Murali Vijay: ‘I wanted to find myself, what I was made of, what I wanted in life’

M. Vijay  

M. Vijay walked on the wild side in his formative years, a rebel and a ‘bad boy’.

During those days of turbulence, Vijay’s passion for cricket carried him through. The Indian batting star now says, “The climb up the mountain is hard, but the view from the top makes it worth it.”

Vijay opens up in a brutally honest conversation with The Hindu.

You had a very different life growing up. Can you tell us about those days?

If you set a wild dog into the open, it will run to search for its freedom. It was like that for me. I wanted to find myself, what I was made of, what I wanted in life. There are things bigger than money, sleep, and protection. I could survive anywhere.

I’ve heard you had a rough time at school…

I was chucked out of schools, studied in seven to eight before I finished my 12th standard. Bad behaviour… pushed the girls into the swimming pool... I thought it was good fun then. I was about 10, studying in fifth standard when it first happened.

What bothered you about life in school?

I did not understand the logic of education at that time, the value of learning history or geography at the age of nine. A lot of students studying with me got 99 per cent or 98 per cent marks. I was amazed by that. My mind was always on the ground outside the walls of the classroom. I first started playing cricket when I was nine.

Did you play cricket in the neighbourhood? If so, how did the experience help you?

The neighbourhood where I stayed, K.K. Nagar [in Chennai], was fantastic. There were grounds that I could explore. The competitiveness came from there. I was the youngest playing with the big boys, everyone else was in college. It helped me a lot, understanding their mindset. They took me in, protected me, and enjoyed my batting.

Can you tell us about your friends from those days?

I remember Sriram, there was Prakash. Sriram was studying in New College. He used to pick me up, take me to floodlit matches at night. Everything was happening for a reason for me. To keep me connected with cricket.

There came a stage when you decided to leave home. How did your family respond?

I did not get through my 12th. I failed. I told my parents that I would not stay in the house. I wanted to discover myself. Nothing was going my way. My father wanted me to have at least basic education, get some of my priorities right. I could understand that anxiety, but it was difficult for me to change my thinking. I left home.

I’ve heard that you slept at different places, lived the life of a nomad…

There were so many places. Chennai itself has changed so much. I had great friends, but I stayed alone. I used to sleep in the parks. All my friends were my family, they took me as the extra kid. That was a tough period. I had one year to write 12th again, didn’t have anything else to do. Everybody else went to college, I didn’t. It was a very bad feeling.

How did you make money to survive then? You were young and did not have a job.

I joined a business at that time. I needed some money to run my day.

I also used to play in snooker parlours to win money. I made some money in a game called ‘Losers pay.’ That was a big trend in Chennai at that time. I loved that culture in Chennai. I won a lot of matches, I lost a lot of matches without money in hand. It was a good learning experience, it toughened me.

There was a lot of anger within you at that point in time…

There was some anger within me. There was this school thing. I was very temperamental at that time. I used to curse myself, be very hard on myself. I was aggressive and moody. If somebody told me I needed to be like this or that, I never respected that. For me, I was finding my way. Some thought I was arrogant.

I still cannot express my feelings totally. I am learning. To tell people how much I love them is very difficult for my nature. I finally had to look inwards to control my temper, to find peace.

Were you the ‘big brother’ for your only sister?

I was never a big brother for my younger sister Vidya who is now married and working in the U.S. She felt I was a spoilt brat, and I was that to be honest. She was 99.3 in marks, just my opposite! She was fantastic and I envied her for that. She worked for Google… she is a genius.

Can you tell us about your parents and their influence on you?

My parents stood by me. I am a secret admirer of my father, his name is Murali. He was my hero. I fell in love with moustaches because of him, I got the beard thing from him. I started riding bikes because he used to have a Bullet and stuff like that. He never reacted to situations. I connect more with my father now. One thing to learn from him is how to let things go. I cannot let go of things that easily.

Lakshmi, my mom, is more aggressive, more direct, more passionate about whatever she does, especially cooking, and has leadership qualities. I love my mom.

She is more of a happy-go-lucky person. She’s more fun. I have a similar personality.

How did you progress in cricket, through the age groups?

I did not get through the under-16 level. And I did not get picked in under-19 in the first year. It was all going haywire. I joined Chemplast [which runs the Jolly Rovers Cricket Club] when I was 20. Four years of college at Vivekananda was great for me because I enjoyed cricket like never before. If you play from your heart, it will take you to the right people. Chemplast was also the right place for me.

The call-up to the Tamil Nadu Ranji side took longer than expected considering your ability.

The Tamil Nadu break was a Himalayan task because I couldn’t find a reason why they didn’t want me. I was doing everything from my side, performing. There were a lot of questions about my attitude, the way I carried myself. All that mattered was talent and performance.

That was not seen by the so-called selectors and others. All that was seen was what I was wearing. Bharat Reddy sir [former India stumper and a guiding light at Chemplast] told me how I should conduct myself and that helped.

Can you remember the time when you were first selected in the Indian team, in 2008?

I was travelling from Nasik to Mumbai after a Ranji game. There were flashes of several images before my mind’s eye after the news broke. A lot of calls were coming. I was not in a state of mind to attend any. It was me and my own self flying in the car.

Are you fond of movies and music as many cricketers are?

I used to love Kamal Hassan sir, Rajinikanth sir. A.R. Rahman sir, Illayaraja sir, they have all done fantastic things. I always used to like J. Jayalalithaa [late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister] because my father was a great fan of her. When I grew up, I once had the opportunity to see her passing by in a car. I always wanted to meet her in person but unfortunately couldn’t.

You were known to be pretty popular with the girls growing up.

I had my share of girlfriends but I never chased girls, they chased me. I still have girlfriends. My wife is a good friend to me.

Has your family given you a sense of peace?

Yes, it has. I have two kids, a boy and a girl. And my wife, Nikita, is expecting in October. She is much tougher than me. We both connected and she has been fantastic so far. Hopefully, I can keep her happy. The work I put in, I want to celebrate with my family at the end of the day. If I see a smile on their faces, it motivates me to do more. I want my children to find what their passion is and then chase it.

What is the secret behind the moniker ‘Monk’?

When young I went to Delhi for a match. It was freezing cold. We lost the match on the first day and had to stay there for eight more days. One of my friends, a senior, was doing something alone behind a room. I went and asked him what it was – he replied, “It’s Old Monk rum”. He said, “If you have it, you won’t feel the cold”. Then I drank it. Another friend of mine saw that and gave me the name ‘Monk’. It stuck!

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 6:47:25 PM |

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