July 19, 2012

A style of his own

His English wasn't as stylish as that of other commentators but Suresh Saraiya could woo the listener with his meticulous preparation and infinite enthusiam

And so, quietly, Suresh bhai moved on. He didn't call time, didn't read out his own card, didn't shut the old accounts-style register in which he wrote down everything he had prepared, didn't look wistfully out to the ground. No, he just moved on.

He had been lonely ever since his wife Meera, the strength of his life, passed away a few years ago. He was wedded to her and to cricket, and nothing meant more to him than the Cricket Club of India and the Brabourne Stadium, for that was where his journey as a Test match commentator began. He often walked there and lamented that it was no longer his.

If he had looked at his scorecard, he would have been proud of what he did. A simple Gujarati middle-class boy, always aware that those around him spoke English better, he fought his way through the system, sometimes worked it, often felt frustrated by it. But he could be proud that he belonged to the only really good era of radio broadcasting in India. There were other giants around him: Pearson Surita; my favourite, Anant Setalvad; the gentlemanly Dicky Rutnagur; Devraj Puri and his son Narottam; but Suresh bhai stood out because he was different. His accent, his choice of words, his storytelling.

His success lay in not letting his shortcomings limit him. He evolved a style of his own, and that is what radio is all about. When at school, in the days when radio was the only medium around, I would barrack for Setalvad, while my friends would say "long layyyyg" in Suresh bhai's manner. They loved him for his style. Years later I shared a commentary box with him many times and waited for the "long layyyyg". It always came and we could laugh over it. "Mota bhai," he would say, and launch into a Gujarati line, which he then explained.

No one I have worked with prepared more meticulously than he did. He would be at the ground the previous evening, looking at the grass, talking to the groundsman, studying the pitch and the outfield. He would write down all the stats in his large register, and by the time he came early to the game the next morning, in a shirt and tie, he was ready.

Ah, the tie. He berated me one day for turning up in a t-shirt. To me, radio was a fun, informal medium, and I dressed that way. Not so the compellingly old-world Suresh bhai. "Mota bhai, first day toh tie pehno. [At least wear a tie on the first day.] You are a commentator, you know." I agreed and also committed to a ritual. Every time I went on a tour he wasn't on, I would bring him a tie. And he would wear it with pride, with a smile, "Mota bhai... dekha! [See, big brother!]"

All India Radio meant everything to him. AIR and Central Bank of India, which gave him a job and a livelihood all his life, for which he was always grateful. Sometimes I feared AIR clogged his mind, but that was his world. AIR was his baggy green or his India blazer.

We were having breakfast at the Protea Hotel in Durban in 1992 on the morning of the first Test match to be played in South Africa since 1970. We had organised the trip ourselves. AIR had only booked the lines and agreed to pay us a daily fee. Suresh bhai was like a child - up early in the room we shared throughout the tour and pottering around as if he were to open the batting. In his own way, he was. Suddenly at breakfast he broke down, and I didn't quite know how to react. "I never thought a Gujarati boy from a middle-class family would be the first Indian voice to be heard from South Africa," he sobbed. He was proud and grateful at the same time. I saw that many times.

It was fun hearing the voice next to me that I had heard in the stillness of the night and at the crack of dawn from somewhere in the world. There is an eternal magic to radio and Suresh bhai was a big part of it. Sadly, while he might have passed on yesterday, radio broadcasting in India accepted its own demise many years ago.

When I got back from Australia this March, I forgot to give him the tie. Deep inside I knew I had missed out on something. I will give it to him before he starts his final journey.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2012, 1:30 GMT

    Wonderful article Hidden between those lines are the basics of managment which Suresh sir has followed Thanks for this article - made my day

  • S on July 21, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    While I know the dictum that one does not speak ill of the dead, I have to say that Suresh Saraiya was the one commentator who made me long for the Hindi commentator to come on the air - and I was a Chennai boy who barely spoke any Hindi at all! Saraiya was a classic case of what Mark Tully wonderfully described as "no full stops in India." Saraiya's sentences were bizarre - they went on for ever with no punctuation that the ear could discern. I often felt he ended his sentences only in order to take a breath. And his pronunciation of the Windies captain's last name - LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLoyd - still rings in my ears. I appreciate now the distance he had come, and the many sacrifices he must have had to make in working for a thankless and capricious employer like AIR - but back then I could not wait for the man to get off the mike. And thanks to Ravi Chaturvedi and others, to this day I can tell you the numbers from 1 to 99 in Hindi!

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 20:09 GMT

    Suresh Suraiya worked with my dad when Suresh headed the PR function at Central Bank. I have lost track of how many times he was able to procure top notch tickets for us. My most favorite moment was when he was able to get me Dilip Vengsarkar's comp tickets for a India NZ test match played at Fateh Maidan in Hyderabad in 1988. He was an ever smiling person with a can do attitude. The line I remember most was "With the tide it has been tucked away to backward square leg." A gentleman to the core. RIP Suresh uncle as we called him.

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 17:30 GMT

    AIR radio commentary - memories of our wonder years! Suresh Saraiya - you kept our cricket craze alive!

  • Subash on July 20, 2012, 17:13 GMT

    It saddens me to read this as I remember during my high school days listening to this great voice over the radio. Even when cricket was being telecasted on TV, I preferred to listen to Suresh Bhai over the radio. Thank you and May you RIP.

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 16:36 GMT

    oh my eyes welled as i read through the article, Suresh bhai was one of a kind.... he will be missed...

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    Thanks Sureshji for the Childhood memories. Thanks Harsha for this article

  • Shishir on July 20, 2012, 14:10 GMT

    Suresh bhai was not just a great commentator. For many like me, he was part of our child- and teen-'hood' and our cricket craze. I still remember me and other members of my family (parents and some friends) huddled around the radio and feeling the match in the words of such wonderful commentators. Seriously, it used to be great fun and we loved it! I really miss this wonderful voice (have been missing it since ages!). Suresh, Narottam, they are all relics of a bygone era and they truly bring back fond memories of helmet-less, TV-less, extra-hyperbole-less, ad-less, strategic-break-less PURE cricket commentary! Long Live Suresh bhai.

  • Sakthivel on July 20, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Suresh Saraiya.. I remember your voice which I heard during all my teen age times. AIR has stopped delivering cricket commentary from abroad a few years ago.. But your voice.. How could I forget?.. I pray to god to rest your soul in peace.. Salute sir..

  • Suresh on July 20, 2012, 13:48 GMT

    Back again as.....Suresh Bhai, rest in peace. Thanks Harsha.

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