Wednesday, September 29, 2021

I Adore Jai - Book Review

 'I Adore Jai' is an anthology of over 78 plus articles about former Test cricketer and icon, ML Jaisimha, compiled by Jayanthi Jaisimha. Contributors include Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath, EAS Prasanna, Ravi Shastri, Kapil Dev, Shivlal Yadav, Azharuddin, Asif Iqbal, Abbas Ali Baig, VVS Laxman, R Sridhar, K Srikkanth, V Ramnarayan, Mohan Guruswamy, Michael Dalvi, MV Narasimha Rao, Purnima Rau, Sadanand Vishwanath, PR Man Singh, Harsha Bhogle, Saad Bin Jung and others. Articles by family, friends, school and college mates, fellow cricketers, administrators show glimpses of the person MLJ was and why the book is still relevant two decades after he passed away. 

Notion Press, Rs. 300

 The Foreword is by Sharmila Tagore who was married to MLJ's great friend MAK Pataudi - and she recalls how he was her cricketing idol and how she had left him a note when she went to watch a match as a young girl, and how she once broke up a party when MLJ and Tiger Pat were in the middle of some midnight revelry rather curtly and MLJ left in a huff. Gavaskar wrote about how he became a fan when he fist saw a picture of MLJ when he was selected for the Indian team's tour of England, and his first sight of him watching a match from the other side of the fence in Bombay. GRVishwanath recounted how MLJ and he walked the roads of Bangalore at midnight singing songs going to and from MLJs hotel to GRVs house. Kapil Dev wrote about how he wished he had played with MLJ, Asif Iqbal says he was his boyhood hero.  Shastri about how MLJ convinced Kapil to let Shastri open in place of Gavaskar. Shivlal Yadav wrote of how MLJ gave him a tip on how to get Allan Border out and it worked. Azharuddin spoke of how he learned three mantras for success in cricket - know your importance to the team, know your role and know how to deliver your role -  and how he got a test hundred after a lean patch after a chat with MLJ (if you had technical problems you would not have come this far). Siraj Attari spoke of how MLJ woke up early after a late night to go and give a tip to Azhar who was going through a lean patch. PR Mansingh spoke of how he was so good as a schoolboy cricketer, how MLJ slept on the floor at Madras with the University team even after he had played for India, how he carried PR's bat to Australia and how PRM convinced Jai not to retire when he was sacked from South Zone captaincy. 

MLJ was equally good at tennis, badminton and cricket (and even wrestling as Anand Lakshminarsu wrote). He was fit and strong - would do weight training, bench  presses, punch the boxing bag, could do hand stands and traverse over 100 feet. He could sing wonderfully well (Belafonte, Sinatra, Armstrong) and there was an incident when they went on to the stage in the middle of a film at Dreamland theatre in Secunderabad and sang and danced and performed - high spirits. K Srikkanth wrote about how he addressed him as 'sir' and was rebuked - 'just call me Jai'. The lady who was asked to chaperone him and Junie aunty during their college days spoke of how he would give her tickets to cricket matches or tennis matches and disappear with his love, having dropped off the chaperone. Govind Raj wrote of how he scratched the number of MLJ's car on his uncle's car in sheer awe, and got an earful for that. Saad Bin Jung wrote about how MLJ put himself out because he believed in the 18 year old and made him open against the West Indies and he scored a hundred.  Dolly Thakore remembers accompanying her heartthrob, "sitting affectionately close" in a rickshaw in Kanpur. Venkatapathi Raju wrote about how MLJ's Marredpally house was where he learned so many things - it was always open for friends and family. Sadanand Vishwanath wrote about how MLJ (whom he refers to as father) taught him how snooker was just like life - you have to think ahead and position the white cue for the next shot! His love for sambar, music, drink, a good time, cricket, mischief. 

MLJ's older son Vivek Jaisimha who was my captain at MCC and when I made my first class debut wrote about how little things meant a lot to his father (he let Vivek drive the car on a highway when he was fourteen, understood his emotions and calmed him down gently). Vidyuth, my best buddy and chief encourager, wrote a wonderful line that sums it all for me - of MLJ saying on his 60th birthday "I am tired of being Jaisimha'. And on and on, anecdotes and anecdotes that give so many facets of MLJ.       

There are extracts from letters written by MLJs peers and friends - Shyam Benegal's handwritten note after MLJs passing away to Junie aunty is a gem - about how he knew MLJ through school and college and how MLJ modeled himself on his great hero Robert Mitchum (including how he held his cigarette between his lips), evenings they spent as young men at Khurshid Rstaurant and Coffee House discussing movies and cricket.     

I wrote a piece too. About my experiences with him. I always felt I missed asking him about how he became so good at the game, his understanding, his philosophy and kick myself for not having the sense to ask those questions when I knew him. Reading this book gives me a lot of answers because there are so many perspectives given by so many people and I feel I know him so much better now. 

Nothing more poignant and insightful than Junie aunty's end piece where she says she now discovered a new husband from the memories of others and 'now bow before him which I never did before'. And in the same vein she jokes about how they were always known as the Late Jaisimhas in their friends circle. And also makes a mention of his sexy bottom! More than anything else I simply love the fact that Junie aunty got this brilliant idea of putting together so many thoughts from different perspectives of Uncle Jai so we all know what he was like in his various roles. It must have been a very fulfilling exercise for her, a work of love that presents the love of her life as he really was, and I am so glad for her that she did it. She put in a lot of effort - the way she sat me down and ran me through each thought of mine that I wrote so it is captured fully - showed how much this book meant to her, that every thought is captured just right. Having written a biography and a few bio sketches I know how wonderful it is to know a person through so many eyes, what they meant to others - we only know one part. For aunty, this process of discovery, or rather rediscovery as she puts it so aptly, is probably an ode to their great love story. Behind every story in the book we can see her love for him shine through and my admiration for her only grew so much more. Of course, I know Vidyuth, as always helped her through it all in his own stoic manner as I know Vidika did too!   

I must share my journey with the Jaisimhas briefly before I end this piece. I had heard of ML Jaisimha as a young cricketer in Hyderabad in the late 70s. My first meeting with the Jaisimhas was when I played with MLJs younger son Vidyuth while representing the Hyderabad Under 15 in 1982 in Bangalore (I think I saw uncle for the first time when he came to the railway station to see off Vidyuth). We won that tournament and both of us represented South Zone Under 15 in Calcutta. Then Vidyuth and I spent a month together attending the BCCI camp for South Zone Under 15. We became good friends - enough to call each other over phone and talk random things about music or watch random films together. When I did not have a team to play for the next year, Vidyuth told me to play for Marredpally Cricket Club under his father in the A Division. I am certain I would not have played any further cricket if not for that move. Under Uncle Jai I grew into a much better bowler, cricketer and human than I was, fast enough to play Under 19, 22, 25 and be in match winning teams. While with MCC we had a champion team - Uncle Jai, Vivek Jaisimha, Pawan, Sunil Phillips, Imtiaz, Vijay Bhasker, Vidyuth Jaisimha. Srinivas Chakravarthy, Venkatapathi Raju, Sanjay and your truly. Of course Arvind Rao and Santosh Reddy as well. When we lost the Inter University matches first round at Calicut it was Uncle Jai who called an emergency meeting of the selection committee and decided to include me (on debut) and Ehtesham from the University side in the Ranji side. I picked up one wicket and four wickets in the two innings against Andhra and justified his faith in me. Of course, my learning has been so much more than just cricket in the time I spent with all of them. Uncle, Aunty, Vivek and Vidyuth have welcomed all of us into their home and hearts ever since and now we feel like we're part of the family.

The book is published by Notion Press and presented by the ML Jaisimha Sports Foundation which aims to keep Uncle Jai's dream of helping underprivileged cricketers by providing free coaching. The proceeds from the book will go to the Foundation. The book is priced at Rs. 300. You can buy it on amazon at this link  

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