India’s Sudhir Gautam, famously known as Sachin Tendulkar’s super fan, and Gayan Senanayke, the famous Sri Lankan fan who was invited by Virat Kohli for his wedding reception, might have different loyalties when they cheer for their respective nations, but both share a special cross-border friendship.
Sudhir’s tri-colour body paint and Gayan’s famous Sri Lankan’s hat have become part of subcontinental cricketing landscape, and the relationship extends off the field. From arrival to departure, to accommodation to food, their bilateral arrangements are inter-connected on cricketing tours.
It all began in 2012 when Sudhir called Gayan in Colombo enquiring him about the ideal route to reach Hambantota where India were scheduled to play Sri Lanka in an ODI series. It was Sudhir’s first trip overseas.
“I had seen Gayan in India many times but we have always been on the opposite sides. He cheered for Sri Lanka and I cheered for India. We were rivals for sure but slowly we kept meeting at venues and by 2011 World Cup came, we became friends. We exchanged numbers and he told me to call him if I go to Sri Lanka,” Sudhir recalls.
Sachin Tendulkar booked air tickets for Sudhir who was received early morning at Colombo airport by Gayan. He then took Sudhir some 30 kilometers from Colombo to his home, which Sudhir says, “Ghar toota-putha tha.” (a rundown place).
It was the start of the bond which has lasted till now. “Sudhir can’t speak the local language, his English was also not that good. Where could he go? So, I said nothing doing you stay with me. Look now even his English is better now,” Gayan says.
Thanks to the two cricketing boards, who have often pitted India against Sri Lanka, the duo’s relationship has grown, with each taking care of the other in their respective countries.
“Sri Lanka is small country and they have 4-5 grounds; so travelling is not an issue but when he comes to India, kabhi kabaar bahut dikat hui. (it has created problems at times). I can manage travel in second-class compartment but how can I take him with me. So somehow I managed to book flights for both of us. I would take loans or manage free tickets on occasions. But yes I ensure as long as he is with me, he doesn’t have any problem. He can sleep on bed, I will sleep on the floor,” Sudhir says.
There are other kinds of help they offer each other. Like this one time when Sri Lankan crowd got hostile during a game in Colombo, Gyana ensured nothing untoward happened to Sudhir, shielding him from trouble. ‘Sudhir was the lone Indian supporter in the stands, and some people tried to pull him down, but I ensured nothing happened. In Sri Lanka he is my responsibility,” Gyan says.
Even though Sudhir is the famous Indian fan, it was Gyana who became more popular in the Indian camp.
So much so, that it was Gyana who broke the news of Kohli’s wedding to Sudhir. Gyana even showed Sudhir, the Whatsapp messages from Virat from Italy with invite to the wedding reception in Mumbai which was attended by who’s and who’s from Bollywood. “I knew Virat when he came with India under-19 team to Sri Lanka in 2007 for a tour. I have his number since then. He messaged me from Italy that you come for the wedding reception, he ensured everything was booked for me. I know everyone in the Indian camp. I have everyone’s contact detail. They might not pick up your phone but they will definitely answer my call!” Gyana says.
Last week, Sudhir flew to Colombo to support India in the tri-series, and as ever, found Gyana waiting for him at the airport. The pair went to Gyana’s house once again, and this time Sudhir says, “ghar bahut achha bana liya hai.” (he has made a good house now!).