources but nothing worked. Money is everything. If you don’t have the money, then you are gone. The difference between Anand Kumar and a lot of other people who have quit their dreams when it didn’t seem to work out was the mental approach. Instead of giving up completely, Kumar started Ramanujan School of Mathematics, for IIT coaching. He spoke about how 2 students had enrolled in his first year in 1992. In 3 years, 500 students had enrolled. For 10 years, he was purely running this as a business until one day, he decided to start Super 30 (when he saw a poor student , who had come to his Ramanujan institute wanting to enroll in IIT coaching , but could not afford it). Every year, he would call for an entrance test for the underprivileged students and 30 under-privileged students from Bihar, would be given free IIT coaching, inclusive of food and accommodation at his centre. Kumar was determined that other deserving students should not suffer the same fate as him and he decided to enable them. If you are passionate about something and keep pursuing it, then the world will take notice some day.

In the first year, 18 out of 30 students made it to IIT. Children of rickshaw puller, masons, housemaids from Bihar had got through the IIT entrance. The first in their families. These students had ensured that their and their future generations lives would take a positive spin. From then on, there was no looking back for Kumar and Super 30 and he had a 90% + conversion consistently. In 3 of the years, all 30 had qualified.

Recognitions came in from across the world. Super 30 was in the Time Magazine “Best of Asia 2010”. Barack Obama’s special envoy – Rashad Husain, termed it “the best institute in the country”. Anand Kumar was awarded the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Shiksha Puraskar in November 2010, the highest award given by the Bihar state government in the field of education.

At the end of his presentation, Anand proudly mentioned that because of his success, a lot of corporates and the Government had approached him with donation /aid requests for Super 30 but he till date has not taken a single rupee from any of them. When he needed it, people had turned him down and now it was his turn. Kumar’s journey had his own challenges and he had endured a fair shar of smear campaigns in the media by competitors and death attacks. Kumar exhorted all of us not to “ give up on our dreams” come what may.

At the end of Kumar’s speech, many of us were in tears. Kumar only spoke for 30 minutes but had all of us spell-bound and motivated by the end of his speech. After the session, I ran outside and took a photo with this inspirational figure. This man was not as heard of as Bollywood stars or cricketers, but a photo with him was priceless.

When things are not going your way, you can still slug it out and keep fighting to pursue your dreams. Anand Kumar – you have made the country proud with what you have done. Hrithik Roshan and the makers of the movie “Super 30” might have taken a lot of cinematic liberties in bringing out his story to life, but to me, Anand Kumar will always be an inspiration – six years ago, he motivated us to achieve our dreams and now, he has again woken me up from my slumber and pushed me back to pursue the things I like and not get bogged down by “situations”.

I do not know if my blogs will continue in the same weekly frequency as before ( hoping to publish every Sunday) , or I will again go back to a state where I blame the situation. But for now, I am at peace that at least I have come back and written a blog after a few weeks gap and no prizes for guessing the inspiration behind this.

Long live Anand Kumar and Super 30.

Jai Hind

281 & Beyond – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

VVS Laxman was a soft-spoken and shy cricketer during his playing days. When I picked up his autobiography – “281 and Beyond”, I did not expect anything different. However, Laxman pours his heart out in a very candid and genuine account of his life and the book makes for a nice and inspiring read.

The book starts off with Laxman taking us through one of the most inspirational moments in Indian cricket history – the 281 Test Match at Eden Gardens in 2001. With Australia having won 16 successive Tests and enforced a follow-on, India’s chances of saving the Test were one-in-a million. But cricketers like Laxman and Dravid come once in a lifetime. India were at 232/4 when Dravid had joined Laxman and when Laxman departed, the score read 608/5. McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Kasprowicz were taken to the cleaners. Australia lost 7 wickets in the last session of the last day and India had pulled off a sensational victory. Since then, Indian cricket’s fortunes changed and under Ganguly, the team reached new heights.

Laxman recalls how he had almost missed that match due to a back problem and how Andrew Leipus (then physio) and God ensured that he played the match and re-wrote history. Reading this chapter made me take a trip down memory lane – I was in class 8 when 281 happened and we were all in shock and awe at the turn of events on day 4 of the match. After that victory, Indian cricket under Ganguly reached new heights and India became a force to reckon with in Test cricket away from home as well. There is an interesting anecdote mentioned where Ganguly, decides not to expose Harbhajan Singh further in a warm-up game before the start of the series, after seeing him bamboozle the Aussies in the first innings of the match. Harbhajan gets picked in the squad and doesn’t bowl in the second innings. It gives an insight into the planning that goes behind-the-scenes. Laxman also analyzes the captaincy and mindset of legendary cricketers like Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, Anil and MSD, having played under all of them.

Born in a middle-class family to doctor parents, Laxman talks about how he had to make some difficult career choices – to skip pursuing medicine for the sake of cricket. He also gives a vivid account of his journey in his club cricket days – how being the junior most team member, he would religiously lay down the mat on the pitch and take it as a learning ritual without any cribbing. His Ranji trophy journey of building a career brick-by-brick and putting in the hard work day in and day out , the importance of a mentor ( his uncle) is a lesson for every youngster that there is no substitute for hard work.

Although Laxman was a middle-order batsman in first-class cricket, he was selected as a Test opener in his initial years as that was the only slot available. Playing for the country overcomes individual aspirations and while opening was not his natural game, he still tried his best and came up with a few good knocks. After a few years as an opener, a frustrated Laxman decides enough is enough, puts his foot down and convinces the team management that he is best suited in the middle order. This part of the book makes for an interesting read as it reveals a tenacious and gritty side of VVS, which is not known to many.

Laxman also speaks his mind regarding the match-fixing controversy and the Greg Chappell era. His take on Greg Chappell’s “divide and rule” style of management is candid as well as shocking to read. Like all sportspersons, he also has had his share of disappointments. He pours out his frustrations at not being selected for the 2003 World Cup and not able to win a Ranji Trophy championship for Hyderabad. He also talks about his unwavering belief in God helps him tide through various setbacks in his career.

For a man who averages 46 in Test cricket, with 135 catches, 17 centuries and close to 9000 runs, Laxman’s place was always under the scanner. Despite that, Laxman has featured in quite a few victories – Johannesburg ( where he played with the tail to set up a huge lead), a last-wicket victory with Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma against the Aussies in Mohali, the famous Adelaide win in 2003 with Dravid are some of the ones he recalls. His last match was in Adelaide and it feels sad that he could not play his farewell match on Indian soil. Laxman also describes the mixed emotions in announcing his retirement just ahead of a home Test series against New Zealand.

Unlike a few autobiographies which tend towards self-glorification, this one is a genuine and honest account of a cricketer who made it big with his hard work, dedication and commitment, became a household name after 281, had an up and down journey but was always humble , simple and genuine. A man who gave up his status as an “icon” player so that his IPL franchisee could use the money for buying players, a man respected for his behavior on and off the pitch, a man who took his father’s words “The profession doesn’t glorify you.. YOU glorify the profession” and gave it meaning, Laxman will always hold a “Very Very Special” place in every Indian cricket fan’s heart. “281 and Beyond” is a reflection of this selfless cricketer. It’s a must read for cricket fans.

Jai Hind

Maa Tujhe Salaam: Mother’s Day Special

While I am not a big fan of having a “Day” to celebrate occasions as they are nothing but a windfall for greeting card companies and restaurants, on the occasion of Mother’s Day, I felt it was apt to write a blog to pay tribute to all mothers.

Firstly, the person who is credited with creating Mother’s Day- writer/activist Julia Ward Howe. She first suggested this idea in 1872 and held Mother’s Day meetings annually in Boston to unite women and rally for peace. Then, the inspirational West Virginia activist Anna Jarvis, who campaigned for observance of a national holiday in honor of her mother. Jarvis’ mom was a community health advocate, who had organized several Mother’s Day work clubs that addressed child rearing and public health issues. Jarvis wanted to pay tribute to her mom and all mothers. Without these three inspirational ladies, the world would not be celebrating Mother’s Day every year on the second Sunday of May.

My wife recently became a mother two months ago and I was fortunate to see her evolution from a happy-go-lucky carefree girl to a responsible mother in a short span of time. The sacrifice a mother puts in for the well-being of the child starts well before the delivery, in fact right from the moment the happiest news in the world is broken to her. The mother’s world starts to revolve around the little one in the womb and things would otherwise have been normal become a luxury (read these as eating out, parties, movies , going to the parlor etc. in today’s times). All for the greater good of seeing a happy and healthy child. Then starts the endurance process. A male like me had no idea about what labour pain feels like until I experienced it through the eyes of my wife. For me, a pin prick is good enough to shout loudly. Multiply the intensity of this by a billion and people who have not given child-birth will understand what sacrifice a mother undergoes in terms of the physical pain. But there is never a complaint as she always knows it is for the greater good of the world, “her” world, which is her child. A woman undergoes a big change when she becomes a wife, an even bigger change when she becomes a mom. Imagine this. As a recent dad, I hardly get time to write during the day. Most of my writing happens in the late evenings after the world has slept, or rather my world right now. Having taken a break , I try to do my bit by trying to burp, singing her to sleep, occasionally giving her bath, holding fort when my wife goes to the loo or has lunch. And I don’t have to breastfeed every hour. A new mom struggles to find time to squeeze in a bath. She doesn’t want to make the child wait in case she cries.   All this sacrifice despite having some amazing support from her parents.

Which brings me to pay tribute to the real stalwarts – the parents of all of us. In today’s time, parenting for us as a couple feels really tough to transition despite having both sets of parents in the same city – despite us not having to cook meals, wash dishes, clean the house etc. All our parents have made the biggest ever sacrifice by making our childhood a joyride. In those days when we were kids, I don’t think there were maids, day-care centres, cooks and washing machines. The parents of our generation have gone through all this without a complaint. There were two kinds of super-moms– some like mine who decided to quit their job to focus on their single biggest priority – their children. The second kind deserves an equal salute – moms like my mother-in-law who continued working so that they could make more money for us to enjoy the benefits and still took care of their children without batting an eye-lid. In today’s times, we give standing ovations to artistic performances and speeches we see live. If these things deserve a standing ovation, then I think our parent’s sacrifices deserve much more than just Whatsapp forwards and FB Insta “happy Mother’s Day” status messages. Till today, their single biggest priority remains their children and their well-being. Even to this date, those of us who are fortunate to have our parents alive, see the concern in their eyes when we have a small fever. They still consider us a little child even though many of us have ourselves become parents or have grown out of our college clothes. Many of us, me included, have reciprocated their love by taking them for granted. It is a sad truth of today that we will realize the true value of everything only when that thing is no longer available.

Let’s talk our motherland. While we cringe about jobs, higher taxes, intolerance ( all of which are real issues), what we forget is the financial state of our motherland. Many of us find the Budget to be boring or not of use to us. A shocking fact to many is that to spend every 100 Rs on various schemes, subsidies, the Govt borrows 19 Rs. Which means 100 Rs of expenses is only financed by 81 rs of taxes and other receipts. We are still repaying our old international loans and we continue to take more loans to fund our expenditure as a nation. 7.04 lac crore , yes you read it right, is the amount budgeted for borrowings and other liabilities by the Government of India. China, on the other hand, has become a trade surplus nation. Which is my Startup India is very important and creating jobs through entrepreneurship is a very satisfying thing as it provides more revenue to the motherland. Our parents did not have access to the kind of venture capitalist’s money or the FDIs in their era and so they sacrificed their lives so that we could fulfil their unrealized dreams. Instead, we still continue to play the safe game and work for others when in today’s age, there is no stopping a great idea when it comes to resources or funds. Even I am guilty of this but if this continues, the figures mentioned will only worsen. The likes of China and Korea realized this in the 60s and today, we have global powerhouses originating from there. Sadly, for many of us, our only concern in the budget is whether the Govt has reduced income tax slabs rate or not.

After our motherland comes the mother of all mothers – Mother nature. Our greed to inhabit , build concrete jungles and litter every God damn place in this planet has ensured that we face mother Natures’s fury through the likes of Cyclone Fani, tsunamis and earthquakes. Where there is no direct correlation between these disasters and manly greed of cutting forests, Natural does follow Netwon’s law to giving an equal and opposite reaction to our every greedy action.

So, what can we do to make all these mothers proud? Small actions when multiplied can create a significant impact. We can start with saying thank you to our moms, cooking for them, taking time off for a day and just hearing them out. To our motherland, we can do things like sponsoring a few kid’s basic education every year to help those less fortunate mothers get their children out of poverty, pay our taxes without cribbing and try to create jobs with the resources we have so that India is a debt free and a trade surplus nation. For mother nature, we can start with small things by not spitting on roads, carrying cloth bags to malls and minimizing plastic. We all have enough Google-able info around us to know what we need to do and pay tribute to all the mothers around us. This need not happen only on Mother’s day, we can do these small things daily at different scale in varied contexts.

If we do the small things right every day which make our mother proud and in turn our mother land and Mother Nature Proud, our future generations will thank us by singing in genuine praise….

Maa Tujhe Salaam

Happy Mother’s Day to all these lovely angels. Every day is special because of them – every mom is special

Jai Hind

Birthday Specials – Rahul Subramanian

I am grateful to God that I know one celebrity as a friend before he became one. My first memory of Rahul Subramanian was at IMT Ghaziabad in June 2011 where me ( in my role as Group HR Campus Connect Manager) and him ( IMT Ghaziabad campus stud alumni who had bagged a Pre-Placement Offer) spoke for about 20 minutes about why the students should join our organization. Since then, our lives have taken different turns. In those days, Rahul was the “sharaarati ladka” of our batch of campus recruits. He used to crack a lot of “sasta” jokes and play TT late until midnight. He also had an uncanny knack of “mimicking” company folks and in the process entertaining us.

Rahul spent the first two of his corporate career in Bangalore and was trying hard to get a transfer to Mumbai , his hometown. He was loved by his Bangalore bosses and initially they were reluctant to leave him. But after two years, Rahul’s wish of getting transferred got fulfilled and he landed up with a role in the Corporate Brand Council as part of the Group Strategy Office. After completing 2 years in our first roles, like every Management Trainee, we were a confused lot trying to find meaning in our lives. We had a lot of heart-to-heart conversations regarding the various corporate career options available. Rahul in those days had complete clarity that he loved marketing and wouldn’t want to do any other thing. He did not care about theories that a sales stint was essential for being a successful marketer. For him, he wanted to do a job he loved and he advised me the same thing – do what you love and it will take you places. I was amazed by his simplicity of thinking and the fact that he did not bother too much about the so-called career experts. The role offered to him was not the most glamorous role in the organization (there were far more creamy roles like Brand Manager of one of the iconic powerbrands) but Rahul never cribbed about what he didn’t have. He had got a marketing role and he would do a good job at it. Rahul’s simplicity of thoughts was one of the factors which convinced me to take a plunge from HR to Sales as I wanted to do it irrespective of what others thought. After Rahul moved to Mumbai, our paths didn’t cross much. Then one day, I met Rahul and heard him drop a bomb-shell. Rahul told me had got tired of working in the corporate world and he was moving out to pursue his dream of being a stand-up comedian.

Rahul had already started doing a few shows in a few comedy clubs in Mumbai and within a few months, I guess he had assessed that this was what he was good at and he loved doing it. Rahul’s big break came when he partnered with Kumar Varun and the duo’s show “ Random Chikibum ” deservedly won the best series award in a YouTube competition with the highest number of views. Rahul was our own Gully Boy – albeit a B school Gully Boy. Naam banta hai risk sey and Rahul had showed it to the world that if you believe in something and pursue it unwaveringly, destiny will be forced to look at you with a different lens. After the YouTube victory, there was no stopping Rahul and today, Rahul makes every Indian proud when his performances are loved by people in cities like Melbourne and L.A. Rahul has now moved to a global stage. Passion and self-belief can take you places and there is no better real-life example than Rahul.

While success seems easy on the outside, there is a lot of hard work behind the scenes which not many people can comprehend. The difference between the also-rans and the greats is that the greats keep working on the simple things day in and day out. A profession like stand-up comedy is not as easy as it looks. To stand out from the crowd, one needs to keep coming up with new scripts every alternate day and keep innovating. While critics of stand-up may argue that being cynical and sarcastic is not the way to go, what they fail to notice is that doing that and yet bringing smiles on people’s faces consistently is no mean feat. Rahul’s hilarious takes on HR, IT, Bangalore traffic and his namesake RaGa are unforgettable. Rahul’s immense respect for ethics is what makes him stand-out.

Behind every successful man is a woman and a supportive family. I think the biggest support for Rahul is his wife Sonica , who has allowed him to pursue his passion without any filters. A profession like stand-up requires huge sacrifices on the family front – you need to travel constantly, most weekends are reserved for shows away from the family and it takes exceptional maturity for a woman to accept all this as part of the game for the sake of seeing her loved one be happy. Matches are made in heaven and both these gentle souls deserve each other. Rahul has also inspired people like me to take a shot and doing the things we like instead of maintaining the status quo.

Rahul’s inspiring success story of a middle -class Tam-Brahm boy leaving  a highly paying corporate job to pursue his passion and making it big without any influence or backdoor entry has made me pick up the pen and start writing my first book. The best part about Rahul is that despite being such a big star in the stand-up world, Rahul continues to remain in touch with all of us pld friends and asks us to come for his shows, see his videos. He doesn’t need to do this now as his name commands a premium but for us, he’s always been the Rahul we knew. He hasn’t changed a bit. I was overjoyed when he accepted my request to come for my upcoming book launch. He could have easily turned down such a request citing busy schedules etc, but Rahul will always be the old Rahul – simple, humble, cheerful , cheeky and happy-go-lucky TamBram boy.

Rahul Subramanian – Happy Birthday. May you continue to fly high and achieve all your dreams. Your journey has been an inspiration and I am sure will inspire loads of people to follow their passion and strike it big. Whenever somebody asks me if I know any celebrity at a non-superficial level, my answer will be “I know Rahul. Naam toh sunah hi hoga 😊”

Jai Hind

Sachiin …. Sachiin : Birthday Specials – Blog series

On this day 45 years ago (the 24th of April, 1973), if someone had told you that a middle class Indian, a student of Sharadashram Vidyamandir School, would go on to become one of India’s greatest ever cricket inspirations, what would be your thoughts? Impossible, isn’t it? International cricket for a period of 23 years, from the age of 16, 50 plus scores in a one-day game every 3rd match, the only one to score 100 centuries in international cricket.. the list of records is endless. But Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is much more than records. For those born in the 80s and 90s , Sachin was fulfilling every middle class Indian’s dreams. Post liberalization in 91, a young and aspirational India wanted a middle-class hero, who could conquer the world and more importantly, our hearts. I don’t think a single cricketer in the 90s has generated as much discussion and debate as much as SRT. Because of him, Jonty Rhodes was a villain for many Indians for a controversial catch in Durban in a tri-series. Because of him, Steve Bucknor was a villain for bad umpiring decisions. Because of him, tonnes of electricity were consumed as well as saved depending on him getting out or otherwise. For a generation, he was the only hope. With each passing day, the hopes and expectations only increased, the debates only increased – did he choke in finals, was he not a finisher, could he not carry the team through in tense matches…

For a hardcore Sachin fan, it did not matter. Every time he was criticized, he let his bat do the talking. Some critics started saying that he plays only for his records and most centuries are in a losing cause. The job of a critic is to criticize, make a mountain out of a mole-hill. 15 Man of the Series awards, 62 Man of the match awards with 90% + Indian victories, Man of the Match award against every one of the ICC Full Members, a lunch with Sir Don Bradman. Unlike certain cricketers who had weaknesses in certain countries, Sachin conquered every country. The tougher the pitch, the more graceful the innings. Perth , Lords, Newlands, MCG, Manchester, Hamilton – name the ground, name the team – you would have SRT associated with it. While it’s easy to find faults, what people forget is the consistency amidst the weight of expectations. I can’t recollect a batsman who was so consistent in his era – an era dominated by Wasim, Waqar, Walsh, Ambrose, Warne, McGrath, Murali and Donald. The 90s had some of the most ferocious cricketers playing for their countries. And at the big stage, the World Cup, Sachin upped his game even more. Again, critics complained of his ability to come poor in semi-finals and finals. But what gets forgotten is the fact that he was majorly responsible for taking the country till that stage. For a decade, the country could not muster a batsman who was 50% close to his abilities. Despite that, India had a near invincible record at home and a miserable one away. Sourav and Rahul finally came on-board and then things started to change. Because of this man, a seemingly unknown injury known as “tennis elbow” got national importance. There was a time when he could do no wrong, on and off the field. He started being called as “God”.

God was quite a nickname for a cricketer. Initially, I didn’t understand what this God business was all about. My first Sachin memory was the 1996 world Cup. The stumping off Jayasuriya in the semi-final against Sri Lanka cost us the game. He had scored 60 odd in a total score of 130. Like the critics, I thought Sachin would never play in a big match. Then Desert Storm happened in Sharjah. Then came a Henry Olonga massacre. Then a 136 with a stiff back in Chepauk. That was the first time I cried after seeing India lose to Pakistan. With a stiff back and 270 to chase in the fourth innings, India was tottering at 82/5. I was waiting to switch off the TV but it was Sachin who prevented me. Nayan Mongia decided to give support and Sachin took India to 254/6. With 16 runs left, Sachin got out to Saqlain Mushtaq. Most Indians knew the match was over. The next three wickets fell in the space of 4 runs and India snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and lost by 12 runs. Sachin had lost the match but won a billion hearts.

But Sachin would hurt the Pakistanis 5 years later. He reserved his best for the 2003 World Cup battle with Pakistan at Centurion. Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib and co were punished duly. 98 off 75 balls but there was a game changing moment in the match. While on 32, Abdur Razzaq dropped Sachin off Wasim Akram. An exasperated Akram shouted “ Tujhe pata hai tu ney kiska catch choda hai?” That summed up the status of SRT in his heyday. By that time, Sehwag, Yuvraj and Kaif had arrived but Sachin was the big fish. It was my Maths exam the next day and most of my college mates, like me,decided to chuck the preparation and see the match. That was the power of Sachin and an Indo-Pak match.

When MS Dhoni arrived, he very rightly chose to do away with senior cricketers who were liabilities on the field. Sourav went first, followed by Anil and Rahul. But Sachin was in a different league. Till his last date, his fielding or batting was never a question. His commitment was 250%. That was the power of the man. Barring Glenn McGrath, I don’t think any bowler has “troubled” him per se. Warne was taken to the cleaners. Murali was out-batted. The others didn’t matter. Most people think Dhoni has invented the helicopter shot. But true Sachin fans have seen this shot in the Natwest Trophy 2003 against England where Sachin helicopters Darren Gough over midwicket. All these made me think Sachin was God.

But God has a way of showing mortals why God is God. The Ferrari car controversy where Sachin refused to pay some gift tax initially, the Rajya Sabha disaster, his failure as a captain twice were all God’s way of showing us that every human is fallible. Despite this, every Sachin fan hoped that he would be part of at least one World Cup winning team. That moment arrived in 2011 and Sachin should thank Gambhir and Dhoni for pulling India out of trouble. I guess God had smiled on him finally. It was only fitting that a young Virat Kohli carried Sachin on his shoulders that night at the Wankhede with the ever-familiar shouts of “Sachiiin… Sachiiin” That shout from the audience is much more than a shout. It means various things to various people – adulation, hope, inspiration, magic, glory, beauty, finesse, perfection, consistency, humility and idol worship. To say that his last international speech was emotional is an understatement. He couldn’t script his farewell with a century but he had done enough for a nation starved of sporting heroes in the 90s.

I can go on and on about this man but I have to stop. Stop because I am lucky to share my birthday with him and I must spend time with family on this special day. As I turn 32 and Sachin 45, I only hope that one day our paths will cross and I take a selfie with him. That is definitely high on my bucket-list. Even better if we both cut a cake jointly. I hope God fulfills my dream. Until then, I will keep staring daily at his portrait on my wall ( my wife gifted me a sketch by The Hindu where his 100 centuries are written as his face outline) and keep saying….

“Sachiiin.. Sachiiin”

SRT – thanks for the memories

Jai Hind

Throwback : Aamir Sohail vs Venkatesh Prasad: Freaky Fridays – weekly blog

If God had given me a wish to become someone for a few minutes, I think it would have been Venkatesh Prasad in the 15th over on March 9th, 1996 .

Last Saturday, the 9th of March , marked the 23rd anniversary one of the most inspirational cricket comebacks by a bowler – Venkatesh Prasad vs Aamir Sohail. Only those Cricket fans who have watched this moment live either in stadium or TV will be able to appreciate the magnitude of this moment.

The 1996 cricket world Cup was the first one for me.  My dad used to subscribe to The Sportstar magazine. I loved their colourful sports visuals. I remember the 96 Cricket World Cup exclusive edition where it had profiled all 12 teams playing the World Cup. The Sportstar was rooting for an India Pakistan final. It used the words “mouth-watering contest”. I could not fathom why an India-Pakistan cricket match was being hyped so much. But I was sucked into all the hype as I started following the World Cup and hoped to see an Indo-Pak final.

Powered by Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, India finished third in Group B having won against Kenya, Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Sachin’s heroics went in vain against the Aussies and the Lankans. Pakistan in Group B had defeated everyone except South Africa. So, on the 9th of March 1996, a Saturday , A2 and B3 squared off against each other. The Hindu’s sports page headline screamed “The match of the tournament today!!” I just couldn’t understand what the hype was all about.

Mohammed Azharuddin won the toss and decided to bat. The crowd at the Chinnaswamy Bangalore had already let out a huge roar when the coin fell in India’s favour. I just couldn’t get why cricket crazy fans went berserk at just the toss. Sachin and Navjot Sidhu got India off to a great start. India had gone to 90/0 in 21 overs when disaster struck. Sachin chopped one on to his stumps off Ata-ur-Rahman. At 90/1, with Sachin gone, I almost wanted to switch off the TV. But Indo-Pak matches were just not about one individual. Navjot Singh Sidhu, decided to play one of the best innings of his career and made 93 fighting runs. By the time Sidhu got out , India were 168/3 in the 36th over. Azhar was looking extremely good but he fell to a great catch by the keeper Rashid Latif off Waqar Younis. The score was 200/4 in the 42nd over. In those days , 270 plus was a decent score. In walked Ajay Jadeja at 6. Vinod Kambil got out at 234/5 in 46.3 overs. With 21 balls to go, 30 runs was a decent achievement against Waqar and co and 265 was something which could have given the bowlers a chance. Jadeja was losing partners at the other end. India had plummeted to 239/6 at the end of 47 overs.

Waqar Younis, in those days was feared world over for his toe-crushing yorkers. Anil Kumble, the local boy, lofted Waqar over mid off for a boundary. The roar was back at the Chinnaswamy. The legendary Tony Greig screamed “Anil Kumble – Get ready for a blistering Yorker on middle stump”. I guess Kumble heard those words. The length was just two inches short of a Yorker. Kumble played a glorious flick through mid-wicket for four. Waqar was clearly rattled. Kumble took a single the next ball. Waqar decided to bowl a Yorker on the off side to Jadeja. Jadeja creamed it along extra cover for four. The first 5 balls of the over read 3,4,4,1,4. 16 off 5 balls against Waqar Younis. Jadeja was not finished yet. Waqar with all his might bowled a toe-crusher on middle stump. I thought Jadeja’s middle stump would be uprooted. But Ajay Jadeja was in a different zone that day. He had read Waqar’s mind ,  took a step back on the crease , created the elevation and flicked the ball over mid-wicket for six. The Chinnaswamy was in raptures. 22 off Waqar’s over and India had moved to 258/6 after 48 !!! The 49th over produced 11 runs and India were 269/6. It was a good score already, but Jadeja was not done yet. Waqar steamed in. The ball was a length ball on off stump;Jadeja moved to the leg side and caressed him over point for four. The next ball was despatched over long off for 6. 10 off 2 balls. Waqar had lost the plot. Jadeja with his unconventional feet movement of moving to the leg side had got the better off Waqar. He got out the next ball but Ajay Jadeja’s 26 ball 45 with 2 sixes and 4 boundaries (all off Waqar’s bowling ) till date, remains one of the most inspirational cameos in World Cup history. India ended with 287/6. Pakistan were fined an over for slow over rate and their target was 288/6 in 49 overs. What a finale to the Indian innings !!!

The Pakistani openers Aamir Sohail ( stand-in captain for the injured Wasim Akram) and Saeed Anwar, got the team off to a flyer. 50 came in the 7th over, 84/0 at the end of 10. The bowlers were being flayed to all parts of the ground. The Chinnaswamy had gone silent. I almost wanted to switch off the TV, but always had a hope that all it takes was one wicket to get India back into the game. It had been a miserable start by the Indian bowlers. Saeed Anwar got out to Srinath at 84/1 but Aamir Sohail was still going strong. Pakistan crossed 100 in the 14th over and Sohail got to his 50. Sohail was slowly but surely taking away the match from India. 14 overs 104/1 . 185 off 35 overs required ( less than 6 runs per over). I felt sad for Jadeja, Sidhu and all the others who had helped India reach 287.

Venkatesh Prasad came running in to bowl the 15th over. Ijaz Ahmed took 5 runs off the first 2 balls Pak 110/1 at 14.2. Quite fittingly, the two commentators on the mic were Ravi Shastri and Imran Khan. The next 2 balls were dot balls.

14.5 Prasad bowled a back of length ball. Sohail flat-batted it between point and cover for a four. However, Sohail did something which stunned everyone. Sohail walked down to Prasad, pointed his finger in the direction of the boundary either in arrogance or in triumph. He did not know the impact of that small action on various individuals in the minutes, months and days to come. Little did I imagine that Aaamir Sohail’s seemingly innocuous act would change the game for me forever. At this point, I was feeling angry for Sohail’s act. I felt that Sohail was pointing a finger at Indians. I felt I was Venkatesh Prasad and I was being embarrassed. I never thought I would get so involved in an innocuous match. Now I started to understand why The Hindu headline screamed “The Match of the Tournament today”. I really wanted to slap Aamir Sohail if he was right in front of me at that moment. The fact that India Pakistan as neighbouring countries had a tense history only added fuel to the fire and added to the drama. I am sure every Indian cricket fan watching the match seriously would have wanted to beat up Sohail for his seemingly arrogant act. My dad was frowning. The crowd was somewhere between booing and shouting. Amidst all this Ravi Shastri screamed “What is Prasad going to do?”

Ball 14.6 India vs Pakistan – World Cup quarter-final – March 9th 1996 – Venkatesh Prasad against Aamir Sohail….

Prasad came in running, Sohail tried to move away and repeat the previous boundary shot and missed the length. Credit to Prasad, he held his nerve and bowled a “you miss, I hit “ ball and the rest as they say is history. Venkatesh Prasad sent Aamir Sohail’s stumps cartwheeling out of the ground and gave him a fitting reply – he signaled him off to the pavilion. The Chinnaswamy erupted. My dad jumped from his chair and angrily clenched his fist and said “BC .. bahut akkad mey tha Sohail.. Ab kya ukhaadega Pakistan”.  Ravi Shastri screamed “And he’s bowled him!! India are right back in the game”. I was like a fool jumping up and down with joy with both my hands raised. I went to my dad and gave him a hi-fi. I had never done this before and after. This was like a Eureka moment for me and I felt like I had conquered Mount Everest. I could not imagine that a cricket match could invoke so much emotion in me. Post Sohail’s wicket, Pakistan fell like a pack of cards. When Sohail departed, their run rate was 7.16 per over and the required rate was 5.23 per over. But Sohail’s lapse in concentration ensured he not only gifted his wicket, but also gifted the momentum to India. Rashid Latif, Salim Malik and Javed Miandad tried to make a match of it but Venkatapathy Raju, Kumble and Prasad ensured India had the last laugh. Navjot Sidhu was adjudged ” man of the match ” for his valiant 93 but to me, Venkatesh Prasad for his 3/45 off 10 was the “Inspirational Indian of the Match “.

Like in every match, there’s always a turning point in one’s life. The difference between movie heroes and sporting heroes is that sports heroes are for real. When the going gets tough, those who are mentally tough keep calm and continue to do the basics right. They put their past behind and work on the next ball. Thinking about the past is of no use as it is already gone. Those who hold their nerve under pressure, when their backs are to the wall ,and do the simple things right stand out in a crowd.

Venkatesh Prasad became one of my all time favourite bowlers, because in the highest-pressure cooker situations, he would save his best for Pakistan. In the 1999 World Cup, he took 5/27. Prasad, Sachin, Kumble and Sourav would always reserve their best for Pakistan. Venkatesh Prasad is a highly under-rated but a highly inspirational medium fast bowler India has produced. He may not have the highest wickets like Kapil or Anil, but he has a special place amongst cricket fans who have followed Indo-Pak World Cup matches.

Venkatesh Prasad – you have given me one of my most inspirational cricketing moments. You made me forget who I was and what I was doing for those few minutes. If somebody can do that, it means s/he has impacted you. That’s why I love watching sports live as sport is so unpredictable and the sheer joy of watching David win over Goliath is amazing. I felt lucky that I had watched this inspirational moment live on TV. Luckier were those who were there at the Chinnaswamy. India lost in the semis to Lanka but for most Indians, the World Cup was already won in their hearts as we had beaten Pakistan.   God’s 98 off 75 at Centurion, Desert Storm, a Very Very Special 281 and  Dhoni’s 6 to finish off 2011 WC come close but nothing has surpassed this for me.

If God had given me a wish to become someone for a few minutes, I think it would have been Venkatesh Prasad in the 15th over on March 9th, 1996 .

Jai Hind