Rahul Dravid kept his promise to visit NAL’s Information Management Division (IMD) in May 2001. Being Head, IMD, it was my task to welcome Rahul and show him around.
I was greatly impressed by the young man (who would now be called a “senior” Indian cricketer). He appeared to be a very committed and articulate person with impeccable manners. Rahul also handled the different “chores” involved in making a “public appearance” with patience, aplomb and a touch of class.
These chores, usually in that order, involve shaking hands, signing autographs and finally posing for photographs with everyone in a very large room. They also include answering what must be practically the same set of questions:
“Who is the best bowler you have faced?” (answer: Glenn McGrath).
“You are everyone’s idol today, who were your idols?” (answer: Sunil Gavaskar and G R Viswanath)
And, in Rahul Dravid’s case, the inevitable: “When are you getting married?” (answer: no answer).
It is my impression that the desire to shake hands with a celebrity, or obtain his autograph, is quite universal. But the wish to be photographed with the celebrity is more “Indian”. I wonder why this is so. In fact, things can sometimes turn even more absurd, e.g., taking a photograph which shows you shaking hands with the celebrity, or with your arm around the celebrity. I presume the objective is to show off your “proximity” to Rahul Dravid or someone else, but the end result is a very contrived and funny picture.
Rahul Dravid in fact talked of this very Indian reaction in encounters with celebrities: “In England or Australia we are never mobbed at a public place even if we are recognised. Cricket fans would like to watch a cricketer at a cricket ground; outside the ground we are left alone”.
Rahul Dravid’s visit, and our reactions, also makes one wonder about the nature of achievement required to become a celebrity in India. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar (even more so) face the pressure of playing for their country and have, so far, performed admirably. So we should hardly grudge them their well-deserved accolades. But what about a Hrithik Roshan whose only “achievement” so far is to act in one of his father’s films which made a lot of money? I find it paradoxical, and worrying, that Hrithik Roshan is a bigger national celebrity than Kota Harinarayana.
I had really gone to attend a function to felicitate a colleague’s 93-year old mother; the lady still enjoys singing devotional songs — and sings very well too! B S Chandrasekhar was one of the special guests invited to release a cassette containing songs sung by the venerable lady. The great spinner had turned up a little early and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to talk to a gentleman who has taken more test wickets than scored test runs.
Surprisingly, Chandra didn’t seem too keen to talk cricket. Did he remember bowling to Vivian Richards at Port of Spain in 1976? (“I must have, since we both played the test match”).
Did he really appeal in New Zealand after clean bowling a batsman? (“I did, some umpires — including Indian umpires – are terrible”).
Why can’t the current Indian bowlers bowl well to left-handers? (“It’s not easy for any bowler, it’s like being asked to drive sometimes keeping left and sometimes keeping right”).
Did he have problems bowling to left-handers? (“No, it didn’t bother me at all. I simply continued bowling my stuff”).