On the road with Dhawal Kulkarni February 13, 2009

Talk of the town

They all want a piece of the newest entry to India's Test squad, but Dhawal Kulkarni's feet are placed firmly on the ground

One of the many obligatory interviews © Cricinfo Ltd

Restless, tired, Dhawal Kulkarni sits on a cement slab below a large banyan tree outside a temple in Chembur, suburban Mumbai. It is past four in the afternoon.

Kulkarni arrived here nearly three hours ago, and has been doing numerous interviews, obliging various forms of the media, mostly television. He has an evening flight to catch, along with the rest of the Mumbai team, which is headed to Rajkot for the Ranji Trophy one-dayers.

"I don't want to pay the fine. It is Rs 500," Kulkarni says of the penalty if he doesn't reach the airport by 5.30pm. Praveen Amre, the Mumbai coach, has decided to impose a fine on every latecomer, and Kulkarni doesn't want a dark spot on his big day - the one when he was picked for the first time for an India team.

"I'm tired of being asked the same question, 'How do you feel?'" Kulkarni says later, during a ride in his brand new Honda City, which he bought exactly a month ago. It is his first purchase with his own money. On the dashboard are several religious icons and a picture of his grandfather, whose dream it was that Kulkarni play alongside Sachin Tendulkar. That dream remained unfulfilled: Kulkarni's grandfather passed away before the IPL last year.

Kulkarni wants to dedicate today's achievement to his family, who have been his biggest fans; but though the news came at noon, he hasn't found the time for a private word with them.

In the morning he left for practice as usual. Midway into his training he casually checked with the few reporters gathered at the ground if the squads being picked were for all three forms. When the news broke, he took it without too much excitement. His team-mates gathered around him, congratulated him, and that was that.

From there he proceeded to the Swami Samarth Math in Chembur, where his father, Sunil, and his younger sister, Dhanashree, were waiting for him. His mother was absent: she wanted to stay away from the media. The family was unaware of the news till a friend of Dhanashree's rang to inform them. "I was surfing the net, while my father was watching some TV channel. Suddenly my friend called up and told me that my brother had been selected," Dhanashree, a gold-medal winner at junior-level shooting says. She used to tease her brother, comparing her achievements with his, but today she can't hide her excitement. "We are so proud."

There is a healthy media presence in the compound of the little temple. Dressed in a black jumper, shorts, and beach thongs, Kulkarni enters to the sound of firecrackers. Next door is an apartment complex. A middle-aged woman peeps out of her balcony as she hangs clothes on the line. She looks as curious as some of the other bystanders.

Kulkarni, without much fuss, repeats virtually the same lines in English, Hindi and Marathi, putting up an exhausted smile for the cameras. The photographers and TV crews want him, at times, to shake hands with his family, at others to put his arms around them. One desperate photographer enters the inner sanctum and requests that Kulkarni ring the two temple bells with both hands raised. Kulkarni looks a little annoyed, but the photographer assures him it will make the front page.

Kulkarni is not too disturbed by the intrusions. He knows his life is changing fast, and he can't complain much. He hopes some things won't change. "I want to remain as I am. I should not change my attitude," he says during the car ride. His eyes remain firmly on the traffic ahead.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo