We must confess we were a bit apprehensive when we heard about the launch of a collection of essays on Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. After all, essay collections on legends who have recently departed for their heavenly abode can be tricky affairs. People tend to praise the subject unabashedly, generating something that is more hagiographic than biographic as a result.
That, fortunately, is not something we can say about Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket. Yes, at about 200 pages, the volume is way too slim to do justice to its subjects, but it does give one a flavour of what the man Indian cricket knew as “Tiger” was like, both on and off the field. And credit for this should be given to Suresh Menon for his choice of authors. There are Pataudi’s contemporaries (Farokh Engineer, Bishen Bedi, Abbas Ali Baig, Tony Lewis, Ian Chappell), notable cricket writers (Mudar Patherya, John Woodcock, Robin Marlar) and even some surprise packets (N. Ram, MJ Akbar and Naseeruddin Shah) in these pages, and the foreword is written by the person Pataudi called ‘Rinku’–his better half, Sharmila Tagore.
No, not all the essays written in this anthology are in the great category–Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Merchant and Rajdeep Sardesai honestly disappoint with staid tributes–but there is enough here to make you smile as well as realise the important role Pataudi played in Indian cricket. His role in unifying the Indian cricket team is stressed by many, as is his belief in his players, and his utterly quirky sense of humour. Above all, you realise the sheer charisma of the man. He was perhaps to India what Imran Khan would later be for Pakistan–a person who led by example and who was as comfortable in a crowd of celebrities as he was on a cricket field. And yes, for all the razzmatazz, he remained a reserved person. And for all his courage, he also remained terrified of flying.
There are also delightful gems of trivia scattered like gold dust throughout the book–how Pataudi wooed Sharmila Tagore by singing “Dil jalta hai…“; how, when asked by Ian Chappell about what he did for a winning, he snapped “Ian, I am a bloody price,”; and of course, his legendary retort about how he started believing he could play cricket even with one good eye (“when I saw the English bowling”). There is even an interview with the man and a piece about him by his daughter, Soha, and some wonderful photographs.
All of which makes Nawab of Cricket perhaps the best book about an Indian cricketer that we have read for a while. No, we are not going to hail this as the ultimate, definitive book on the man–we are hoping desperately that someone will sit down and write that one of these days. But if you love Indian cricket, you owe it to yourself to read this book. And realise that Indian cricket did not “arrive” when an Indian captain tore his shirt off at the Lord’s balcony and shouted abuse, but almost forty years before that, when the British media bowed to the courage of a man they hailed as “the one-eyed man who is king.”
Read Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket, because every Indian needs to remember: Ek Tha Tiger…
Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket
Edited by Suresh Menon