Written by Shahid Judge | | Mumbai | | February 12, 2015 11:17:40 am
Vijay Lakhani must have been a very busy man at his post at a Foreign Exchange in the Mumbai Airport, given the long list of travellers he had to tend to everyday.
On one such occasion, he glanced upwards at his customer as the form presented to him read ‘Kapil Dev.’ It was back in 1978 when the Indian team was leaving for a tour of Pakistan, where Dev would play his first ever Test match. Lakhani, a teenager back then, used to keep track of Indian cricket and had heard of the starlet’s exploits on the cricket field.
When Lakhani looked up, Dev stood in front of him, smiling. Behind him was the rest of the Indian squad. “I got nervous. This was the first time I’d met international cricket players. And to meet the entire Indian team in one go?” Lakhani, now 54, recalls. “Kapil’s was my first autograph. I got the rest of the team’s too,” he adds.
Since then Lakhani has found a passion in collecting autographs from cricketers. His all-access pass at the airport was taken full advantage of. He remembers meeting the Pakistan team a few years later. Autographs of Viv Richards and Ian Botham joined the collection.
Lakhani has since moved on to the printing business, and to continue his passion for collecting autographs, he began commuting from his residence in Kandivali to Wankhede Stadium. And it was at the venue itself – back in 1985 – that he first met another fan and autograph collector, Anil Karkhanis.
The latter had his own method of building his collections, which involved his father’s close friendship with former India test player Khanderao Rangnekar, who donned the national uniform in 1947. “He used to come home quite often from when I was a baby. He was the first person to give me an autograph and that’s when I fell in love with cricket,” says Karkhanis, now 65.
Rangnekar’s influence gave Karkhanis a head-start with meeting players at the Wankhede. “When I first met him, a lot of the players knew Anil. We used to keep bumping into each other at the mixed zone. We began talking and became good friends,” explains Lakhani.
Thirty years ago, the pair met, each brandishing a plastic bag containing writing paraphernalia – the tools of their ever-building collection. Even today, in no particular stand in the stadium, the pair watches game proceedings with their plastic bags placed by their side.
Their passion for collecting players’ autographs unsurprisingly spilled over into forming a love for the game itself. The longer format remains the pair’s favourite, and they often frequent the local maidans in the city, absorbing games from the school level to local clubs.
Over the years, the increasing security protection for players has kept the pair away from the closeness they cherished. “There was a time when we could meet people like Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar very easily. We even met the 15-year-old Sachin Tendulkar freely. But there are too many rules and regulations now and players are always ushered away by guards. That personal touch is lost,” laments Lakhani.
Each owns dozens of filled-in diaries, which soon gave way to thicker cardboard sheets to avoid age-corrosion. Now the pair sometimes carries miniature cricket bats. The collection is neatly displayed in each individual home, all assembled after the blessings of their respective family members were granted.
Their autograph collection ranges from Ranji Trophy-level athletes to international stars. India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, however, is the one they’ve never managed to get.
What lies ahead
As for the upcoming edition, the pair refuses to be optimistic of seeing India retain the title. They grumble when asked what area concerns them the most. “Bowling, batting, playing abroad. What’s left?” Karkhanis mutters. “I don’t even think they’ll reach the semifinal,” Lakhani adds. “But I hope I’m wrong.”