Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Wrist Assured - Gundappa Vishwanath with R. Kaushik

Raja picked it up instantly when we visited Blossoms. I flipped through it and was instantly hooked. One because GRV was a favorite cricketer (for so many of us) and two because Kaushik had co-written it. And in the first few pages I fell in love with it. The voice that came through was so authentic that I could not visualise anyone but GRV saying it - a huge compliment to both GRV and Kaushik in bringing out that authentic voice.

The book is a breeze and takes you through GRV's childhood in Bangalore, his modest and traditional home, his early days of playing with a tennis ball and how he quickly realised that cricket was his passion. His quick upgrade into state level cricket and even quicker into first class cricket where he scored a double hundred against Andhra on debut.  How he backed his strengths, how he always felt he would play at the highest grade and how he enjoyed the game every bit of the way is the rest of the story.

GRV is a big one for figuring things out for yourself - a huge part of what they call 'deliberate practice' - which is about doing things deliberately. Whatever the coach says or anyone else says it is about you finally figuring out for yourself. You can make out in the stray statement here and there about how keenly he observed the game and how he would figure it out. No wonder he quickly got on top of things despite his slight frame and lack of strength (built up by the wonderful piece of advise form Tiger Pataudi about carrying buckets filled with water at home - a very Zen like training). That Vishy, as he liked to be called, was combative and full of character comes across in the fact that he always rose to a challenge and bailed out India whenever it was in trouble. Many of his centuries were in match winning circumstances and the way he countered the best of fast bowlers, spinners earned him immense praise from his opponents. And very interestingly, he was part of those series that put India on the map - beating West Indies in WI, England in England. He was part of the team that lost badly to England too and the team that faced the fury of a West Indies that lost 5-1 to Australia. He saw Viv and Gordon Greenidge make their debuts and so much more.  

But through it all it is his simplicity that shines through. The more one reads the book the more one wants to know him, see where he lived, see what he does now etc. And that's a great compliment for a book or a movie if it can make the audience root for the protagonist. There's a disarming honesty, almost brutal - like the time he talks of how he did not walk despite knowing he was out.

Incidents that stay in mind are the way he gets his back against Richie 'Bednau' for mispronouncing his name on air. The wonderful way Pataudi mentored him through his initial days including the first Test when he scored a duck in his first innings and a century in the second (Pataudi told him he will get a hundred - a wonderful way to plant an idea in an impressionable youngster's mind, something ML Jaisimha did often with us), the way MLJ mentored him, his childhood friendships with Raghunath. I cannot forget that story of how Tiger took him along from Kolhapur to Bangalore in a car and then to Ooty where Sharmila Tagore was shooting - for 3-4 days - which turned out to be 15 days. The routine - wake up late, breakfast, retire to room, gin and lunch, retire and sleep, wake up, whiskey and dinner till late in the night. Wake up late next day. Vishy says he never stepped out those 15 days. Rajesh Khanna would drop in every other night and of course the leading lady was around. Different days indeed.

It is lovely the way he writes about how it took a while to come to terms that his cricketing days were over and how he slowly made his adjustments and took to golf - his new addiction. His stint with commentary and all that. Ah, left me wanting more certainly and I would love nothing more than to take a tour - this is where he grew up, where he studied, where he played, where he lives now - maybe Kaushik would point out some of those when we meet in Bangalore next.

To me it is easily one of the best biographies I have read and I loved the story, the person and the authenticity. I felt it could have done without the parts where individual cricketers were mentioned - maybe they could have been woven into the narrative somehow - but as standalone pieces, they disrupted the narrative for me. For me this was about Vishy and only Vishy and that part came through brilliantly.

One part was where he wrote about how he went back to first class cricket and scored runs after he was dropped. He played till 1988-89 I think and I was fortunate to bowl to him in my short first class career when Hyderabad played Karnataka at Gymkhana grounds. He scored some 160 or so - all class. One stepped out drive off off spinner Kawaljit is something I can never forget - it looked like it would be caught by mid on, then that it would fall short of long on and it wound up on top  of the Gymkhana building - so effortless it was. I also have my biggest regret of my cricketing career when he went for his square cut off me, a ball I put some shoulder into and he edged it straight to first slip Khalid at 91 - and Khalid dropped it! I keep thinking of it often - if only I had that wicket to my name I would have been a much happier man! But in retrospect - so grounded was he that he never was the star despite being what he was - just another cricketer there on the ground.

Right now, like I did with RK Narayan's house in Mysore, I plan to stalk Vishy's house and hopefully meet him once. Not that I know what to talk or anything, just a fan moment. And once again, GRV and Kaushik, for what to me is the best autobio I have read of an Indian cricketer - well done! And Raja, thanks for remembering to bring it home so I could complete reading it.          

No comments: