Humility often separates the great sportsmen from the good ones and somehow, I have always held in highest regard those who are truly down to earth. In this world of what Miley Cyrus so soulfully called ‘fame excess’ in her thought provoking song ‘Party in the USA’ grounding in the simple belief of being humble (what Kipling called ‘walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch’) is the first to be jettisoned on the way to becoming a high flier.
But everytime I have had an encounter with someone who’s still held on to that quality, my belief in the redeeming power of sport has always been rejuvenated. Anil Kumble’s dedication and his calm, collected statesman like personality are the stuff of legend and Rahul Dravid being a thorough gentleman has found enough and more endorsement from quarters including, but not limited to, his wife. I haven’t met either Karnataka legend but there’s one cricketer I did meet – Javagal Srinath. On the field, he was a relentless and untiring competitor but in person he was friendly, affable and courteous almost to a fault. I had tagged along with a colleague of mine for handing over an invitation to him and we met him at his JP Nagar residence. We waited a while for him to return from the gym (Srinath by then had retired, and was a match referee on the ICC panel) and his mother came and apologized for the delay. Srinath walked in, we had a quick chat, he thanked us for the invite and we were about to step out of the house when he called us back. Apparently, his mother had prepared the classic South Indian welcome drink for guest – buttermilk and he insisted we have it before we leave. We were at the door putting our shoes on and before we could react Srinath walked ahead, a glass of buttermilk in each hand and offered it to us. Here’s a man with 600+ international wickets, and he seemed genuinely concerned about the hospitality he extended to his guests. It was a really touching moment, but equally revealatory of of Kipling’s ‘common touch’ referenced earlier. I always liked the heart and soul he brought to his cricket, but my appreciation for this tall fast bowler just reached a different level.
More recently, I was out for watching the World Series Hockey game between the Karnataka Lions and the Chennai Cheetahs. We were enjoying the proceedings sitting on the East stands at the KSHA stadium when we suddenly see someone dressed in a track suit making his way up to sit amidst the crowd to see the match. Dhanraj Pillai was injured and not playing the game. The upshot was this incredibly sweet gesture from an Indian hockey legend who knows what the fans mean to the game. I clicked a photo and put it up on Facebook. The only two words I could think of for the caption were ‘legend’ and ‘respect’.
And today, we had an interview with the Karnataka Lions captain Arjun Halappa and coach Jude Felix. Both were so earnest in their answers, and such straight shooters with their opinions that you could instantly connect to their thoughts. And they have been precious talents for a game that has at various points of time, in many ways, given them the short shrift. It could have been easy for them to have the air of being someone important, but they didn’t exactly take the easy way out. Aggression and ambition, like a booster on a rocket, can fuel achievement on the sporting field but for that achievement to truly endure, the sportsman can never afford to break away from the gravitational pull of humility.