Food

How a photojournalist of The Hindu cooked for Team India

Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman enjoy a vegetarian meal for dinner at a serviced apartment at Bridgetown, Barbados during the 1997 tour of West Indies.   | Photo Credit: V. V. Krishnan

Around 20 years ago, there was a suggestion to the Board of Control for Cricket in India that the team, when travelling overseas, be extended the facility of taking along a cook. There were of course ‘in-house chefs’ available, but you couldn’t expect Sachin Tendulkar to dish out baingan bharta for the whole team at every meal. (Tendulkar recently cooked it for Mother’s Day, and posted the video on Twitter. He’d cooked some for us in the hotel kitchen in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He also makes a mean steak.)

The team members (both players and journalists) who had a tough time finding food were the vegetarians, especially the wicket-takers, like Anil Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad, Javagal Srinath; and run-getters like Pravin Amre, VVS Laxman. It is another matter that Srinath allowed himself the freedom of a non-vegetarian meal once in a while.

The Indian team had a willing cook in Sandeep Patil. He loved to cook. “I have cooked for a gathering of 50,” he boasts today. Patil, however, had his limitations: “You get the masalas and I will serve you the most delicious food,” he would tell his team-mates. They still remember the finger-licking experience at parties hosted by Patil. He would cook everything from khichri to biryani. He’d personally buy, cut and clean the meat and vegetables. He loved feeding people and would only eat once the first round was done.

The cricketers, however, weren’t lucky to always have Patil travelling with them. So they discovered ways to find their food friends, or mamoos (uncles), on tours to the West Indies, Kenya, New Zealand. A few players were champions at befriending the expatriates and inviting themselves to dinner. Laxman was the most popular in places like the West Indies and Australia, where families from Andhra would compete to host him and a few others. At the end of the day’s play, the vegetarians waited eagerly for Laxman to whisper, “In the lobby at 7.” The word was spread discreetly.

Anil Kumble and Debashish Mohanty enjoy a vegetarian meal for dinner at a serviced apartment at Bridgetown, Barbados during the 1997 tour of West Indies.

Anil Kumble and Debashish Mohanty enjoy a vegetarian meal for dinner at a serviced apartment at Bridgetown, Barbados during the 1997 tour of West Indies.   | Photo Credit: V. V. Krishnan

In New Zealand, the team had a generous mamoo in Mori Patel, a lovable Gujarati businessman, who loved taking care of the cricketers. He would bring different kinds of Indian food, he never ate non-vegetarian food, but would sometimes bring it for the team. Patel often drove 240 kilometres or more to deliver food cooked in the morning and served fresh for his cricket ‘friends’. The team adored the elderly Patel for his selfless service.

The Indian media had a wonderful cook in VV Krishnan, our photographer, who was, however, selective in inviting people to our room (we always ended up sharing). He preferred the vegetarians. “The non-veg guys can eat anywhere,” was his simple reasoning. His rice-rajma combination was a hit with the cricketers, who looked forward to an invitation from Krishnan. With his little cooker and heater, it was a sight to behold as Krishnan engaged himself in preparing dinner for four or five sportsmen. He had a splendid support staff: Kumble fetching and cleaning the rice, Ashish Nehra preparing salad, Zaheer Khan setting up the table, Ajay Jadeja assisting on some instructions. Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev would drop by. A few others would not mind doing the dishes. The VV Krishnan Café was a huge hit with cricketers.

Indian food was an attraction at most grounds in England and New Zealand, where families set up eateries in vans, offering samosas, bhajji pakodas and burgers. At the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, the stalls selling aloo-roti did brisk business. There was a special discount for the Indian media and we were allowed to jump the long queue, in order to rush back to the Press Box as play resumed.

Then there were the High Commissioner’s dinners, where the cricketers were pampered with food of their choice. In places like Zimbabwe, Kenya, and the West Indies, such dinners were much-awaited in the ’90s. In later years, the players found easy access to Indian food through friends and new restaurants coming up.

Rahul Dravid had found a nice one in Adelaide and we would frequent the place. Of course, Dravid was the least fussy about food, just as Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh, were. They all learnt to enjoy Chinese, Italian, Continental and Japanese delicacies too. Today too, the current team is well-adjusted, and enjoys world cuisines. But they don’t have a bunch of amusing stories to tell on using haricot beans (used in baked beans) as a substitute for rajma.


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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 6:16:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/how-a-photojournalist-of-the-hindu-cooked-for-team-india/article27898986.ece

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