It was not the alcohol alone that had brought a recluse like me out of his den. It was also the sexy black invite sent out by Teacher's: it boasted of some big names -- Subir Raha (former ONGC chairman), Narain Karthikeyan and shooter Anjali Bhagwat, singer Sonu Nigam and ITC's Yogi Deveshwar. These people, the card announced, had won the Teacher's Award for Achievement and Excellence. So I presumed that these people would be collecting their awards that night -- what an opportunity to see and -- perhaps meet -- the best and bright in their fields.
But they weren't there. The evening turned out to be only a celebration of the spirit of Achievement and Excellence, and the mode of celebration was a tete-a-tete between actor Boman Irani and former cricketer Kris Srikkanth. By the time I found this out, I was already two drinks down, so it didn't really matter. And when Teacher's is flowing and an elaborate dinner is waiting, even Srikkanth can be tolerable. So I poured a large drink and walked into the hall, hoping to concentrate on the alcohol while Srikkanth did what he can do best: talking.
Talk he did, but this time he unpacked a bag of anecdotes, most relating to the 1983 World Cup. He had a lot of say, and after he had finished, he returned to his table to join his family and lit up a cigarette. I am not going to reproduce everything that he said, but I shall give you the highlights:
"Before the 1983 World Cup, Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar) called me and asked if I would like to come to America. He said I could bring my wife too. I was newly married. But I asked him what about the World Cup. He said we could stop over in London and play the World Cup. That time we did not take the World Cup seriously; the odds against our winning was 1000-1." (Probably what he also meant to say was: Gavaskar had lost his captaincy to Kapil Dev, so he gave a damn about India's chances in the tournament.)
"Kapil Dev, according to me, was a true leader and achiever. In the World Cup, our opening match was against West Indies. He called the team and told us, 'If we can beat the West Indies once, we can beat them again.' He said this with the true Punjabi aggression. It infused us with positive energy. And we beat the West Indies." (Probably what he also meant to say was: Sunny was an asshole, Kapil was a true captain).
"But in the match against Zimbabwe, we were 17 for 5. And then comes this man, Kapil Dev. Anybody else would have given up, but our man hit 175 not out." (Probably what he meant to say was: We were all assholes to get out so cheaply against even Zimbabwe! Kapil was our saviour).
"When Kapil came out to bat (in the same match), I was standing by a wall and watching the game. I was so nervous that I must have smoked 25 cigarettes. My wife, who was staying with relatives in London, had come to the stadium and she was now standing next to me. Once Kapil started hitting, the mood changed. P R Mansingh (the manager) was superstitious, he wanted each of us to stay wherever we were and not move. He thought our positions had brought good luck. So he would not allow me to move from the wall, even though I wanted to pee badly." (Mansingh was also present in that evening. He said he had subsequently asked Srikkanth's roommate, Roger Binny, to shift to his room, so that Srikkanth's wife could move in there.)
"I was so much out of form that I was dropped even from the Ranji team. One evening I was sitting with Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. I don't drink, but he was drinking, and he must have had five or six rounds of rum or whisky or whatever he was drinking. That's when I told him, 'Machaa, just wait, one day I will captain India! And I became the captain within a few years." (There is one thing I wonder about: What if Srikkanth wasn't a tetotaller? After a few drinks, would he have blabbered more? Or less?)