In the 80’s, deep in the bowels of the Bandra suburb in Mumbai, narrow lanes used to snake up to a Dhobi Ghaat. A man, with a boy slung over his shoulder, would walk there in the nights, the sound of clothes thrashing against the washing-mound producing the soundtrack of those silent moonlit summer nights. There was no fan in his house and the boy struggled to sleep. So, he would hang limply over his brother Kaleem Jaffer’s shoulder in their night walks. “Voh paani ki chheetein nikalti thi na, (the water spray) would be cool and Wasim used to doze off”.
The brothers, 15 years apart in age, would have spent all day playing and training for cricket. It was the dream of their father, a bus driver who loved the game, that one day his second son Kaleem would make it big. Forced by financial difficulties, Kaleem gave up that dream but promised his father that he would make Wasim Jaffer, the youngest of the four brothers, play for India.
- A village, a girl and the road to Oscars
- Weightlifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga’s family recalls thrilling moments as he bags India’s first Youth Olympics gold
- U19 Asia Cup: With inputs from Wasim Jaffer, young Yashasvi Jaiswal turns a corner in Bangladesh
- Sarfaraz 439,Armaan 498,Prithvi Shaw 546: The Mumbai conveyor belt rolls on
- Armaan and his Old Jaffer
- Boy wonder turns Batman
Years later that dream was realised but it came with a heavy price tag — the brothers fell apart, the families separated, and Kaleem was left a heartbroken man. It was then, urged by his wife Rizwana, that Kaleem decided to make his son Armaan play for India. For the wife, it was the fear that if she too wallowed in her husband’s sorrow, what would happen to her kids? For him, it was more than just survival. It was his will to live.
Sometimes, it takes more than just love for the game to dream about playing for India. Kaleem has needed an emotional cocktail of perceived slights, retribution, honour, and ultimately a purpose in life to push his son Armaan towards this dream. Armaan too knows that his cricket was fed on this underlying passion, and somewhere during the journey, he fell in love with the sport. In some ways, this story also captures India through the personal motivations that makes us, its citizens, do what we do.
To understand Armaan, we have to seek Kaleem and to understand the father, we have to reach out for Wasim. And we begin where it ended for them. The details, almost 15 years later, are deliberately sketchy, not because of memory but because it’s such a sensitive issue that has been consciously buried in the inner recesses. An allegation of siphoning away money that ran into lakhs was thrown at Kaleem by his elder brother and Wasim, the youngest, chose to side with the eldest. Even Kaleem’s parents couldn’t break the deadlock. It all ended abruptly, one day with “Don’t enter my house, again”.
For three months, Kaleem couldn’t sleep, he says. “Eyes would shut but sleep wouldn’t come.” Tears, insomnia, sorrow came, and the petrified Rizwana decided it was time to step in. “I was hurt and sad too, but wohi zaahir karoongi toh both of us will break. Who will look after the kids? Armaan was around 5-6 years and his sister Fathima, just a toddler. “I told him, hain na, dono bachche; bhaiyon ko dimaag sey nikaal do, and apne bache ko khada karao.” That only confirmed Kaleem’s private feeling — “I have the skill (hunar), I will make Armaan play for India one day.”
Armaan, in many ways, is almost a facsimile of his uncle Wasim. Shy, quiet, and just like Wasim, he wasn’t initially interested in cricket as a young boy but soon fell hard for the sport. Kaleem shares a revealing story from those days. “I never badmouthed his uncles but told my son the bigger details of the break up, and about my dream for him.
Armaan told me, ‘chalo, if your dream is for me to play cricket for India, I will do it. Don’t worry.” It was the beginning of a great love affair for both the father and son. Fortunately, unlike Andre Agassi, Armaan didn’t hate the game, nor was he stuck with a bully of father. “I started to love the game. Which boy won’t like to be out in the ground (khula maidan) running around with other boys?” Armaan says.
Kaleem isn’t your regular cricket coach. His style is as intense as the man himself. Just as he did with Wasim, he started with drills for Armaan in his home. For a year. The stance was firmed, the ideal grip was arrived at, shadow practice of all the shots were done to death and when he was confident that the alignment of everything was perfect — “the feet, bat, body has to be in the direction of the shot and move in a flow together”— the boy was taken out of the house and to the maidaans across Mumbai. Wasim was taken in Mumbai locals, Armaan sat behind a Honda bike. That was the only difference; the rest must have felt like the movie Groundhog Day.
Kaleem’s intensity is captured by something he says suddenly during the conversation, and it’s best to quote in entirety in his language. “Jab pyaar apne shabaab tak pahunchta hai na, voh junoon banta hai. And junoon hai na junoon, voh apne shabab mey pahunchta hai na, voh ishq banta hai. Jab tak aap kisi ke sath ishq nahi karoge.!”(when love reaches its zenith, it becomes passion. And when this passion reaches its zenith, it turns into kind of an intense love. And until you have loved something with that intensity, then.)
It isn’t just Wasim or Armaan he has coached, but over the years, he has produced several Ranji players and in the initial days, he has even housed a whole lot of them at his residence, not taking a single paisa for coaching or lodging. ‘Without my wife, I won’t be even in cricket. She used to cook from 7 to 11 for all these boys, and constantly encouraged me those days.”
He admits he has been a strict father but in interactions spread across weeks, one also saw that there was no fear in the relationship. Armaan seemed to open up to his father the most — be it batting, his selection fears, or other day-to-day affairs of life. Kaleem last saw a movie at the theatre in 1983, Coolie starring Amitabh Bachchan. Armaan has just one movie, 3 Idiots (“Mujhe zara theatre ek baar toh dikha do!). Armaan has a phone but he, or his sister Fatima don’t abuse it. Unsurprisingly Fatima, an all-rounder, is in the U-16 Mumbai cricket team. Kaleem has an answer for this. “Kids will only rebel (“Bagaawat”) when they don’t have the trust and love of their parents. When they trust that all you want is their best, everything falls in place.”
We are sitting in his house for this last conversation. You climb a metal ladder and squeeze yourself into this space. A 10 ft by 10 room, bracketed by a kitchen and a toilet and you find a frail Kaleem, who has an uncanny resemblance to Wasim Jaffer, stretched out on the floor, leaning against a tiny bed. He is recovering from Typhoid, pills spill out of a plastic cover beside him and staring at the India’s second T20 game against Sri Lanka. “If I had taken that money, as my elder brother claimed, would I be still living in this house?”)
By the bed, stainless tins are filled with pickles that Kaleem makes and sells. He once did all sorts of odd jobs — drove a rickshaw, rode a truck to Pune in the nights to bring back supplies for a market, sold pickles in the bazaar, but has now settled down on cricket coaching. He has rented out two rickshaws for some money, and makes pickles for some old customers. Some of the pickles lying by his side were for a customer from Dharavi. (“4500 for 15 kilos for delicious home-made pickles, Good na?”). He still dreams about his most prized possession that he had left behind in his brother’s home. A 4,000-word coaching manual that he wrote just for his brother Wasim all those years ago. He doesn’t have the energy to write it again. Even his passport wasn’t given back. There is no rancour, he says, even for the elder brother.
As for Wasim, he says, “If he comes to my house or calls, he is welcome again. Even when he was 23 years, he has slept on this chest, bhai. He was like my son. We haven’t spoken to each other in all these years but recently I rang his phone, and gave it to Armaan, ‘Tell your uncle you are going to Bangladesh for the World Cup and seek his dua, blessings.”