Many of our Indian superstars do whatever they have to, to earn fame, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to earn respect. Knowing that, when I was asked to review Pataudi – Nawab of Cricket a book on my maternal uncle many a thought flitted through my mind. I knew him well and loving him the way I did, I wondered if an outsider was capable of doing justice to the person, who wanted neither fame nor respect yet got both. Or was this a branding exercise with someone trying to earn two bits of respect from the departed soul’s goodwill? Would the book unravel the mystery that enshrouded him and address the awfully difficult question; how was a man so misunderstood and I daresay disliked by a few, so highly respected and in the end, loved by all? With our families in court and the strain filtering to another generation, the challenge for me lay in remaining neutral and truthful.
The book hadn’t arrived from The Hindu and my mind started to wander. Tiger Pataudi was an enigma, an unsolved mystery till his last breath. Many would love him for what he was; yet many others, threatened by his persona, would try their level best to rid Indian cricket of his presence. It would be easy to get the words out of those who loved him. They would say all the right things. But in order to get a proper perspective of the true genius of the man, would the author get the opposing camp to explain how, even after their sustained attacks on him did they end up respecting him more?
Unable to wait for the book, I went on the net to see the names of the people who had contributed. I wasn’t surprised to see that many were familiar, and these would be the contributors to the good section. That’s when I saw Vijay Merchant’s name. Now here was a staunch detractor of the family since 1945. I had always believed that no blood of Pataudi (Sr) would ever give him entry into his life leave alone a full chapter in a Pataudi book. In the 1946 tour of England Merchant had been overlooked for Pataudi (Sr) as captain of India. Many believed, as did Tiger Pataudi, that he held a grudge ever since.
His time to get even with the Pataudis came just before the 1971 tour of West Indies. The captain was being selected and the vote was equally divided between Wadekar and Pataudi. The Chairman of the Selection Committee, Vijay Merchant had the final casting vote. He voted against Pataudi (Jr), which shocked many as he had led India quite remarkably in the 1969 series against Australia where India had nearly levelled the series. Replacing him made no cricket sense but by then rumours were strong that he was a regional man. With such enlightening history how would Merchant write anything nice of the man he had believed incapable of leading India?
The book finally arrived and I must admit is wonderfully fresh and lively. It actually unravels much of the mystery that surrounded the Nawab and addresses, in its own unique way through the eyes of peers and loved ones, many an issue a fan would never have known. It is apparent that each writer has written from his heart except of course one. How did Merchant know about Pataudi (Jr)’s relationship with his sisters? The chapter is laboured yet in the end it is apparent that he too respected his adversary. It proves the book has balanced opinions.
Rajdeep has bought out the true depth of feeling that fellow great cricketers had for him. Naseerudin Shah’s is a beautiful piece on Tiger Mian. Those that loved him called him that. I wish people like Shah had spent more time with Tiger Mian in the last few years of his life. M. J. Akbar has always been an outspoken man and in those moments of outspokenness he has said many a thing for and against many a people, especially Muslims of high stature. I read his brilliant and as always eloquent piece and searched deep for hidden innuendoes. I found none. I only found a sense of respect and affection and that too beautifully expressed. Coming from MJ, that is probably the best compliment in the book. The sensitivity with which fellow cricketers like Gavaskar, Engineer, Bedi, Baig to name a few along with the nawab’s daughters have written is so pure and unadulterated that it brings many a smile and a tear to my eye. Well done you.
The book brings Tiger Pataudi to his fans in a manner that they would never have known and is the perfect epitaph to one of India’s few and genuine geniuses. Awfully talented, royal, intelligent, witty, cryptic, sensitive, distant, loving, complex, simple and broke — the book is unafraid to state that and more about him. And that’s exactly what he was. It’s because most writers are unafraid to express their true sentiments that the book feels so pure and is such a pleasurable read. Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket is worth more than just a good read, it is worth keeping close to your heart and cherishing for all times.
(Saad bin Jung is a writer and former first class cricketer)
Nawab of Cricket: Edited by Suresh Menon; HarperCollins Publishers, A-53, Sector 57, Noida-201301. Rs. 499.
Keywords: Tiger Pataudi