Rewa in Madhya Pradesh is a far different world to the opulence of South Mumbai. The cement unit of the Aditya Birla Group - a billion-dollar enterprise - is headquartered in the city. Therefore, when Aryaman Birla
, the son of the billionaire industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, moved there, it wouldn't have been outlandish to assume he was there to learn the ropes of the business. However, the real reason for his move was his first love - cricket.
After four years in the junior circuit in Madhya Pradesh, Birla took small steps towards strengthening his position in only his third first-class outing last week. He rescued MP with a maiden backs-to-the-wall century at Eden Gardens
to help salvage a draw against Bengal. This was a significant because MP are looking to fill the void left by the retirement
of their long-time talisman Devendra Bundela
, the most-capped player in Ranji Trophy history.
Watching the entire team stand up to applaud must have been reassuring because for the first three years in MP, he "felt like an outsider". The murmurs were invariably about how his "privileged background" may have given him a push. "Performances are the best way of earning trust and respect, so when I started scoring runs, people started seeing me in a different light," Birla tells ESPNcricinfo. "When I first came to MP, I was known more by my last name. I kept hearing 'Birla's son, Birla's grandson.' But through my performances, I changed perceptions, they started seeing me differently.
"That's been my biggest achievement so far. Recently someone came and asked me 'you're so seedha saadha (simple and straightforward), we didn't even know you're from the Birla family.' That to me was a sign of change."
Birla decided to leave Mumbai as a 17-year old who was unsure of his immediate future as a cricketer trying to "fight for survival" in the city. Not wanting to lose time, he decided to take the plunge by enrolling for district trials in MP in 2014. A three-month stint in England, prior to his move to Rewa, helped him ease self-doubt.
"People realise when you come with the name behind you, you have to live up to certain standards. I want to carry a legacy forward in my own way. As a young kid, I was used to taunts. Now my team-mates joke about it and I laugh it off with them. Any small thing and they're like 'bade log, badi baatein (big people, big talk)' but I laugh about it now."
Birla trained with Paul Weekes
, an English first-class veteran who played 236 first-class matches for Middlesex before retiring in 2006. Birla represented West Hampstead Cricket Club and made it to a minor county side - the London Schools Cricket Association.
"As a young kid in Mumbai, people often said things to please me, it was hard for them to not associate me with my name," he says. "Whenever I was complimented, I was like 'are they saying this because of my surname?' In England, I was just one among the others. They only knew me about my cricket, so playing there made me more confident and mature as a person."
His temperament shone through last season, when he topped the CK Nayudu (Under-23) Trophy run charts with 602 at an average of 75.25, scoring three hundreds in nine innings. It was enough to earn him a Ranji Trophy debut against Odisha. The call-up vindicated his decision to move from Mumbai to MP.
He broke his thumbnail at training on the morning of the match, but made his debut nevertheless. It wasn't "a dream like I'd expected", but he still battled through pain to put on 72 for the first wicket with Rajat Patidar. The toughness was lauded in the dressing room, even though there had been doubts before he went out to bat.
Away from the cricket field, Birla is like the average 21-year old, interested in music and movies. He's often asked about joining the business and "enhancing the family's legacy". It irks him, but he doesn't feel burdened. "Yes, I don't have to worry about money, so I can channel that positively and ensure the focus is just on cricket," he says. "When I was a lot younger, it felt like pressure.
"People realise when you come with the name behind you, you have to live up to certain standards. I want to carry a legacy forward in my own way. As a young kid, I was used to taunts. Now my team-mates joke about it and I laugh it off with them. Any small thing and they're like 'bade log, badi baatein (big people, big talk)' but I laugh about it now. I'm very comfortable now. That's partly got to do with my upbringing because we were never sheltered and made to live in a bubble at home as young kids, even though our parents had their own careers."
Birla hopes to carry his form through the season and possibly into the IPL - he's been retained by Rajasthan Royals, who signed him for INR 30 lakh at the 2018 auction. Game time eluded him this season, but opportunities can't be far off if he keeps performing.
"This year, I went in with no expectation, and wanted to give it my best if I got the chance," he says. "It was tough to get batting time as a reserve, because the time between training and match days is little, but I was maintaining my routines, preparing like I'd play. I did a lot of catching and fielding, fitness work. Knew even if I didn't get a chance, there was a first-class season to look forward to, and I'm going to be in for the long haul, I can't get disappointed by one season of warming the bench."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo