“Mujhe Maa bhi samajh aati thi, Behen bhi samajh aati thi!”
With that Kapil Dev brought the house down. It was a question about his experience of touring Pakistan, and Kapil had everyone cracking up, including Sunil Gavaskar who was sitting on the dais. “Ask Sunny, he will say about his problems with Punjabi. They (Pakistan players) would say pehen-pehen, and he thought Pant! Mere ko Punjabi aati thi, Mujhe Pakistan sey koi problem nahi tha. Mujhe maa bhi samajh aati thi, aur behen bhi!” That reference to commonly used invectives between India and Pakistan players triggered raucous laughter at the hall.
The occasion was Kapil Dev’s induction into the Legends Club Hall of Fame at CCI in Mumbai. Kapil was in fine form, so was Gavaskar, and the evening turned memorable for the humour and camaraderie shown.
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Especially, Kapil. Be it the self-effacing remarks about his lack of English vocabulary, the gentle put-downs from his wife’s family about what he does for profession, the lack of money in those days, and his tussles with learning to wash his own clothes in England.
Kapil, the man the 80’s generation would remember for his advertisement for an English learning course, took on his own English skills to set up the evening. A reference to his first interview with an Indian newspaper proved to be just a start.
“My first interview with media was from The Hindu. They are totally English; from different part of the country. He came to take my interview in Delhi. You believe or not, I was shy or had no confidence off the field.”
Kapil indicated that he wanted to answer nature’s call and gave the reporter a slip. “That was the situation with me then!”
It was a story that he shared that involved his wife’s family that cracked open the evening. “My wife is from Bombay. When I was about to get married, Romi’s grandfather said,” Ladka kya karta hai?” Cricket khelta hai. Voh to theek hai, lekin karta kya hai?! (What does the boy do? Plays cricket. That’s fine but what does he do?!) India ka captain tha mein, and they ask, ‘karta kya hai!’ That’s what happens in our part of the world.”
The ‘English’ jokes kept flowing. There was this gem from a tour of New Zealand, the first time Kapil was made to speak in public by Gavaskar. “ I remember telling him, ‘Sunil, you know my vocabulary. You understand I can’t manage talking.’ He said, ‘they will pay you money’ and I said, “Even then I can’t manage!”
Kapil was generous in praise of Gavaskar too. “There is nobody in the country who didn’t want to be Sunil Gavaskar. I can only say one thing. Was he best in the game? No. He was best for the game. That was important. People will come out and say greatest cricketer. No, he was the greatest for the game. When you play cricket, its just not how good you are but what impact you leave on people. That’s what he did. We looked up to him. Lot of people may come and go but his name will be right there at the top.”
Gavaskar, for once, had the tough act of following up on this speech but as ever, he wasn’t short of words. He started off with a dig at the perceptions of his rivalry with Kapil, especially the 1984 incident when Kapil was dropped from the Eden Gardens Test for playing a rash shot and getting out in the previous Test.
”It gives me great pleasure to be in the induction ceremony of Kapil. For whenever there is question of Kapil Dev and me, they say, ‘Sunil is only there to drop Kapil Dev’! You guys are laughing now, it wasn’t a laughing matter then. I have in my pocket an article by Hanumant Singh who was the chairman of selection committee. He mentions that idea of dropping Kapil didn’t come from Sunil. When the article appeared, I sent a copy of it to Kapil as the popular impression then was that I had dropped Kapil. Which captain would be idiot and silly to drop your one matchwinner. Whatever else I might have been, I am not an idiot!” As the laughter subsided, Gavaskar added, “But I take as part of collective responsibility of being in selection committee, without a casting vote mind you, I was as much culpable as the other five members.”
Old controversies put to rest, Gavaskar too turned to lighter anecdotes, bringing up the Pakistan tour experience.
“It was 1979, and until then, not many words used to be exchanged on the field – well played, whatever. Suddenly, you had this big fast bowler standing few feet away from you and calling you something. When I got back to dressing room at lunch, everyone was very very keen to find out – kya bol raha hai who? I told them, “Gaali toh zaroor de raha hai but hamesha bolta rehta hain – pant panttt, mera pant sey kya lena dena?! It was then I was told that in it was pehen, not pant and in Punjabi, behen ko pahen bolte hain!” Laughter filled the room.
Kapil also shared a story about how his fingers cramped up one morning after he washed his cricket whites in a bath tub.
“We used to wonder, yaar, England jaisey humare daily allowance or match fee kyun hai milta? We used to get 7 pounds as daily allowance and I had never washed clothes before in my life. You had to save 2 pounds to buy jeans — girlfriends ko impress bhi karna hota tha! And family ke liye perfumes and things had to be bought. So you had to wash your own clothes.My trousers would turn red. Jimmy Amarnath told me, Kapil aisey nahi karte hai, I will tell you how to do it. Put the clothes in tub. (Kapil interjects the anecdote with this – “I don’t know why England have tubs in every bathroom , they never had water! Definitely no hot water!”) Jimmy said, “Ismey daal do and Surf upar daalo. Phir subah ragad-na. Or put it morning, and rub (ragadna) in the evening, red mark would go.
“I thought theek hai, senior hai, senior ney bol diya toh sar ankhon par. I came back and ragad-ragad k sab red mark nikaal diya. It was clean with all that rubbing but next morning my knuckles were tight! I couldn’t bend my hands (to bowl)! That’s the experience what cricket has given us.”