Sunday, April 5, 2015

Third Man - Hyderabad Launch

Third Man, a delightful autobiographical account of the cricketing years of yesteryear's off spinning great V. Ramnarayan, was launched at Akshara Books, Hyderabad yesterday. The book store has this quint little space at the back where they host these book events and it was the perfect setting for Ram's book event.
V. Ramnarayan catching G.R. Vishwanath off his own bowling on the cover of Third Man

Ramnarayan played for Hyderabad in the 70s and was an integral member of the dashers from Hyderabad - a team led by M.L. Jaisimha and boasting of the likes of MAK Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig, Jayantilal, P. Krishnamurthi, Govind Raj, Abid Ali, Mumtaz Hussain, Jyothi Prasad, Narasimha Rao etc. The team had seven or eight Test players and beat some wonderful teams but enigmatically never won the final for all its talent. Ramnarayan was its penetrative off spinner and wrecker in chief of the Bombay first innings when Hyderabad took a sizeable first innings lead and then collapsed and lost inexplicably in the semi final. He made his debut for Hyderabad at 28 and played about 5 years of competitive cricket during which time he was named in the Indian probables camp. However his tragedy was that he was the third man - always behind EAS Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan and all that talent went waste.

Post cricketing career, something he got sick off so much that he hated all thoughts of it, Ram did several things but finally found his calling in the world of writing. He wrote books, and now edits India's leading magazine 'Sruthi' on performing arts, and now and then comes out with masterpieces like 'Third Man'. I will review the book separately.

Ram is very accessible. He is a fine human being, rooted to the ground and his principles. Let me relate an incident here. When I was in Chennai to promote 'The Men Within' in 2008, I knew that V. Ramnarayan, an ex-Hyderabad off spinner and writer, lived in the city. Somehow I wanted to contact him and invite him to the event and made all efforts to do that too. I asked many people but all enquiries led nowhere. So I finally gave up and went ahead with my program. At the end of the program a tall, slim gentleman walked up to me and introduced himself. 'Hello Hari, I am Ramnarayan. I read your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done.' I was beside myself. I told him how I'd been trying to contact him to invite him to the event and how nice that he took time off to come and be part of the event just because he felt that it deserved some support. Such is the stuff that these people are made off and the more we think of them the more we aspire to be like them. We kept in touch since then and now we have a common friend - Krishna Sastry Devulapalli (who will be with us on a panel discussion on cricket writing in Chennai on April 15, 2015).

Ram is also the only one of his generation who seems young enough at heart for me to call him by his name. The rest of them are all saab to me. Yesterday there were many at the event - old friends who showed up despite advancing years and heavy traffic. Manohar Sharma ji who was chief guest, Murtuza Ali Baig, Noshir Mehta, Maheshwar Singh, Prahlad, B. Mohan who had all played with him and who had all been coaches or selectors when I was in school. Many who came but could not find the store. Junie Aunty (Mrs. Jaisimha) came all the way from Sainikpuri and Ram said later - 'I have never felt so good.' It was so nice to have him and Mrs. Gowri Ramnarayan, also come over to the University of Hyderabad as my guest speakers in the morning. Gowri was wonderful and gave so many practical insights to the students about how to go about with their shows and careers.

Among others who came were Shobha, my sister Mythily and brother in law Harsha, Vinod Pavurala and Aparna. There was reading by the Little Theatre - Mr. Shankar Melkote, Prakash and Vijay Marur did the honors with Ram joining in later. I was in conversation with Ram later for a while discussing the book and the cricketing days.

The evening was full of good vibes, joie de vivre and old stories. A couple of beers would have uncorked a whole lot more but these are the days of drunken driving etc so we all carefully retired. 'I am glad I did this,' said Ram. I am glad too. Just seeing all the people of his generation, listening to their stories, their laughter made me feel good too. That was a generation that had chutzpah and its still evident in the unique style each of them carries. Many copies of 'Third Man' were sold and signed. I gifted copies of 50 Not Out to Maheshwar Singh, B. Mohan and Prahlad who had at one point or other been selector or coach to me. An evening well spent. Thanks Ram. And Gowri. See you in Chennai soon.

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