Saturday, March 17, 2012

‘Our shy achiever from Indira Nagar'

Rahul Dravid is like a bank — silently, unobtrusively accumulating — and yet unlike a bank, he has a heart and good old-fashioned values.

Rahul Dravid has perhaps had more column centimetres and television space accorded to him over the last few days than during his long and distinguished playing career. In many ways he is not the ideal subject for a journalist seeking a headline or a sensation. He has never used an aluminium bat or dropped his trousers on a cricket ground, shown two-finger salute to the crowd or tackled a streaker. He has just made runs — a mountain of them in every part of the world, often when most of his more-celebrated teammates failed. He is like a bank — silently, unobtrusively accumulating — and yet unlike a bank, he has a heart and values that set him apart from the average IPL contract-seeking bloke. He has old-fashioned values — “the greatest motivation is playing for your country,” he would say when coaxed. I have interacted with him on a few occasions and wish to share those special moments. Let me start with an incident involving Dravid about which I heard from my colleague.

Simple boy next door
The doorbell rings at the Dravid residence. Dravid senior answers. It is their teenage neighbour with a friend from outside the city. They timidly ask if they could see Dravid to get his autograph. The father readily ushers them in and calls Dravid downstairs. He spends an hour with them without any of the airs of the star he already is and talks to them about their career goals and ambitions. When the delighted teenagers leave after taking photographs with him and clutching his precious autograph, they have already become his fans for life, like countless others before and after them. Dravid was a man to whom you could confidently take your family. He never let his team or his fans down by his behaviour.

I met Dravid at my alma mater IIM Bangalore, where I was chairing a session on “celebrity advertising”. Who better than ‘The Wall' for a live celebrity? I was my usual difficult self (after all, aren't TV anchors everywhere playing God), asking him questions that were raising laughs and yet fairly difficult to answer, on the lines of “have you stopped beating your wife”, in a cricketing context of course. The discussion veered to the messy subject of match fixing. I might have led it in that direction. But Dravid merely soldiered on with a smile. A guy who could deflect a McGrath sledge was unlikely to be fazed by someone who was clearly his great fan, even if he was putting up a front. The session was a huge hit, as the unassuming cricketing hero fielded questions from the management students with the same casual confidence with which he snared slip catches. I realised that day that his MBA from Bangalore University, which he did not flaunt, had been acquired with the same zeal as the 95 he made in his first innings at Lords.

Oh captain, my captain
I soon met Dravid again at another TV panel discussion I was anchoring with some big names from industry. The industry leaders agreed to be on the panel because they could meet Dravid, and the then captain of the Indian cricket team spoke about the stuff that leaders are made of, such as a shared vision, the power of the individual, and the value of the team. He also spoke about some values that were “non-negotiable”. Today, when I see companies and players being consumed by greed, I remember my co-panellist and wish that corporate India and Karnataka's political leaders had half the ethics that this mannina maga (son of the soil) from Bangalore has.

Haven't we met before?
My next tryst with fame came about when we were organising a Round Table event to honour people who had put Karnakata on the global map, and leading the list was our shy achiever from Indira Nagar. When I went near him he got up, shook hands with me and asked how I was even though we had met just a couple of times . Maybe he accorded me the honour as I was simply the ‘oldest member'. But tell me, how many youngsters recognise or respect age or experience? The mantle of a role model for youth rested lightly on his broad shoulders. Even though it was off season and the next test match was months away, he was just returning from a long practice session; and it is common knowledge that his was a new principle of inventory when it came to practice: “first in, last out” of the nets.

Giving back to the game
I am sure the cricketing world is waiting to know what its favourite son is going to do after his recent retirement from the game. He is already being touted as a future chairman of the beleaguered ICC. The game needs him. A cricketer like him comes once in a generation, and let's celebrate his success even as we miss him on the field.

Whoever said that nice guys ever have to finish last?

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