Memories of Bishan Bedi — a man of integrity, wisdom and wit

Bishan Singh Bedi always spoke his mind; diplomacy was an alien concept. Yet, even if you didn’t agree with him, you knew his ideas came from a place of purity and concern.

Updated - October 25, 2023 12:00 pm IST

Published - October 25, 2023 12:45 am IST

File picture of Bishan Singh Bedi in 2012.

File picture of Bishan Singh Bedi in 2012. | Photo Credit: PTI

Bishan Bedi’s favourite word — and one which he personified — was “integrity.” The last time we met, at his farmhouse near Delhi where I stayed for a day, Bedi was recovering from a surgery. He had slowed down, yet he hadn’t lost his sense of mischief. The great communicator was frustrated that his speech couldn’t keep up with his thoughts. “I am exercising more now than I did in my playing days,” he said. The familiar guffaw followed.

Bedi’s integrity, his insistence on calling a spade by its name and his abiding respect for the game often got him into trouble. He always spoke his mind; diplomacy was an alien concept. Yet, even if you didn’t agree with him, you knew his ideas came from a place of purity and concern.

Bedi was a traditionalist who was anti-establishment. The contradiction is explained by the fact that he served cricket, not its administrators or those using it as a means to an end.

Bedi’s bowling was one of the most beautiful sights on a cricket field. There was grace and an apparent lack of effort; he was the original smiling assassin, luring batters into areas from where their sole option was to give him their wicket.

He remains the only Indian bowler with over 1500 First Class wickets. When he retired in 1979 he had more Test wickets than any other Indian. Was he the greatest left-arm spinner of all time? Here’s Don Bradman: “I am ever ready to appreciate skill in a cricketer, particularly as in Bedi’s case, it is associated with sportsmanship of high calibre…I do not hesitate to rank Bedi amongst the finest bowlers of his type that we have seen.”

On figures alone, Bedi’s place in the pantheon is assured. But cricket is so much more than its statistics. He brought a sense of joy to everything he did on the field, communicating that to the spectators. He did not have a negative bone in his body.

Cricket has lost one of its all-time greats, India has lost a conscience-keeper, and I have lost a dear friend and guide, someone who taught life lessons simply by being himself. When we shifted to Delhi in 1989-90, the first call my wife received was from Bedi. “If there is anything I can do, don’t hesitate….” he began. My wife was speechless. Then as we moved around the country and elsewhere, Bedi visited us wherever we lived. We celebrated his 60th birthday at our place in Bengaluru, he made sure he came for my wife’s sculpture exhibitions in Delhi. He called our son ‘David’ because he felt that despite his slight build, the boy would slay Goliaths!

He was that special individual who had a unique relationship with everyone he met, as a favourite uncle, or a reliable brother. On his first tour as a 20-year-old, he called everyone ‘Paaji’ (older brother). It went from being his nickname to one used with respect to address him.

He took me to the Golden Temple in Amritsar when I was writing his biography, saying that religion was the starting point to understanding him. He loved his music; his family felt that if he had not been a cricketer he might have been a singer.

With his friend Erapalli Prasanna who led Karnataka, he took Indian cricket beyond Mumbai, making Delhi and North Zone a major force. Yet, the stadium in Delhi, where he played so much of his cricket, was named after a politician. He saw Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan, bowlers in a unique spin quartet as technically unsurpassable.

Above all, Bedi had gratitude for the game that made him, and if it was brought into disrepute anywhere in the world, it affected him deeply. It could be politics, bowling actions, bad behaviour, lack of trying, match fixing — he couldn’t understand how players could be so disrespectful and unfeeling. “It isn’t cricket,” he would say sorrowfully — and then set out to do something about it.

After the double blow of a heart attack and a stroke, Bedi found solace in his family, his wife Anju, son Angad, daughter Neha, and their children whom he adored. “You know,” he told me often, “I realise I was so lucky in my life.”

So were we — to know him, this man of integrity, wisdom and wit. The last of his type.

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