Once upon a habba, idol worship of a chindi kind

B.S.NAGARAJ writes from New Delhi: Once upon a time, in the year of the lord 1975, as part of their Noorondu Ganesha (Ganesha 101) peregrination, two little boys ventured into a house in Rajajinagar in Bangalore, asking: “Ree, Ganapati koorsideera? (Are you celebrating Ganesha Habba?)”

Howdu, banni,” said the lady of the house and let them in.

After a perfunctory dive at the feet of the elephant-faced deity, the boys looked around furtively and finally one of them made brave to ask: “Auntie, Vishwanath idhara?”

At which the lady burst out laughing: “Oh, adhakka bandhirodhu neevu… (Is that why you have come?)”

One of the two boys was me and my idol, Gundappa Ranganath Vishwanath, was not at home.

How disappointing!

Vishy’s mother was, however, kind enough to let us see all the medals and trophies he had won. And that was indeed my sweetest “habba”. That is perhaps the only time I may have invoked God to attain my goal.

Venka and I discussed our secret adventure on that Ganesha habba day for months after that. Very often it would be centered around the great counterfactual question: What if?

“What if Vishwanath had been at home?”

***

There were hundreds of others in school and in our locality who were die-hard Vishy fans, but with one brief adventure we had stolen a headstart over all of them. But it was not all hunky-dory.

Vishy’s fans were invariably pitted against another group—though not numerically as strong—which idolised Sunil Gavaskar.

The verbal duels sometimes used to terminate in fisticuffs.

Each of us knew that both Vishy and Sunny were cricketers of great stature, but never admitted it openly. “Sumne kut-thane, batting kayithane, (he just potters around, wants to hog the strike)” we would say of Gavaskar, while they would retort, “all style, no runs” about our idol.

Vishy’s trademark squarecuts became a mantra of sorts for me to hold my own against my idol’s critics. But sometimes the tables were turned on me…

I could not understand why others in the family failed to see his prowess, when they teased me about his “stylish 16’ or whatever low-score he had been unfortunate enough to come up with in a match.

I would retire hurt and angry with the world.

I realise now, they were only pulling my leg for being such a fierce and ardent fan.

I was only 12 then, but old enough to catch a BTS bus from Rajajinagar to the Chinnaswamy stadium (or KSCA stadium as it used to be called then) to watch day 4 and day 5 of the first-ever Test that was played in Bangalore in 1974.

Season tickets were prohibitive but a miracle happened.

My school, Carmel School in Rajajinagar, announced that it would show the telecast of the match in school. Of course there was no TV then–it was some sort of a trial—I can’t remember exactly.

A black and white TV had been installed. The ticket for all five days of telecast was just Rs 5. Of course I bought it. Not just me, my mother, sisters, cousins and uncles watched the match by turns.

In fact, every kid’s parents turned up in school to watch the match.

The only match involving an international side that I had watched—only for a few hours—before this was a three-day match between England and South Zone at the Central College grounds.

***

As I entered high school and then college, visits to the Chinnaswamy stadium increased. Not just to watch the Ranji matches and the Tests, but even league cricket matches.

First division league teams had a generous sprinkling of Ranji and Test stars and included the likes of Vishy, B.S. Chandrashekar, Syed Kirmani, Roger Binny, B. Raghunath, Sudhakar Rao, et al. The league had excellent cricketers who played for teams like BUCC, FUCC, SBI, SBM and Syndicate Bank.

Entry to these matches was free and it was here that I got to watch the stars in action and from the pavilion stands!

On one such occasion, my friend Ramesh (he is no more now) and I spotted a lonely figure in the stand next to the pavilion. There was not a single soul around except for the three of us.

After a second glance, both of us turned to each other excitedly and asked: “Isn’t that Gavaskar?”

He had very recently scored his 29th century and equaled Sir Don Bradman’s world record.

We gingerly approached Sunny and when he acknowledged our presence, we engaged him in a brief conversation. I remember congratulating him on his record. I asked him why he was watching a club match. He said he had come to the KSCA on some work and had stopped for a while.

For us, it was a golden moment.

In those times, these club matches were a great draw with the crowd sometimes in hundreds. We would first check out the car park to see if Vishy’s Fiat was there. And if the Fiat with “Vishy” in gold metallic lettering stood, our excitement would soar.

We would also gape at the car for a while with admiration, supposedly a ‘gift’ from his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Sunil Gavaskar.

Ah, those were the times when every square cut, googly, catch and stumping was analysed, eulogized or thrashed, with match and date etched in memory.

I remember our hushed discussions, where each tried to outdo the other with precious trivia: “Vishy and Sunny do not buy their bat from here and there. The makers of SS Jumbo make it for them as per their specifications.”

Then there was that Test match in 1978 with the West Indies in that six-match boring series—most of the Windies stars like Sir Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and Clive Lloyd, were away playing the rebel Packer league in Australia.

It was at this time that Vishy’s Rajajinagar ground floor house had added another floor. Friends who stayed close to his house came up with the “fact” that Vishy had hosted a party on the newly constructed first floor for the two teams and that it had gone on till early in the morning.

I have stood gazing at the coveted first floor of the house imagining the presence of Vishy, Sunny and all the others.

***

Watching the stars in flesh and blood in the stadium was no doubt a different experience altogether. I used to set out with a plastic wire butti–one dabba chitranna, and one dabba mosaranna—packed in it.

The hostile bag-handle invariably cut into my fingers and wishing to keep my burden light, I rejected the water bottle telling my worried Mom: “Alle kuditheeni (I’ll drink there itself).”

Except that I sat glued to the hot (uncovered) gallery space all through the day. Leaving the perch for a sip of water was too risky. What if someone else took my vantage position?

As the sun beat down on me, I would gobble up the food and relax in a semi-sleepy state during lunch time—my throat parched after keeping up the chant, “Vishwa, Vishwa” all morning.

As young boys with sharp ears, we were some times privy to conversations on the ground. That was the time when cricket clothing was giving way to the new, from the classic creamish-white flannel.

Trousers with an elastic waistbands were beginning to be used.

I remember Vishy telling a teammate, “Eethara pant haako,” pulling the pant back and forth from his midriff to demonstrate the comfort.

Another memory, somewhat painful, is that of my hero losing form.

There was a lot of loose talk in the late seventies about Vishy’s drinking excesses. The discussion in the katte was how Vishy used to drive to the Golden Gate Bar near the ESI hospital, Rajajinagar and stack up the car’s rear seat with bottles.

Of course, I did not believe a word of it.

This became a stick in the hands of Sunny fans, led by Ashok Kulkarni, my friend from Nijalingappa College, to beat us with.

Our revenge came with that infamous episode when Gavaskar batted left-handed in a display of an extremely poor gamesmanship in a Ranji Trophy semi-final between Karnataka and Bombay.

Yes, we hung on to every word, spoken and printed, about cricket. So did thousands of boys my age.

A scrap-book that drew heavily from Sportstar and Sportsworld centrespreads was every boy’s passion. We took pains to locate an “SW-3” transistor (short wave radio with three bands) to hear commentaries of matches played in Australia and sat up all night to listen to those of matches played in the West Indies (Tony Cozier was a great favourite).

Those were the days when people literally walked miles for the game. In 1978, I emerged from the Chinnaswamy stadium on the fourth day of the India-West Indies test to learn that Indira Gandhi had been arrested in the afternoon, even while the match was on.

There had been some stone-pelting and violence outside and prohibitory orders had been clamped.

A direct bus from Shivajinagar to Vijayanagar where we had shifted to from Rajajinagar was available only once in two hours, even in normal times. I quietly joined the sea of people making its way home through Cubbon Park to my reach my home, a good 10 km away, savouring the memories of the day’s game, even if the cricket that was played was not the best by any measure.

The last day of that match, if my memory serves me right, was called off.

Today, several years later I wonder if boys go visiting homes to see “Noorondu Ganeshas”—going around to get the darshan of 101 Ganesha idols. I consider myself lucky to have done so in my childhood, if not for anything but only to enter the sanctum sanctorum  of one of my all-time favourite cricket idols.

Also read: From Bhadravathi, the Bhimsen Joshi of cricket

The man who inspired the finest English passage on Karnataka

B.S Chandrashekar on Gundappa Vishwanath

Sunil Gavaskar: the most petulant cricketer ever?

Sunaad Raghuram: Once upon a time, on the other side of midnight

Alfred Satish Jones: The madagoo academy of cricket