Sitting outside ‘Jaguda’s’ office was a part of training for all journalists in Kolkata for a long time. The long course was ‘Maidan’ duty ,where you trudge around the famed Maidan area to the various sports association and football clubhouses with one question “anything for me?” Meaning news.
The culmination of all this was in the Cricket Association of Bengal office on the first floor of the Eden Garden office building, with a row of thoughtfully placed iron chairs being the place to rest hot and bothered bodies before entering Jagmohan Dalmiya’s darbar.
I however happened to be lucky on debut. My very first trip saw Dalmiya supervising the placement of some potted plants inside the office. He pointed at one specific pot and asked the attendant “yeh kya hai?”
The fellow didn’t know, so I offered, in a tenuous voice, “that’s a rubber plant.”
The gold-rimmed glasses turned at me. “Really? You know? And who are you?”
I introduced myself but he was more interested in my botanical knowledge.
“Arre you are the first journalist who has come to my office knowing something I don’t,” he said with a smile that almost never left his face.
I told him my father was a horticulturist by profession. What I didn’t tell him was that the rubber plant was the only plant I knew.
“Really? You must ask him to come and see me. I am very interested,” he said, and then left.
Dalmiya’s life as a cricket administrator isn’t a secret. On the contrary, his career with the CAB, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the International Cricket Council has been folklore in the sports world. Not just in India.
Everyone hated his guts. He would take on everyone head-on, be they politicians like Sharad Pawar, business tycoons like AC Muthiah or the likes of N Srinivasan. Or, cricketing ‘superpowers’ like England and Australia, who ultimately ended up eating out of his hands.
Also read | Jagmohan Dalmiya: A brief timeline
But his challenges were not restricted to cricket. In all aspects of life, he was a man with a mission. Be it his personal life, or his business dealings.
Jagmohan Dalmiya’s ambitions to be counted are reflected in his personal life too, where he married in one of the elite families of Bengal, reportedly related to Rabindranath Tagore. It is understood the marriage wasn’t well received initially. Till Jagmohan Dalmiya became who he was.
The man always punched beyond his weight class. When he took over the mantles of BCCI, Indian cricket wasn’t in the best of shape. He had confided to some from the media that the board was close of bankruptcy just after the 1983 World Cup win. Those were days when cricket was like all other sports — run badly, losing mostly and followed selectively.
From there, Dalmiya made BCCI a colossus. He himself, too, became a giant who strode big, his debonair safari suits and golden glasses belying the streetfighter who would win at any cost, bend rules within an inch of breaking and use deciding votes to turn BCCI elections in his favour.
But all this was fine, since BCCI was making money and India was growing into the sport’s headquarter. Everything in cricket, he ruled.
When Dalmiya finally left the battleground, he was done in by ill health and reverses on some fronts. But he left BCCI transformed, an industry instead of an apologetic little sideshow being run from two pitiable rooms in one corner of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
When he returned to BCCI after the Honourable Supreme Court had put Srinivasan in his place, he physically wasn’t the man of his days before. He was brought in because none of the other had either the credibility or the competence to handle being BCCI president.
But till such time that he was in harness, Dalmiya made it clear that the likes of Srinivasan, who himself isn’t averse to a good fight, would not be allowed to come back into the fray. BCCI meeting were called off only to keep the Tamil Nadu bigwig out of action, while other people of ambition put Dalmiya in the forefront as a daunting shield while trying to make their own way into power.
Till the end, he fought. He had to attend meetings leaning on his son’s arm, and had to use him as a spokesperson. The spirit was always there. The flesh failed Dalmiya.
But now that he has passed away, the can of worms will re-open. Many will be at his funeral, offering their condolences while contemplating the chasm left by his death with apprehension or diabolical anticipation.
The drama of cricket in India has lost its biggest star. But the drama will continue. That is a reflection of who Jagmohan Dalmiya is and how much he contributed to the entire business of cricket in India.
– Views expressed by the author are personal.