Tuesday, July 12, 2005

C S Naidu

IT IS a non-descript address in Indore. Once upon a time it was a deserted place, wild in fact, when he bought it. In later years, it attracted thousands of admirers before it became a deserted spot. But this home of a famous son of soil survived the test of time and the agony of solitude. The area around his home today may have developed beyond his imagination but it does not matter to this grand, old cricketer who once foxed Sir Donald Bradman with his googlies. Cottari Subanna Nayudu is a forgotten man, living unrecognised, amidst people who have no time for him really.

A handsome man he was. From various accounts of the past, and from the reliable chroniclers of the game, one has read about the exploits of `CS', as he lived under the shadows of his brother, the legendary `CK'. He was a supremely fit, agile, and a dashing cricketer who relied on instinct.

A brilliant cricketer he was. A man who came in for praise from Bradman must have been good. A man who was said to be a breathtaking fielder, one with an amazingly strong arm which often ran out batsmen with a lightning throw from the deep, must have been stunning to watch.

Today, his frail figure demands care; his hands tremble from weakness, so much that to ask for an autograph would be an embarrassment to him, and his gait is a very pale shadow of his once majestic movements on the field; lapses of memory leave him frustrated, and at times he is lost for words in trying to make you understand a point; he is hard of hearing but rejects the aid that his doting daughter, Mahalakshmi, has brought from England, where she works in the Indian High Commission. Cricket is a cruel past and the present is no better. Today, he wants to forget all. He has forgotten much in any case because of age, he is 87, but whatever remains, shall remain within his dejected heart and mind.

He lives with his daughter, Vrinda, in his most proud possession - a huge home but a neglected property. Two ferocious dogs guard the small family from the worldly attacks. Cricket does not even come up for discussion in the house. Who to discuss it with? `CS' hardly remembers things and his daughters prefer it that way. So disillusioned they are with the cricketing fraternity.

``It is only when people like you visit that father talks of his past,'' reveals Mahalakshmi. She has some fond memories of his father in white flannels, taking them to England when he played minor county as a professional. ``The annual voyage with him was a most keenly awaited event. Those days spent on the ship with father were unforgettable,'' she takes a trip down memory lane. Suddenly, the present jolts her sharply. `CS' is a sick man and cannot even walk a few yards without assistance.

In need of medical attention, `CS' struggles with the measly pension of one thousand rupees a month. Much more is required for the medicines to ease the pain of a man who brought joy to thousands in his youth. Much more is required to keep him going. But who cares?

`CS' does not mind all the neglect. ``I am past, my cricket is past,'' he mumbles with a philosophy which has kept him going for the last so many years. A beneficiary of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series at Sharjah in 1991, he got enough to do up his shabby home. It has not seen attention since. Of course, the daughters have kept the place tidy and ensure that their father is not left alone for even a minute.

The drawing room is a veritable trip into the past of `CS' and is well-maintained, sort of a document, depicting the life of one of the oldest living Test cricketers in the world. Pictures of him with some of the luminaries of the game adorn the walls and the gem is `CS' and Bradman together. As I show him the prize photograph, his eyes light up and a big smile spreads such joy in the room. It was so different a few days ago when an ignorant reporter from electronic media wanted to know how much cricket he had played. `CS' simply threw a glance at the pictures in the room and the trophies in the showcase.

His daughters cannot recall a moment of unpleasantness in his company. Even today, as he endures the pain and discomfort of old age, `CS' does not lose his cool. A temperamental cricketer, who is said to have been an underachiever, he mellowed tremendously even as he explored one state after another in the domestic circuit, which included some stirring deeds in the Pentangular tournament. He ended up representing eight states to end up with 295 wickets and 2575 runs in first-class cricket. His 11-Test record did not do justice to this wonderful cricketer.

His collection of bats, clothing, boots have been damaged by the passage of time, just as his once athletic body has suffered immensely. A bat is procured from the attic so that he can pose for a picture. As he feels the handle, `CS' is reminded of a stroke from the past and executes a mock one for us - a ferocious square-cut he had played off Mohammad Nissar. Well, he maintains the bowler was Nissar and the fielder, Maharaja of Patiala, who had dared to stop the ball, only to end up with a swollen palm.

The best moment for us comes when he spots a ball. `CS' insists we take a picture of his action. He grips the ball, and instructs me to pose as a batsman, and lets go one. ``A googly,'' he exclaims even as the ball just rolls out of his palm and trickles down the floor. He looks on sadly, well aware that his attempt to relive the past has failed miserably. We all clap earnestly but he knows the truth.

The countless trophies, pictures of his youth, and some fond memories is his invaluable treasure. And `CS' takes immense pride in them. After all, nothing else is left to tell this world of his status. The present generation hardly recognises him, not even some of his contemporaries. Not many from even his state have bothered to visit him for years.

The Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association very thoughtfully sends him two tickets for the match against Australia, little realising the fact that he cannot make it. But then they are only performing a formality. Just as this society, where people simply walk or drive past his home, unaware of its distinguished tenant. We have just not learnt to honour or care for our retired, and often ailing, sportsmen.

As I take leave of this fading figure of Indian cricket, a thought occurs. How touching it would have been for the Indian team to just drop by and spend five minutes with this old man.

But such niceties are not known to the present generation of cricketers, who are too pre-occupied with themselves. And it would not have been surprising to discover that some of them may not have read or heard about the lovable `CS'. Just as he has not about most of them!
(This is taken from The Hindu)

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