Suresh Menon says he did not want his book on Pataudi to be a hagiography; rather he wanted to delve into the mystique of the man
Sachin Tendulkar embodies a cricketer’s halo. As he walks into a room, you instinctively take a step back. When he walks towards the pitch, the loudest applause that trails his entry leaves you awe-struck. Tendulkar is all that we have now when it comes to cricketing royalty but ask your father’s generation and a name will effusively crop up: ‘Tiger’ Pataudi. Pataudi’s halo remains intact even though he last played for India in 1975. On September 22 2011, when India’s much-feted former captain passed away, his peers and newspaper editors spoke and wrote with deep emotion.
Words can fail to encapsulate the multi-faceted man. The obvious references do crop up: A prince who bred patriotism within an Indian team of the 1960s; a romantic, who married a sparkling actress Sharmila Tagore and has other celebrities like son Saif Ali Khan and daughter Soha Ali Khan as part of the Pataudi household; the prankster who once staged the kidnapping of Gundappa Viswanath... The list is endless and despite the daunting task of decoding the mystique behind Tiger, author and journalist Suresh Menon has done precisely that in Pataudi - Nawab of Cricket, a heart-warming book of essays that he has edited and issued in association with Harper Collins.
“Pataudi was class,” says Menon. “Not just in an old-fashioned way but also in the most modern sense of its usage. It was not just about him being the right person at the right time, it was also about the fact that Indian cricket needed a man like Pataudi. We were losing everywhere, our captain (Nari Contractor) had just been felled by a bouncer at Barbados (1962) and when Pataudi took over as captain at the age of 21, he changed the way India played its cricket.”
Menon was clear about what he did not want—a mere deification of a great man.
He was absolutely certain about what he wanted – insights into what made Pataudi the Tiger that he was, a man, who despite losing an eye in a car-crash in England, always strove to be a good batsman and a supreme fielder.
“V.K. Karthika, chief editor at Harper Collins and I sat down and drew a list of writers. I thought about diverse topics, assigned them to the writers and I am more than happy that we could capture the spirit of the man,” Menon said. He too has penned an article and has the company of respected journalists such as The Hindu’s former Editor-in-Chief N. Ram and CNN IBN’s Rajdeep Sardesai. The book opens with a lovely foreword by Sharmila Tagore that melds dignity and grace, an attribute richly associated with Pataudi. “I have loved Tiger for forty-seven years, was married to him for almost forty-three. We didn’t make it to fifty. But it was a memorable partnership,” she wrote.
The floodgates then open as cricket’s best and brightest including Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Rahul Dravid, Ian Chappell and Mike Brearley; adroit wordsmiths; and acclaimed actor Naseeruddin Shah, join hands to etch their reflections on Pataudi. There is Farokh Engineer’s ‘he-is-one-of-us-lads’ piece; there is Gavaskar’s conundrum – ‘how do you address a prince?’; there is the daughters’ (Soha and Saba) impressions of their dad; and there are seasoned writers like Ram and Menon writing objectively and also embellishing their articles with their personal insights.
During a summer in which Pataudi has permeated the air what with Gavaskar delivering the maiden MAK Pataudi Lecture in Chennai recently, Menon deserves credit for embarking on an ambitious task and pulling it off. Perhaps this is his way of paying tribute to his boyhood hero.