Friday, August 16, 2019

Adios VB Chandrasekhar - My Dear Friend VB

VB Chandrasekhar was one of those nice guys. He was definitely the one guy in any Tamil Nadu side anyone could connect with - the rest were not too easy to connect with. He was just himself, meeting without any airs, smiling, polite, fun. I met him first in a junior state match in Chennai in 1984-85 times. He was an opener - not a big hitter as I remember then, but he rapidly became one after that. Though we did not do anything spectacular that match I remember him clearly as the one who took the trouble to speak to us (speaking to me was difficult because I did not speak much and was rather introverted) but VB somehow got past that. We chatted some and left - with very favorable impressions of one another. Me definitely.
In 2008 - Book launch of my first novel 'The Men Within' - VB fully behind me
The next year we ran into one another at the South Zone Inter-varsity tournament in Calicut. This was my second year at University, I was doing my Civil Engineering. Osmania took its strongest side in that decade - there were eight players in that team who were Ranji probables (and played first-class cricket within a couple of years). ra Swaroop was our captain, Ehtesham, D Suresh, Zakir Hussain, Abhijit Chatterjee, me, Srinivas Chakravarthy, Ramanamurthy were those who were in the Ranji probables (and later played) and the others were DTS PRasad, Subba Rao, Mujtaba Askari, Somsekhar. In fact, Ehtesham and I were to play the season's first Ranji match but the University wanted us to play here. So strong was the team that the Osmania University management was planning for our Rohinton Baria travel (it is the tournament where the winners of the zonal varsity matches play). Our first match was against Bharathiyar University led by a maverick - VB. We exchanged pleasantries before the game. As far as Osmania was concerned, VB was the only known name in their side and it was a cakewalk if he got him out. We were already looking at the finals.
Friendly banter - never had any airs, wonderful friend
We batted first and scored some 245 in 50 overs. We could have scored more but the mood was like - somebody will do the job - we were so strong anyway. Just before we went in to bowl we heard VB bellowing clearly in the tent to his teammates. 'I'll f... them up. We will win the game today.' We knew VB was a big hitter and if he got going he could well do what he promised. But what was clear was this - VB was not going down without a fight, nor was he going to tell his team to do their best. He was there to win and he made it clear to the team.
Recounting how they beat us in the varsity tournament
VB strode out and took strike. I bowled the first ball, a length delivery. VB heaved at it and skied it, miles into the air. Ramanamurthy at mid-on took a well-judged catch. Bharathiyar was 0 for 1 with their star batsman VB gone. The match was as good as ours. Then Chatterjee bowled a hostile spell and got 4 wickets in his seven or eight overs. By the 16th over Bharathiyar was down 65 for 5. But obviously, they were not willing to go down. The sixth wicket pair of Ranjith Kuruvilla and Dharmesh (I think that was the name) took Bharathiyar home in 45 overs for no further loss of wickets. Kuruvilla got a hundred, Dharmesh got 70 odd and the favorites Osmania Univeristy were knocked out in the first round in a shock exit. We dropped catches, lost out rhythm, and were in a disarray. VB had inspired his underdog team to one of its most famous wins ever. I still remember his voice telling them his plans for us.
Sharing a moment with my cousin Lux who was down here from the UK then
We would recount that match and laugh about it later.

Since we lost the first game, Ehtesham and I, went on to play the Ranji Trophy game. It was my debut match and I did fairly well with a 5 wickets haul (1+4) against Andhra. I had a reasonable first season and ended with 12 wickets.
A light moment after the launch
In my second season, I was not half the bowler I was in my first. I had a bad first game against Kerala and got no wicket. The second match was against Tamil Nadu at Hyderabad. VB, if I am not mistaken, made his debut in that game. We batted first and scored some 600 runs with Azeem scoring a triple hundred. When Tamil Nadu batted, VB was understandably shaky - I felt I had him with a close lbw shout with the new ball but the umpire did not think so. VB made some 78 or so and his career took off. I was dropped after that game and never played first-class cricket again.

I watched VB go from strength to strength and become one of the most explosive batsmen in the country. Then he played for India, for Goa later, became coach, national selector and was the COO for Chennai Kings when the IPL was first launched.
VB and I sharing something
In 2007 my first novel 'The Men Within - A Cricketing Tale' was launched and I did the tour of a few cities - Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. In Chennai I invited K Srikkanth to launch the book and journalist R Mohan. But more importantly, I sought out VBs number and reached out to him. He was just the same after all these years, his voice warm and mischievous. He was amused that the fast bowler has turned to writing. I sent him a copy of the book and he read it and gave me good feedback. He was very supportive of the entire event, and we recounted the Inter-varsity match at Calicut in our speeches. Srikkanth and Mohan were very supportive as well and I was pleased to see V Ramnarayan in the audience - I really wanted to invite him but had no access. I do remember the moment of mirth when at the end of the book launch, Basant Pandey, our publisher gave the vote of thanks and insisted on reading VB's full name Vakkadai Biksheswaran Chandrasekhar and got his tongue in a twist over it. VB could not stop laughing.
Basant Pandey, my publisher tongue-tied at VB's full name - VB tickled 
He was a good one for a laugh. He had a fine sense of humour and got a joke. I was at ease joking with him.

We kept in touch. Each book I wrote I would send him a copy and he would read and give me his feedback - always positive. I knew he ran a successful cricket academy in Chennai and many young cricketers and their parents speak highly of him and his advise. He once humoured me and went as Chief Guest at the National School in Mylapore where our friend Lalitha was the Chief Administrator - very sweet of him. In 2011 when a movie was made on 'The Men Within' in Telugu 'Golconda High School' VB was in Hyderabad on some commentary work. He somehow took time out and we both went and watched the movie at Prasad's Imax - he was tickled to see me on screen and in the interval he told a few people outside that I was the guy who wrote the book on which the movie was based - much to my embarrassment. We had a good time, he enjoyed the movie. Every time I came on screen he would yell out loudly and say 'that's you man'. He was really happy for me then.
Listening intently to Nandita reading from the book
One other time when he was in town, we both went out to dinner - and he came sportingly despite knowing it was a pub. VB was deeply religious and he came only after his puja was done, with his namam on his forehead that he wore proudly. We met Ram, Arjun and others at Extreme Sports in Jubilee Hills - he checked out the virtual games they had - golf and cricket. He had no demands and would travel comfortably in my Santro.
Obliging a young fan
In 2012-13 I was Chief Selector for the Hyderabad Cricket Association and VB was the coach for the TN team so we would bump into one another at matches. We had long chats - especially in the Hyderabad versus Tamil Nadu game at Goa where he spoke about many technical aspects. I sent him copies of '50 Not Out' and then of 'This way is easier Dad'. I particularly remember the conversation after he read 'This way is easier dad' - he fondly told me about how his daughters were now performing as Carnatic singers. In fact soon after he came to Hyderabad with them for some interview of theirs and we planned to meet but he was short of time and we could not. The odd sms or message here and we were in touch. Once we spoke of his team in the TNPL and he was very upbeat about it and shared some details that I did not understand.
Supporting me fully on my new journey into writing - Thanks VB
I heard this news yesterday that VB had passed away. I don't know what and why but I do know this much - the world will be poorer without him. He was genuinely good, forthright, straightforward, fun and there was not a mean bone in his body. VB, you've been a great friend, a wonderful human. I know there was no need for you to be nice to me, read my books, keep in touch, support me - because there was nothing I could give you in return -  but you did it and so warmly and openly without ever making it feel like you were doing a favour. It was like you were doing it for a friend and it did not matter to you whether I was successful or not - all it mattered was that I was your friend for the briefest of times. You were more warm and loving than a lot of people who I knew more closely.

Thanks VB for everything. Rest In Peace my dear friend. Will always remember you fondly.


Ramesh Sundararajan said...

I loved VB. His commentary. His astute cricketing brain. Great loss to everyone. Thanks for your wonderful post about VB. I think the Dharmesh you mention is my friend and my roommate after he moved to the US ( and now in Canada), i vaguely recall him talking about this game. I told him about your blogpost. Maybe he can recall some of his experiences with VB.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Ramesh. VB was a lovely soul. Would love it if Dharmesh does connect.