Thursday, August 6, 2015

When God Bowls a Googly - Ashwath Aiyappa

This book is a wonderful, honest effort by a young man who tried hard, very hard, at all that he did. Perhaps too hard, one feels. To read about the way he went about gaining knowledge to figure things out -reading books, meeting people, working at himself, writing a book - all in a span of 30 years is amazing. I cannot imagine thinking like he did or reading or writing like he did at that age. It also saddened me immensely to know that young Ashwath is no more - just when he seemed to have made peace with himself. Such passion, compassion and knowledge could have benefited the world immensely. He had all the makings of a good teacher, an influencer.
Magenta Press, 190 p, Rs. 250

Ashwath's honesty touches you straightaway. His love story with cricket, his struggles in dealing with success and failure (more with failure, he was particularly hard on himself and his failures), his obsession with making it big at cricket and the huge burden that came with that expectation, took a toll on him, his personal life and probably even his professional life. All through, he never gave up trying to figure it out by reading, interacting, questioning and certainly trying harder than anyone else. Consider the book's tag line - spiritual Intelligence for sports - and you wonder how a 26 year old could conceive and write a book like that.

The core of the book interests me. The 'zone', that feeling of invincibility, of being in total control (that happens once in a blue moon) is something that we all want to replicate at will. In fact that idea is the basis of my first attempt at a novel 'The Misfit' (unpublished and still not given up on). Clearly Aswath belongs with us, in the land of the misfits, trying to make sense of something that probably cannot be made sense of. It can perhaps only be experienced, be allowed to come on its own at its will. Did we all try too hard to force her to our ways?

Ashwath gamely tries to bring it all together - from extensive research on science and deeply experiencing spiritualism - he brings together two seemingly diverse aspects and may have found an answer there. He puts across all he has learned clearly, honestly, articulately. It would have made a splendid evening, chatting with him about all he had explored and all he had discovered. (I have always found the Karnataka boys easy to get along with and some of them have been my best pals on the South Zone tours - right from Arjun Raja, Harish Holla, Boris Mascerenhas, Srinivasu Maruvada in the U-15 days to Tejpal Kothari, Ananth, Madhu, Rajesh Kamath, Shashikanth, Deepak Kini, Srinidhi, Rashid Mohsin, Srinath and several others. All of them easy natured,articulate, hard working cricketers with good values, good humour and a forthright manner - Ashwath surely fits into that category.)

His love for the game comes across strongly in the parts where he writes about it. The years of growing up in Ooty, Kodagu, Bangalore, his love for the game, his pain of separation from his parents at a young age, his early success at being selected for the Karnataka Under 16 flow brilliantly. You do not want to pause as you read the book. Then his disappointments, pressures, coaches and selectors, players, the tough, mean side of the game are all brought out trough his own personal experiences. Not once does he make an excuse for himself though. On the other hand, he is tougher on himself. And its not easy to make it in Karnataka which is easily one of the top sides these days blessed with several good coaches, forward-thinking administrators (Kumble-Srinath-Dravid did a great job in their term), the base for the NCA.

One great insight for me was learning about the pressures that young cricketers face. We faced some insecurity then, in the 1980s, and it was mainly with the system. But here the kids are facing it from too many directions - parents, colleagues, coaches, friends, social groups. That's just a tad too much to handle for the young fellows. Friends cheering at the others failures, coaches who put down players badly and dent their psyches, parents who expect too much - its tough. Not to mention social media, and ease of access to alcohol, women, money and material wealth.

There are bright sparks too. What he experienced in Mumbai was very interesting and shows a completely different aspect of his persona. How the tough experience grew him, the quality and support of people around him - Abey Kuruvilla, Pravin Tambe, Vijay Patil, Makarand Waigankar and others - certainly made him a different proposition. Ashwath had cracked it surely in that stint. Playing with someone like Pravin Tambe is enough to get the basics right - of playing for the love of the game.

 Needless to say his greatest influence seems to have come from his spiritual guru Sri M.

Young cricketers who read this book can learn much. Not to pressure themselves despite all that everyone says and enjoy the game is probably the first learning. If Ashwath had just let go (an issue he had trouble dealing with for sometime) he could well have been batting as he did in the inning in which he scored 92 off 60 balls - the zone inning. It's also clear that to be a good cricketer one has to be a good human being and Ashwath demonstrated that in the way he lived - many instances and reactions show him as a sensitive and caring person. Mostly I hope that his voracious appetite for knowledge - the kind of books he read, the thoughts he explored - inspires many more young cricketers to approach life from more than one dimension. If this young man could do so much in his lifetime, you could too.

What impressed me deeply was the depth and honesty of thought, the clarity and certainly the evolved style of writing. He wrote like a pro. As he wrote, Ashwath reveals himself as a highly intelligent, deep thinking, compassionate person who leaves no stone unturned once he sets his intensely curious mind on anything.

Ashwath passed away in April 2014, just a month before the release of this book.  In fact the journey he undertook on that fateful day with his brother Dr. Akhil, from Bangalore to Kodagu, was to cast his vote - he was a responsible young man who took his duties seriously. He died trying to save his brother from drowning. Neither survived. The book was released by his parents. My heart goes out to them.

Not many can write a book like this.

There is no doubting the fact that Ashwath, with his enormous preparation and capacity for work, would have cracked the first class barrier (and more) sometime or another. Not just cricket he'd have done well in so many areas. (He was a successful entrepreneur to add to his list of achievements!) One cannot but conclude by saying, well played Ashwath. Very well played indeed.

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