Thursday, July 25, 2019

Invite to the Launch of 'The Renaissance Man - Doc M V Sridhar', (and the Making of)

It was mid-October 2018 when I received a call from Jagannath Das (1), senior sports writer.
'Doctor Sridhar's mother approached me to write a book about him,' he said. 'I thought you could help out.' I had no clue what he wanted me to do - perhaps he wanted me to guide him or structure it. 'I said, I will help, no problem.' Das quietly left the ball in my hand and moved out of the project. He told me later that he had no time, had never written a book and thus was not the right person. I said it was ok and I would first talk to Sridhar's mother to understand what was on her mind. Narasimha Rao "Bobby" (2) Sridhar's advocate friend called me and arranged a meeting.
The invite to the launch - come one, come all
How I Knew Sridhar
I knew Doc M V Sridhar from school. He was two years my senior at All Saints High School. I first met him at Lal Bahadur stadium in the 1977-78 period. I was playing table tennis there after school and he was too. He walked over in his characteristic easy manner, asked me if I was from All Saints High School, made some small talk and left. I must have been in my seventh class and he must have been in his ninth. I'd see him at school after that and figured he was a popular boy - good at academics, sports, extracurriculars. Then, in my eighth class, I saw his name and picture in the Sportstar - playing for Hyderabad in the Under 15 state tournament which Hyderabad won. I had that photo under my bed for a long time - Bro Joseph was the manager, and Ehtesham, Laeeq and Sanjay Bhatnagar were the other members apart from Sridhar. It served as an inspiration for me to play cricket at a higher level.

Sridhar passed out of school and joined Little Flower Junior College. LFJC would play against All Saints on Saturday afternoons - they were a fun bunch. By now I was in my tenth class and had started representing the school side. That year when he was playing for the Hyderabad Under 19's, I saw him bat at that Lal Bahadur stadium - he got 76 against Andhra that day if I remember right. Then he joined Osmania Medical College and we heard he gave up cricket - I thought that he was a studious guy and knew exactly what he wanted to, be a doctor. We bumped into one another at the Inter-varsity tournaments.
Meting Jawahar Mahi, Neeraj at the Food Court at HPS, Begumpet at the HLF
When he married Sagarika, my junior from Engineering college, he had just broken into the Ranji team after scoring 13 hundreds in a row in the league games. It was a fantastic achievement - he kept scoring runs at first class level too. I attended their wedding, and they both attended ours three years later, when Shobha and I got married. He scaled great heights as a cricketer in the next decade and became Hyderabad's highest run getter (6701), highest number of centuries for Hyderabad (21) and several records under his belt. I was working at jobs meanwhile - sales, finance, marketing - away from cricket, though I played league matches.

In 2007 my first novel 'The Men Within' was launched and I invited him. When the book was made into a movie Sridhar was part of the movie - as one of the cricketers who succeeded in other aspects of life too. I had a long chat with him and wrote a blog about him then. This was in 2010.

In 2013 he called me at midnight and told me I was Chairman of Selectors - he was Secretary of HCA then. We worked together for a year at the HCA. When my book '50 Not Out' was released in 2015, I met him at the airport, and he hugged me as usual, and even showed me a copy of the book he was carrying to Mumbai to read. In 2017, Sridhar passed away suddenly.

Going by the history we shared, I realised that it made sense for me to write this book because there were many things in common - our school, cricket, people, environment (school, college, HCA). Even if they got a great writer, the cricket part could have been compromised. Being aware of my unique understanding of his space, I felt I should meet his mother Dr. Pushpa.
Joseph Fernandes, Bro Joseph, me and Joel - meeting on Bro Joseph's birthday
Making of the Book
I wondered what Dr. Pushpa (3) had in mind when I met her. She was with her friend Dr. Indira and brought out a bunch of carefully collected and organised articles about his cricketing life and other achievements. I asked her what the purpose of the book was and she and told me that since he had some very good qualities as a person and a professional, the book could focus on bringing out lessons from his life to inspire youngsters. I liked that angle because I am constantly looking for lessons to learn.

At that time there was some talk of bringing the book out in 15 days so it would not have been more than a booklet. I spoke to Mr. Shankar Melkote, Sridhar's father-in-law, and he said that it should not be done in a hurry and we should do a good job at it. Dr. Pushpa wrote down a general flow of his life on a piece of paper and a list of people to meet. It looked like there were about 20 people who could give me information - apart from the articles in the folder. I guessed it would take me about a couple of months to get to the first draft, all going well with the interviews.
Vivek Jaisimha, me, Noel, Vidyuth, Sanjay and Venkatapathi
I read the papers first, and made notes. Then my interviews started - with Dr. Pushpa herself at their home in Banjara Hills. I met her several more times to get perspectives about Sridhar's childhood and his relationship with his parents, grandparents etc. In time I met Sagarika (4), children, Andy (5) and Arnav (6), friend Vinay (7) at home. I met Sridhar's in-laws, Melkotes, Shankar (8) and Rama (9) at their home in Sainikpuri. I spoke to Sitaram (10) their manservant over phone and also met him at Matrusri Engineering College at Nagergul when I visited it. Dr. Indumati (11), his aunt from the UK spoke with me over the phone.
Running through the manuscript at Pune - early on the 7th May after the bus journey

To get some inputs on Sridhar's school life I went to Joseph Fernandes's (12) house at Uppal and met him Joel (13) and Bro Joseph (14) to get information about how Sridhar was at school. It was Bro Joseph's birthday as well so we had a long, extended meeting with Bro Joseph recounting some wonderful tales. Joseph and Joel assured me they would set up meetings with others who knew Sridhar! I met Dr. Hariprasad (15) at Apollo Hospitals (with Neeraj), to find about how Sridhar was in his Under 15 days. Hari was his captain at the Under 15 and Under 19 levels. I met Ehtesham (16) at Minerva Coffee shop to get his sense of Sridhar - they played from the Under 10 days onward for All Saints and even played Ranji Trophy together. I called Chatterjee (17) and he volunteered much information about Sridhar and shared pictures. I called Subba Rao Vadlamani (18) in the US over phone. I was getting information on the cricketing aspect, but I had no clue how Sridhar was in class or at home. That was when I met Swaroop Kolluri (19) who was on a short visit to India at his house in Banjara Hills and he gave some great information in that clear and articulate manner of his. It was a wonderful two hours spent with him.
A cover designed by Sadhana
Much later Dr Pushpa found Anil Kaza (20), Sridhar's childhood pal and he opened the floodgates to many school friends. Anil is based in Geneva and was vacationing in Bhutan and we spoke over phone. (This was so amazing because at the end of the conversation, Anil asked me if my sister went to REC, Warangal and when I said yes he said his wife was Chitra Narayanaswamy! She was my sister's close friend and I knew her very well too as she visited us at home quite often. Small world! Now we all plan to meet when they come to India next.)

Anil gave me the contacts of Vijay Kumar Raju (21) who played table tennis with Sridhar and became state champion as well. He was kind enough to get Ravichander (22) to share some more stories. (They introduced me to Premanand who holds the school group together and despite his offer to have a big get together where everyone shares stories, we could never get down to that.) Srinivasa Katikithala (23), IAS officer in Delhi was another who spared time and gave me some stories. Sridar's tenant Subrahmanyam (24) was a great source of anecdotes too. Ravi Kaza joined in later and wrote a note and sent some pictures. By now we had a fair idea of Sridhar's childhood - full of fun and mischief. As his aunt wrote in her piece, he was a terror. Some of his childhood stories were crazy. Not all of them made it into the book of course!

Little Flower Junior College
I realised that a key person to this effort would be Dr Neeraj (25) a close pal of Sridhar and someone who was fond of Sridhar - enough to compile pictures and vidoes. He made a lovely 15 minute video titled 'Sridhar we miss you' on behalf of the medical college gang. I called him to give me time and he asked me to come to his office at Somajiguda. I ended up going there many more times in the next few months. We connected easily and there is a comfort we share - He is one of the best things to have happened over this project. Neeraj is the quintessential artist - he is a gold medalist in medicine and never practiced medicine for a day.

Neeraj was a treasure house of information. He first gave me a copy of Images, their college year book (OMC). He shared contacts of their friends from college. Luckily for me, Neeraj had also gone to Little Flower with Sridhar so we could dig up some more information there. We met Jawahar Mahi (26) at his Banjara Hills house. Jawahar was close to Sridhar and was part of the Lung Fung gang - Srivardhan, Ali Nawaz, and Kamalakar. Harendar Prasad aka Jimmy, another childhood friend, spoke to me over the phone (27). I spoke to two doctors who knew Srivardhan very well at Deccan Medical College - Dr Varda Raju (28) and Dr Srinivas (29) and they gave me many new angles which proved helpful. Such as the fact that Sridhar acted in a movie, been a partner in a restaurant and once bought a pup as a gift for Sagarika!

Osmania Medical College
We moved into the Osmania Medical College days and I established contact with Ananta Parakrama (30), who played cricket for the state too and was my senior at St Alphonso Junior College. Ananta was very close to Sridhar and a sane voice that kept him under control. I connected over WhatsApp with him and we spoke extensively over a period of time. Other close friends included Venkat Nagesh (31), Milind Bhide (32) who gave me stories over the phone. When Ananta came down to India in January 2019 and we met in freezing cold at the Hyderabad Literary Festival - Neeraj, Ananta and I - on Day 1 of the festival. The very next day we met another close chum of Sridhar's - Jawahar Thomas (33) at the same venue, occupying the food court for long hours. Jawahar Thomas's name figured in Joseph Antony's book 'My Way' on my mentor and hero ML Jaisimha and Jawahar said he had helped out a bit there too.

Among Sridhar's pals from Himayat Nagar was Yogesh (34) who knew Sridhar from when they were six - I met him at his Hamstech office in Punjagutta. Another good friend was Eunice (35) and I spoke to her over phone. I got much information from them.

To get a perspective from the cricketers who played along with Sridhar I fixed up a meeting with Vivek Jaisimha (36), Venkatapathi Raju (37) and Noel David (38). Vivek and Noel scored double hundreds in the match where Sridhar scored that mammoth 366 against Andhra (the third highest in Indian first-class history). Vidyuth (39) was kind enough to host the meeting at Secunderabad Club. We had a very productive session. Others who spoke at length about Sridhar were Nand Kishore (40) who gave a clear and detailed account, NP Singh (41) and Kanwajit Singh (42) - all over phone. I met VVS Laxman (43) at Park Hyatt and he gave me a lot of his time and some very good insights about Sridhar as a mentor, leader and player. Purushottaman Vijay Kumar (44), my classmate from MBA, gave me his insights - he was Doc's roomie when he made his debut.

Satyam Computers
We moved to the Satyam chapter and here we started with Zain Hussain (45) who gave a lovely note about his memories with Sridhar which we retained almost in its entirety. Then Sambit Das (46) who I spoke with over phone at Bangalore. Sambit was a cricketer too and had led Satyam. He shared some fine pictures of Sridhar. Then Anil Dhanasri (47) who came all the way from the USA for Sridhar's anniversary at Sridhar's house. I spoke over phone with AS Murthy (48) for a long chat. I met T. Hari (49) at his office in Madhapur.

Matrusri Education Society
Moving on to the Matrusri story I met Srinivas (50), the current Chairman of the society at his clinic in Vijaynagar Colony. Then Neeraj and I went to the Engineering college at Nadergul and met SGS Murthy (51) and Saibaba (52). I met Sitaram who now works there. We spent half a day walking around the campus, drinking tea at the canteen. It was a lovely campus.

We moved into the HCA chapter and  I met Mahendra (53) at his office at Pragati Printers first. He gave me a lot of time, inputs, as he was the Treasurer when Sridhar was Secretary. He was also a childhood friend of Sridhar's. Bobby gave me his inputs as a club secretary. Narsing Rao (54) was kind enough to come home and give me his inputs - he was the only one who came home. Vidyuth and I met at his office in Banjara Hills once to discuss his association with Sridhar - when Sridhar was Secretary, Vidyuth had been Vice President.

Basava Raju (55) spoke over the phone and so did Girish Dongre (56) who sent me a nice mail. He told me how Sridhar would love going to Cafe Mondegar in Mumbai for his favorite meals (I am amazed at how many things in common Sridhar and I had - including Cafe Mondegar). I met G Vinod (57), ex-President HCA at Boats Club (Neeraj came with me) and his brother G Vivekanand (58) at his residence in Somajiguda. I spoke to CV Anand (59) extensively over the phone. CV had been a Vice President at the HCA.

Moving on to BCCI, I did not have much to go on. That was when Nishant Arora (60), Sridhar's colleague at BCCI stepped in and took it upon himself to get as much information as possible. His article in the Quint was wonderful and gave me much information. Nishant called me and spoke several times from Canada. He personally obtained comments on Sridhar from Anil Kumble, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Anurag Thakur and from journalists like Gaurav Kalra. Nishant opened a wonderful perspective on Sridhar's BCCI stint. Vijay Tagore of Midday (61) was helpful and shared many details and numbers to contact in the BCCI. Vijay Lokapally (62) shared his insights and was of help when we were seeking pictures from the Hindu. All through the effort Jagannath Das was my go-to man for any information - for cricket statistics he gave me a great lead (S did not want me to put his name out in the credits) and he went and got quotes from Harbhajan, Azhar etc.

Writing Process
I made notes while I interviewed people and at times recorded them on my phone. I realised that the recording makes sense because sometimes we miss nuances. Then I would go home and type them in the appropriate chapter. Later on I would figure out which one to use where, how much to use and what to use. It would still read like bits and pieces stuck together so I had to put it all together, find a suitable voice and make it flow easily as a story. I passed every draft through Dr Pushpa who read every word with great concentration and helped me to pitch it just right.

Book Title
For the book title, we tried several options - my choice was 'Make everyday count' which seemed to be Sridhar's philosophy in life. Neeraj had a few - 'Run getter, Go getter' was what he liked. The man who inspired the final title was, Satish Kolluri (63) who also shared his passion for music with Sridhar. Satish called Sridhar that. (Renaissance Man is used to describe a clever person who can do many things very well.) Dr. Pushpa's friend Dr Indira (64) who was present at the first meeting contributed as well.

Notes and messages
Several relatives and friends sent in written notes, poems, songs - his cousins, aunts, friends and their messages have been included. Sagarika shared the messages sent by James Sutherland, CEO, Cricket Australia and some others which spoke highly of Sridhar's contribution. I used quotes from articles in newspapers and magazines liberally - journalists like Solomon, Rajaraman, Vedam Jaishanker, Valentine Wilson, Das, VVSubramanyam, Nishant Arora - all of them had written extensively about Sridhar.

Editor, proof
The first proper draft was done in April and once it was ok with Dr. Pushpa, I told her we should hire an editor to knock it into shape. We tried a local editor, then another in Bangalore before settling with Keerti Ramachandra, who had edited all my books so far and is a very experienced editor. She brought on another person to proof check. Editing took a month - starting April. I carried my work on to the vacation - Shobha, Anjali and I were off to Pune and Mumbai for two weeks. I returned to Hyderabad for a week, after that, worked on completing the book. had a crazy last day checking the facts and figures before heading off to Pune on May 7 in a bus. I wanted to hand over the final draft to Neeraj who said he would start work on the layout. I worked through the day at Pune and sent it off to Neeraj by evening. Now I could relax for a week.

Book layout and design
When I returned it turned out that the layout was not as easy as we thought it would be - neither Neeraj nor Pragati Printers could do it because it needed detailed work. Finally we hired the services of Blue Pencil and the wonderful Vijay and Sadhana Ramchander came on board to help with the layout, design, ebook version etc. They were very patient and added a lot of value in bringing the book out exactly as Dr Pushpa wanted. For all pre-publishing work I will unhesitatingly recommend Blue Pencil. They are genuinely nice people. Sadhana is a wonderful writer - published books and writes a fabulous blog.
Vijay@Bluepencil, Neeraj and me at the wonderful Blue Pencil
Choosing the right pictures for the book took a long time - we sifted through several pictures, found context. A few pictures we bought a few off the net - the Hindu was one source. Since several pictures were not of great quality Neeraj tried to improve them. There was a lot of discussion on color or black and white, inline or as a bunch, and finally we did all types in the book. Once the pictures were put in place we put in captions and here Vijay did a great job coming up with witty captions. We all met several times at their home office in Himayat Nagar and drank wonderful coffee - me, Neeraj and Dr Pushpa with Vijay and Sadhana. They were good times indeed.

Cover design
Sadhana developed two simple designs for the cover as promised. Then Neeraj went and designed a killer cover - an artist's rendering of the 'Renaissance Man'. You must watch it very closely to understand what he has done with the concept of the Renaissance Man, It is beautiful - with the Vitruvian man in the background and the picture in front having strokes in Van Gogh's style. We used a sketch of Sridhar that Neeraj had made in the narrative as well. Mahendra had already said he would print the books at Pragati Printers, one of the best in the country, so that was taken care of. A few more versions, more proofing and checks, and finally we were ready to go to print.

Dr Pushpa probably read the manuscript at various stage at least 50 times if not more because every version was run through her and she edited it the way she wanted it to come out. Vijay was another wonderful pair of eyes who caught the minutest errors and I was so happy to have him work on the layout. Sagarika was the fourth pair of eyes who read all these versions. Keerti and her proofreader friend added to the lot at the editing stage. I would seek Shobha's help when I felt stuck.

The book finally went to print a week ago and is now ready.

So it was that after 64 interviews (give or take a couple), several more calls and meetings, the book came to completion. Neeraj was a huge help in this journey which would have got tiring and boring - he came with me to meet Hariprasad at Apollo Hospitals, Swaroop at his house, Jawahar Mahi at his house, Vinod at Boats Club, Ananta and Jawahar Thomas at Hyderabad Public School, SGS Murthy at Matrusri Engineering College, Abhijit Chatterjee at his house in Sainikpuri, many trips to Blue Pencil, several on his own to Pragati Printers. He came armed with his recording equipment, his phone with which he took pictures and videos. A big thanks to him for helping me out, driving me around in his car, where we listened to him and Rashmi sing fantastic Karaoke versions on his stereo!

Dr Pushpa guided the entire process with the greatest of patience, giving me the freedom to write the way I wanted, gently putting her points if view across and making sure that the book turns out as she envisaged it. She had to speak to several people, connect many dots, read many proofs and she made many visits too to Blue Pencil. I was always amazed at her strength and fortitude and her love for Sridhar.

At all times Sagarika was there to close things or take decisions where we were getting stuck and to read all the proofs we kept plying her with. She did say she was not ready to deal with this yet, but she took it on, and it is admirable the way she did it. I also found Andy extremely composed and articulate and Arnav was a revelation!

The release is on the 28th July at the Uppal stadium. VVS Laxman is the Chief Guest, with guests of honour being G Vinod, Venkatapathi Raju, CV Anand, Neeraj. It promises to be a fun event. See you all there.


Sreenath said...

Great effort Hari.Kudos.1

Achyut Menon said...

Thanks for the detailed articulation Hari.

As a cricket fan - who followed Doc from the media - this book indeed promises to be a rebirth !

Harimohan said...

Thanks Achyut. He was a fascinating personality. And lots to learn for young executives and leaders. Fantastic guy.