September 22, 2011

A man of opposites

Mudar Patherya
Aloof yet witty, plain but direct, regal yet casual. MAK Pataudi was so many contradictory things that eventually you stopped trying to classify him

Spending an hour with Tiger Pataudi was often a matter of trying to get a reaction from granite; he could put you off not by what he said but by what he didn't. And spending an hour with Tiger Pataudi could also be a pain in the gut because he could make you laugh until it hurt.

And that is what Pataudi was: aloof yet witty, plain but direct, regal yet casual. He was so many opposites that eventually you stopped trying to classify him.

He was the man you could weave legends around: being hit on the jaw by Andy Roberts, then hitting Vanburn Holder for a straight six, then hitting four fours in succession in front of 90,000, hitting 85 at the MCG, which Ray Robinson described as one of the gutsiest innings ever at that ground, becoming a legend in the covers - and to think that he did all this with only one eye. Sunil Gavaskar described it well: if you want to appreciate the genius of Pataudi, spend a day with an eye closed and then try to light a candle.

He was the absentee editor of the magazine for which I worked, Sportsworld. He lived in Delhi; we slaved in Calcutta. He had discovered the magic of decentralisation and empowerment before liberalisation. The magazine, structured by twenty-something-year-olds, was one in the editing of which Pataudi scarcely took an active interest. His name would decorate the tombstone. And then suddenly one day the Sportsworld peon would come in carrying a scroll from the telex room headlined with the words "editorial by mak pataudi". Typewriter keys would freeze mid-air as people pounced to read the mind of a man who usually dared to differ.

Even though he never edited the magazine, he probably read every word that went into it. In 1987, Pataudi, Gavaskar, Mohinder Amarnath and I went on a trip to Tihar jail at the behest of Kenneth Larkins (jailed on charges of espionage), who was arranging cricket matches to enhance a sense of reform. Pictures were clicked. Three days later Pataudi nixed the scoop on the grounds that this was akin to glorifying someone who had sold the country. Two years later, convinced that Pataudi was not looking, a picture of the visit was used. The following week a telex message arrived, addressed to me: "I thought we had an agreement."

He was a man who trusted his instincts; like on the last morning of the Eden Gardens Test against West Indies in 1974-75, when he continued to persist in having an erratic Bhagwat Chandrasekhar bowl to a plundering Clive Lloyd. A couple of overs later Chandra bowled Lloyd, the West Indians panicked, and India won an unforgettable Test. I tried reading his mind. Why had he persisted with Chandra? Pataudi would not tell, not because it was a profound secret but because deep down he probably knew that it was only a gambler's gut, which could not be intellectualised.

Pataudi seldom proffered advice on his own volition, but the rare occasion when he did was when Kapil Dev was dropped from the Indian team after a reckless shot that supposedly lost India the Test, and in the reams that were written immediately thereafter, the one that cut through the clutter was a private message that Pataudi, then editing Sportsworld, sent to Kapil: "Whatever you do, don't speak to the media." The one-liner saved Kapil from making things worse, and he was promptly recalled a Test later.

If you got to know him well, he would tell you difficult-to-believe stories of maharajas and cricketers. He was in England when the privy purse was abolished and someone at the ground asked how his name should go up on the scoreboard, now that "Nawab of Pataudi" had become an anachronism. He replied: "As far as I care, you can call me John Smith."

Pataudi was the last bridge between the medieval and the modern. Never again will we have a 21-year-old leading India, never again will there be a cricketing blue-blood keeping his place on merit, never again will there be someone who could probably claim, "My father played for England… and India".

An age has ended. In more senses than one.

Mudar Patherya worked for Sportsworld magazine with Pataudi as his editor for nearly a decade

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 24, 2011, 12:05 GMT

    MAK PATAUDI dead:(my boyhood hero...the sheer alluring aura of the man,the perpetual mystique around him,the one eyed king of covers,lofted shots,his dry wit,his editorial gems for the Sportsworld of the eighties,panama hat and all,must ave been one heck of an understated yet determined trier!A supreme natural,apparently used to rock up and just exercised his wrists for the spin of the coin! Remember listening about his 198 at Chennai in a Ranji trophy game against Venkat,in a rickety radio back then in late seventies!Captured and captivated many a hearts,Tiger Patuadi,RIP.

  • Dummy4 on September 24, 2011, 12:04 GMT

    Wat a player! Wat a Man!always laconic and brief Patuadi seldom said much and thus retained his Aura and Hallowed mystique around him..A Tacit charmer and a debonair looker left an indelible mark on all and Sundry! Well..what a nice tribute by my all time favourite Journo!Congrats Mudar..Cricket Journalism's loss is Stock market's gain!

  • Dummy4 on September 23, 2011, 19:48 GMT

    What a great tribute to MAKP by Mudar! Brings back memories of Sportsworld from the 80s. His style of journalism was a revelation then; several cricket writers use nowadays what can be termed as the Mudar genre.

  • Dummy4 on September 23, 2011, 10:09 GMT

    MAK (he hated the Tiger sobriquet!) was a great man in every sense of the word. He was humble enough to accept his limitations but remained proud of his roots and strengths alike. A true product of the Raj era and English education, he was aggressive without ever being chippy. He didn't need to waive his shirt to assert his supremacy, it came naturally to him. Just imagine that with a sole good eye, the man was good enough to notch a career test average of 35 without any protection, how good he could have been in the modern era and with two good eyes!! Sunny Gavaskar has paid him a heartfelt tribute. As a batsman, I often marveled at how this man would have faced the fabled English seam and swing I struggled to counter with two good eyes and a fair bit of protection to boot!! Quite what he would have made of the likes Raina and Mukund fumbling hopelessly against bouncers in a series bearing his family name does not bear thinking about!! RIP MAK. God bless you always and thank you.

  • Aditya on September 23, 2011, 8:40 GMT

    And that is a great photo too.

  • Dummy4 on September 23, 2011, 8:16 GMT

    Straight from the heart Mudar - A great Homage to the INIMITABLE TIGER PATAUDI - A THOROUGH GENTLEMAN! Farewell Tiger and May you ever grow in our hearts.

  • Dummy4 on September 23, 2011, 7:52 GMT

    Terrific story. written from the heart & giving the essence of the man. I have been the fan of Mudar & Ayaz Memon cricket writing. I always felt these & now Harsha are as good as Ray Robinson & Jack fingolton.

  • Ankit on September 23, 2011, 5:31 GMT

    Mudar Patherya... Trisys? Always been a fan of your work @ Trisys. Excellent article here as well... Perfect tribute to the Tiger. Ankit Patni.

  • Dummy4 on September 23, 2011, 4:32 GMT

    Tiger would have loved it, I sure did. You have brought out the essence of the man. It must indeed have been memorable working with him. I could not help laughing even at this sombre moment and that I think is a fitting tribute to a man who must have regaled his friends with his humourous tales and repartees. Maybe this article should have come earlier when he was alive. I sense a similar sense of humour in Saif but he has a long way to go to match his father's stature and achievements.

  • Arjun on September 23, 2011, 4:24 GMT

    A great man, a legend, an epitomy of the spirit of cricket. I envy those who knew him and were able to first hand have experienced the presence of the Tiger.

    We grieve deeply for his family. May he rest in peace and may they have strength to bear.

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