It is easy to recognise V.V.S. Laxman each time his toothy grin fills up half the front page. But is it all that difficult to imagine him as a doctor, which is actually what his doctor-parents wanted him to be? Imagine a mercenary hospital milking the masses. Imagine an emergency room full of flashy white coats discussing golf swings, luxury cars and country homes. Now, imagine the expert, called in to help only when a life has to be saved, making a ooh-inspiring cut here, an aah-inspiring stab there. Imagine.
Resident non-Indians who cannot utter Vangipurappu Venkata Sai without breaking into a grin have settled on ‘Very Very Special’ to work their way around his name. But if there is a full form of vvs that comes closest to capturing the essence of Laxman, it has to be ‘Very Very South Indian’. A quiet, understated, tough-as-nails winner like his other peninsular pals and peers: Anil and Rahul and Sri.
In a post-liberalised India that has seen the loud Punjabification of the republic in the way we walk, talk, dress, look, work, live, play and win, Laxman’s vvsness is not to be scoffed at. Smaller stars in the constellation (mostly VVN) have required hair cuts, bare chests, big deals, fast cars, gal pals, loose lips, dancing shoes to announce their presence. By contrast, all Laxman has needed to reveal his mien is his vertebral steel. How cool is that?
Possessed of a beautifully balanced stance, as if bowing to the Maker, the Sai-bhakt has crossed many orbits in a decade bookended by his epic 281 and his unbeaten 73 last week. But he has also softly broken the stereotype of male machismo that the poets of Bollywood, and the fiction writers of IPL, have inflicted on us. That when waging war, it is wrong to approach it in a peacable way.
In a lineup which already has a Bombayite approaching divinity and a Delhiite who is a demigod, Laxman shows you can kill them with civility and propriety. ‘Be patient, have faith’, can well be the lanky number six’s pep-up chant to an inevitably callow partner between overs; he then goes about slaying onfield demons without much ado.
The almost incisive artistry of the doctor who wasn’t could well be included in Gray’s Anatomy. But what Laxman, a batsman with ball bearings, not bones, in his wrists really signifies goes beyond the boundary that we have circumscribed our sporting heroes by.
One, in a new India that says it’s ok to grab all you can get, to flaunt it if you have it—“it don’t matter how they come, as long as they come”, in the memorable words of Sunil Gavaskar—a satisfied, contented, old-school cricketer who only plays the real thing, Test matches, takes the mind back to an innocent era lost by cricket to commerce and cinema.
Two, in a Hyderabad that has become ground zero of all that is wonky about modern India—think Satyam, think Azharuddin, think Telangana, think the real estate scams and the drugs and sex scandals of the stars and starlets—Laxman is a truly positive and uplifting story. A winner over and over again, by intent, not accident. More Saina than Sania.
And three, in an Andhra Pradesh whose political landscape has been clouded by the antics of upstarts like Jaganmohan Reddy, Laxman’s patent lack of ambition seems to exemplify the Zen motto: “To have more, desire less”. He last played an odi four years ago, and gladly gave up the ‘icon’ status so that his Twenty20 home side, Deccan Chargers, could have the freedom to spend its money wisely.
At the risk of overstating the case, vvs has been more yogi than cricketer at the wicket, at peace with the world that is at war with him, with chapter 2, verse 47 of the Gita on his lips.
“Now that the Allahabad High Court has allotted Lord Rama his own house plot in Ayodhya, only Laxman can save India,” went a bulk sms that the saviour’s latest rescue act in Mohali inspired. And then came another: “Ram naam sab kare, Laxman kare na koi; Laxman batting na kare, Bharat mahaan kaise hoi?” Say it with pride, Jai Sri Laxman.