Friday, January 10, 2020

Mirza Rahmath Ullah Baig Sir - The Heartwarming Story of an Ailing Coach and his Students

Baig sir fell seriously ill with an auto-immune condition that manifested as mouth ulcers and soon infected the insides of his mouth, ears and eyes. For the past five weeks; he comes on the weekends to the Jaisimha Academy, I noticed his discomfort on week one, more discomfort on week two and on week three he could barely speak. I asked him what it was and he mumbled and said it was all ok and there was a doctor taking care. It sounded rather bad but I thought he had it in control. The next week he did not come to practice and the week after that I got a call from Prakash, who is as big a hero of this story as any. Now Prakash and Hemant went to train under Baig sir when they were young (a decade or so ago) and are now employed - Prakash as a software engineer and Hemant as a Commandant in the Indian Navy. Both of them adore Baig sir. Ever since Baig sir had a fall from his scooter a year ago, he has been banned from riding the scooter so Prakash it is who picks him up in his car and brings him to the academy. Prakash is a wonderful batsman - and as we realised, a wonderful human being.
Prakash, Baig sir and MSK Prasad
Well, Prakash called me and said that he got a call from Baig sir's home and that he was very unwell - not able to speak, not able to eat or drink water. He was hallucinating. There was pus coming out of the ulcers in his mouth. I told Prakash to shift him immediately to Apollo Hospitals where an ex-student of Baig sir - Dr K Hari Prasad is currently the President.  Hari was my skipper in the Under 22 tournament at Trichur in 1985 so i took the liberty of troubling him. I messaged Hari and told him of Baig sir's condition and could he help. Hari says less, does more - and he said he would. Prakash convinced Baig sir's family that no more time could be lost. After some resistance, they moved him.

Robin Uthappa, Baig sir and Prakash
After the initial examination by the doctors, Hari said that there had been a gross delay. He ensured that the best doctors took care of Baig sir. He kept an eye on the proceedings, complete with updates on Baig sir's progress every few hours. Despite the intensive care, the best medical help, Baig sir's progress was painfully slow. Even after eight days, he's still struggling, unable to take food, even speak. But he was getting better.

Prakash - The Unsung Hero of the Story
From coordinating with the family, with Hari, the doctors, with me and many more, and spending as much time as any son would with Baig sir, Prakash completely took ownership of Baig sir. He has a job at Madhapur, a young family. but any time of the day he would pick up calls, coordinate with people.

Financial Distress
After a few days, the problem of paying the bills came up - which would have at some point of time. The hospital raised a bill and some amount was paid by the family. But more bills would come and financial assistance would be needed. Worried about the financial situation Prakash and Rawat started a small WhatsApp group of Baig sir's students to raise some funds. It was a sweet gesture by them. But it was rather random group to which I had been added too, so I told them to wait until there was more clarity about the bill and the gap. It was distressing that Baig sir was in this position. While we were pondering on what to do, Prakash called me for MSK Prasad's number on Baig sir's request. Now MSK is the Chairman of Selectors and a busy man, but I am told he trained with Baig sir a lot and has high regard for him. I passed on the number, not sure where it would lead to.
VVS Laxman with Baig sir 
Now, many a cricketer, several test cricketers among them, have trained under Baig sir. One of his biggest complaints is that no one seems to recognise him. Baig sir has now coached for 50 years, and he is at the ground at 6 in the morning to 9 and then again at 3 in the evening to 6 pm. Thousands and thousands of hours of coaching youngsters irrespective of their community, caste, social standing - Baig sir's only religion was and is cricket. Everyone knows of his passion for the game, the way he coaches even at 79,  the passion that keeps him going on for hours without food even. I have seen him work with Laxman, Dravid, Uthappa at the Jaisimha Academy. I've seen the respect Kapil Dev gave him when he visited the academy.

Not many have turned back and acknowledged him, and I was not sure if anything would change now.
Mrs Baig, Baig sir, Chamundi, Gopichand and Dr. K. Hari Prasad
Enter  MSK Prasad - Fantastic Gesture
My doubts were unfounded. MSK was made of a different mettle. He immediately went to the hospital (even before I did! Shows why they are so successful) and met Baig sir. He told Prakash who was now the official representative of Baig sir, that he would do something. Without a second thought he formed a group of elite cricketers and put out a passionate request for financial assistance. And he sent the request out. Here's the request.

Dear friends this is MSK Prasad. I am really sorry that I taken the liberty to join you all for a noble and divine cause. Baig sir has served BCCI, HCA and SAI and also helped individuals like us for over 50 years with highest degree of commitment and honesty. He made an impact in majority of our lives. He has helped many cricketers who went on to play the game at the highest levels and some of them have gone on to become legendary players. Today Baig sir is struggling with his health and we have admitted him in Appolo hospitals. He has ulcers  in his mouth that went on inside till his
Chest. He is struggling to open his mouth. Doctors have done several tests including bone marrow to rule out cancer. Friends this is costing him very much which he is not able to afford. Time has come where we need to stand united as one cricketing community and show our love & respects to our Guru who is in fag end stages of his life. One helping hand from each of us will only help him in recovering and coming back to normal life. We spend lot of money to safeguard old heritage monuments . Don’t you think we should all stand united to save this grand old man who served the game for last 50 years and who is not lesser than any heritage monument in India when it comes to cricket. When we go to holy places we offer some money according to our capacities and affordability. Similarly please treat this as divine cause and contribute as per what you feel.  I will post the online personal bank account details of Baig Sir for your contribution.

Bank Details Name: Kursheed Fatima
A/C: No: 0606101560198
Canara Bank, Hyderabad Abid Road
IFSC Code: CNRB0000606
MICR Code: 500015003

MSK's Plea Goes Viral
In no time MSK's message went viral. Aiding it was an article by the redoubtable Jagannath Das in the Telangana Today about the ailing coach and his students. Suddenly cricketers from the USA, KSA (Akram Quadri called and asked how he could help) etc were enquiring about him. Azhar, the President of HCA, sanctioned 3 lakh. Prakash i was again, who took leave from work and handed over the letter to a very sympathetic secretary Vijayanand. Thanks HCA!

Enter VVS and Co
While this was going on Laxman, Dravid, MSK, Uthappa and others started sending in their contributions. Robin Uthappa visited Baig sir, then VVS Laxman. Ehtesham and I visited together. D. Suresh and Masood promised contributions. I saw R. Sridhar's message saying he will take care of the entire bill.  Arvind whose son Mohit just started training contributed his bit. Chamundi, a generous giver as any, dropped in with Pullela Gopichand and handed over a generous cheque. 'He was my only coach,' Chamundi said. 'It's the least I could do.'
Unknown, Prakash, Ehtesham and me
As the news spread, hundreds of students and trainees visited Baig sir in hospital. Prakash has been looking after him more than any son would, like a shadow, doing all the work, coordinating with everyone patiently. Prakash is the real hero of the story, just as much as Hari is for taking such good care of Baig sir, MSK is for starting the initiative and VVS is and Uthappa and Pullela Gopichand and Chamundi and Azhar and Vijayanand and HCA.

Slow but Steady Recovery
When I met Dr Hari Prasad to thank him, he told me Baig sir was now better but he may have to take medication for a while carefully. We discussed his upcoming book launch on January 24, 2020 - he wrote his autobiography and it will be very interesting to read. I gave him a copy of 50 Not Out!  I stopped to see Baig sir in his room and found that there was a peace in his eyes. The contributions apart, the recognition from his wards, the tidal wave of love and affection for their uncompromising passionate coach moved him. He held my hand and said something as I left. I could not make out, but his daughter said he was saying thank you.

Thank you Baig sir.
Azhar with Baig  sir - on his way home after discharge 
You taught us much more than just the technique. You taught us the spirit of the game. Despite what some petty people allege, you never differentiated between your wards and today there are students of all religions, communities, castes who visit you and pay you their respects. Cricket was your only religion. It was such a heartwarming sight to see the outpouring of love and affection for a respected teacher, coach.

We did learn a few things from the game after all.

Cannot ask for more.

Final Discharge after 10 days
Baig sir has been discharged today (January 11, 2020). MSK Prasad came to Hyderabad to visit Baig sir - he flew in and flew out. Jagannath Das and I went together. Arvind joined us. Baig sir is still unable to speak clearly and the sores haven't fully disappeared but he can be treated at home. Hari and Apollo Hospitals sprang a lovely surprise and gave a big discount to Coach! 'I got calls from all over the world,' said Hari. 'There's so much love for Baig sir.'

And one of the last visitors today, just as Baig sir was being discharged, was Azhar, President of the HCA. A fitting finish to a beautiful story.

Prakash, well done. What you did was beautiful and reinforced our faith in humanity, in the guru-shishya tradition. Just as all the generous gestures from these hugely busy and successful people did - MSK was brilliant, VVS big-hearted as always, Azhar's prompt reaction, HCA chipping in, Secretary Vijayanand being on the job updating me in early hours, Rahul, Robin and all else. If there's one thing I learned it is this - the good we do never goes waste. It comes back from the most unexpected sources. And one another insight - the successful people - they know their priorities and take time out for what's most important. 

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