Saturday, May 21, 2022

'A Memorable Partnership'

'Tiger has not gone away; he continues to fill my life. He is around for me in many ways I did not expect... Much as I feel deprived, I do not feel alone'

'A Memorable Partnership'


27th December 2011 would have been our forty-third wedding anniversary. But we didn’t make it. We ran out of time on 22nd September. On that day I stepped into a strange new world. Everything was familiar and yet everything was different. After forty-seven magical years of being together, Tiger left. I deeply mourned his absence but I could also feel his lasting presence.

Tiger has not gone away; he continues to fill my life. He is around for me in many ways I did not expect. He may not be with me when I sit down for a meal or next to me when I put my feet up for a movie, nor do I see him when I wake up in the morning. Yet he is here. Much as I feel deprived, I do not feel alone.

In that matter-of-fact way of his, he has given a stability, a sense of rectitude and a lot of cheer to our home and life. And in our life it will stay. I feel sure of it somehow. I think of this as an enduring blessing, a priceless gift and not just as a temporary consolation. That is why putting together this book is not only cathartic, but a welcome idea. It gives me another opportunity to relive all those moments we spent together— often exciting, fulfilling, troubling and triumphant and once in a while even blissfully sublime.

I first met him a few weeks before my twenty-first birthday. He was three years and eleven months older. What instantly attracted me to him was his sense of humour and his innate gentleness. I felt that I could trust him implicitly. He was, even at that young age, the same person he was till the end of his life— mature, calm, responsible, with the strongest sense of self. I, on the other hand, was impulsive and quite unschooled in the ways of the world. I guess we complemented each other.

When I think back on some of Tiger’s attitudes, actions and reactions that were so uniquely his own, I realize how he was an excellent mix of multiple cultural influences. He had an orthodox upbringing at home, where he learnt Urdu and Arabic and imbibed the ways of the manor to which he was born. His father, who played the sitar beautifully, introduced him to the richness and beauty of Indian classical music. At his behest, Tiger learnt to play the flute, the harmonium, and the tabla, which was felt to be the essence of all musicality.

While he inherited his father’s zest for life, he was also an intensely private person like his mother. His father’s unexpected death resulted in his being sent away to prep school in England at the age of eleven. His cricketing skills had already created an interest at the Roshanara Club of Delhi, where he was allowed to play with the adults under his father’s benevolent gaze. This talent blossomed at Lockers Park and over the next ten years he made his mark at Winchester and Oxford where he went on to break several records.

Girish Karnad recalls his Oxford days with Tiger, not so much his cricket but his love of music. It was great fun for us, travelling with one or the other of his musical instruments, listening, playing and humming along. There was always laughter and joy at 1 Dupleix Road, his home in Delhi. Whenever the family got together, Tiger regaled us with his ‘hiran dance’, which could compete with any of the present-day item numbers, and his hilarious ‘Hawa mein udta jaaye’ caper. Another oft-repeated favourite was the cricket dance. In fact, Buggy (Abbas Ali Baig) and Tiger had the temerity to perform it in front of Sonal Mansingh not so long ago. Tiger was a great Lata, Talat and Rafi fan and it was he who introduced me to Begum Akhtar. He was equally sporting on the dance floor if Harry Belafonte or Ella Fitzgerald were belting out their numbers.

I remember there was a furore years ago when my photograph in a bikini was carried on the cover of Filmfare. It was still early days in our relationship, he was playing at Hove for Sussex, and I was shooting for An Evening in Paris in Europe. He sent me a telegram that read: ‘Relax! You could only be looking very nice.’ Simply that. His quiet support gave me strength and calmed me down. Exposed to his brand of confidence, I realized I actually did not have it. I was adventurous, spirited, even enterprising, but he had that cool, ‘I am-ok-no-matter-what’ attitude which I envied. He was unflappable, which made him the best bridge partner anyone could wish for. And in his pragmatic, down-to-earth manner, he always managed to transmit that indefatigable confidence to me when I needed it the most.

What I enjoyed enormously was his skill of being a gentleman without being boring. Because if you were as correct as he was, you could end up being a tad tedious. But that is something no one could accuse him of. His wit came to the rescue every time.

Like once, when Shammi Kapoor hijacked the taxi that Tiger and I had ordered for ourselves at a restaurant in rain-blown Paris, I was really angry. Tiger decided to fall to his knees right there on the pavement with a bouquet of flowers whisked off a nearby table, completely flooring the fellow diners, and indeed me! My tantrum turned to laughter, which is precisely what he wanted. And the rain too was forgotten till the next cab rolled up for us. I guess it was a perfect capture of our courtship as we snatched time with each other between playing matches and shooting films!

Tiger’s humour never deserted him. Another time, at a party when he was being pestered by an overly coy person who kept asking how she should address him, he replied with a straight face: ‘Your Highness will do.’ Thank heavens, most people got to know it was his style of making light an awkward moment, rather than being arrogant or dismissive. His skirting the same question when asked by Sunil (Gavaskar), as he recalls in this book, was perhaps his way of saying, ‘I leave it to you.’ At twenty-one, I was prone to exaggeration and using highly dramatic words simply for their effect. This didn’t work with Tiger. You had to watch your words carefully even if you were in a tearing hurry or extremely upset. Each spoken word was remembered and taken very, very seriously. Since I wanted to be taken seriously, I soon learnt to say what I really meant without getting carried away by histrionics or the heat of the moment. Punctuality was another virtue I had to learn quickly. The only Bengali sentence he learnt to say was, ‘Tumi jodi poneroh minute-er modhe toiri na howe, tahole kintu ami chole jabo’ (if you don’t get ready in fifteen minutes, I am leaving) and that’s precisely what he did.

He had a firm aversion to cuss words. This always surprised me, given that he spent most of his youth away from parental proprieties. There was a time in my life when I used the word ‘crap’ regularly and unthinkingly. One day he asked me, ‘But do you know what it means?’ And I must tell you, I stopped using it almost instantly on discovering that minor detail! He would allow himself an ‘O Christ!’ in moments of surprise and exasperation. That was the most extreme expression of dissatisfaction I heard through all our years together. ‘Manners maketh man,’ he often quoted, stressing on the merit of correct behaviour in public places.

I often goaded him about his remaining silent, often stubbornly so, when there was a discussion on a subject he knew exceptionally well. But regardless of my prodding and my amazement at his silence with all the inaccuracies being expressed all around him, he held back unless his opinion was sought. Unlike him, I tended to jump into the fray and repeat my arguments in different ways in an attempt to convince others. And he would shake his head and say very quietly, ‘You’ve made your point, why go on about it.’ Then, I ignored his advice. Now, I do exactly as he would have done.

Although he believed that you cannot and must not over-instruct and be overbearing, he did a great job of working with our kitchen staff and masterminding a terrific menu on the table for quite some years. There he would be on his favourite takht in his den with the dish coming up from the kitchen for a dekko and a sniff and a request for a dash of this or the other. Yes, by the end he was more than a gourmet consumer. He had become a remote-control gourmet chef as well.

The family especially appreciates Bishan’s tribute when he talks about the resolve with which Tiger built the spirit of the Indian team. Merely seven years after our Independence, Tiger became a hero in Winchester, despite being the only Indian boy in an English school, on the strength of his excellence in cricket and other sports. He was therefore abundantly clear on one score: that colour, creed, looks, religion, language need be no bar for any cricketer on the field. It was performance that mattered, the team spirit and the focus on winning. As captain, he was not one to get too excited about individual scores, personal heroism or charisma. It was more about the gathering of forces, the bonding together as a team and the eventual result. And it was in pursuit of this that he gave fielding such a special pride of place in the game. By enjoying and excelling at it, Tiger gave fielding the much-needed attention it deserved in Indian cricket.

The cricket experts in this collection write about the subtleties of his game and career, each highlighting a special aspect. But Tiger never dwelt on his trials or triumphs, and didn’t allow us to do so either. So there was never any talk at home about the rioting of 1947 in Pataudi as experienced by a six-year-old, or his feelings about losing his father on his birthday or witnessing the subsequent mourning of his very young mother. He would get very annoyed if we ever made the mistake of speculating about what his batting average might have been had the accident not happened. However, I can’t help feeling that breaking all of Jardine’s batting records at Winchester, while still a schoolboy, must have been a colossal high for him. Especially because his father, Pataudi Senior, had a much-reported dispute with Jardine over the ethics of bodyline bowling.

To remain undeterred by a blow, however severe, became characteristic of the man. I am sure that all three children of ours value this courage-under-fire quality and indeed try to imbibe it. When the captaincy went in 1971, it was Saif’s arrival into the world that restored Tiger almost instantly. Indeed, through his life, Tiger’s ambitions, concerns and excitements were consistently centred on our three children, and he remained, till the end, very proud of their success in their respective fields. While being supportive, he was firm about his values pervading their lives. This he managed without any sermon, any reprimand.

Over the devastating month of his illness, he amazed us constantly. He remained himself despite the terrible discomfort. Despair was not permitted. The endless regimen of hospital routine— the stream of ward boys, nurses and doctors, tubes and drips, oxygen masks, doors banging, cell phones ringing— was a total invasion of privacy. It must have been hard for such an intensely private person, yet not once did he complain. He continued to engage with people around him and come up with his famous one-liners. One day, after the usual rigours of physiotherapy, a nurse said cheerfully, ‘See, today we have done everything.’ Tiger’s swift counter was: ‘You call that everything?’

Tiger’s room at the hospital had a big picture window. Through that you could see the wide expanse of the September sky, the sunrise and the sunset, the ever-changing monsoon clouds, the intermittent rain, sometimes light, at times torrential, and the playful pigeons on the ledge. This became our world. The incredible emotions of that month with him in the hospital are impossible to express. It was a time of intimate sharing. Every day was a gift and every moment precious. It was as if forty-seven years of togetherness were condensed in them. Our days in the hospital became an intensely lived experience, and they remain in my memory as vibrant, honest moments. Tiger would often drum a taal on the steel railings of the bed, humming a ghazal or a Hindi film song. He would often hum Dil jalta hai toh jalne do, a song with which he wooed me once upon a time. We talked about love, life, death. His body was failing him but his mind was alive. He wanted to live and he wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Moments before he fell into the sleep from which he would not wake, he told me, ‘Rinku, it is not settling, but hopefully it will.’ These words will remain with me forever.

I had loved Tiger for forty-seven years, was married to him for almost forty-three. We didn’t make it to fifty. But it was a memorable partnership; certainly, an enriching one for me. I am sure more books will be written about Tiger Pataudi, the man, the cricketer. It is a shame that he will not be around to add his amused quip to this one, or the ones to follow. But having read this book, you may have a fair idea of how he might have summed it up, with or without words.


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