Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tales of the Tiger

Mansur Ali Khan, also known as Tiger Pataudi, was as good a journalist as a cricketer

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: The Sportsworld team. (From left, front row): Andy O'Brien, Aveek Sarkar, Chief Editor of the Ananda Bazar Group, Tiger Pataudi, Robin Chatterjee, Suprakash Ghoshal, and Shevlin Sebastian.
Back row: Pradeep Paul, Rohit, Brijnath, K.O. Jacob, Avik Lee, and a waiter at Dalhousie Club, Kolkata

When Mansur Ali Khan, also known as ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, stepped inside the building of the Ananda Bazar office in Kolkata, one day, in the early nineties, there was a palpable excitement among the employees. This was the Delhi-based Tiger’s annual visit to see the staff of the magazine, Sportsworld, of which he was the editor.

Just prior to his arrival, women journalists had told Sportsworld staffers, with nervous excitement in their voices, “You must introduce us, you must introduce us.”

Assistant Editor David McMahon told his subordinates, of whom I was one, in preparation of the visit, “With Tiger, he appreciates it if you are relaxed. If you get uptight, then he clams up.” Later, this casual tip was used by most of us effectively whenever we met famous personalities during the course of our careers.

On that particular day, Tiger was dressed informally in a cream Safari shirt and matching trousers, Kolhapuri leather slippers, and sunshades. The most striking aspect, at first sight, was how handsome he was: the aquiline nose, and those red cheeks of his.

As he stepped into the glass-panelled office of Sportsworld, he did a familiar ritual:
He looked around to see some of the racier posters of sportswomen that we had pasted on the walls. Since the team members were all in their mid-twenties, such interests were expected. He glanced at a particularly striking photo of former Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf, posing in a black bikini, and murmured, “Nice.” All of us relaxed immediately.

Naturally, we gathered around and spoke about sport, and a host of other topics. Tiger had a dry wit, a sharp mind, and a wonderful articulateness. It helped that he was educated at Oxford University .

Things got so laid-back that one colleague said, “Tiger, which eye of yours is blind?”

An unblinking Tiger said, “Take a guess?”

And of course, he said, “Left”, and got it wrong. But it was difficult to figure out that the right one was inactive. He damaged it permanently at the age of 20 in a car accident in England.

Another staffer piped up, “Do you have blue blood?” This was in reference to the fact that he was the Nawab of Pataudi, a person of royal lineage. Tiger laughed, and said, “Cut me up and see.”

Soon, a crowd had gathered outside. Finally, David opened the door and the girls trooped in, all giggly and red-faced and shook his hand. Afterward, we could hear them squealing in delight in the corridor outside. Undoubtedly, Tiger had charisma and charm. He was also rich, famous, and an achiever.

One of India’s youngest cricket captains, Tiger scored 2793 runs in 46 Tests. Thanks to his shrewd captaincy, India secured their first Test series win abroad, in New Zealand, in 1968. And to top all that, he was a classy writer. His editorials -- clear-eyed and lucid -- were much praised.

But here was the oddest part of this ‘Tiger’. For some reason he was afraid to fly. So every time, he came to Kolkata, he took the Rajdhani Express. One of us would be deputed to collect him from Howrah station.

But Tiger was much appreciated by his staff, because he led with a light touch. As a result, many of the staffers could unleash their creativity, and develop their potential. Some have gone on to stellar careers in international newspapers and magazines abroad. His death, at 70, has brought a numbing pain. But his legacy of fair and graceful leadership will live on inside us for the rest of our lives.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)



6 comments:

  1. Apologies for missing this. Enjoyed this post for many reasons...the Sportsworld nostalgia of course, tops the list. My mother was a huge, huge, fan of the Nawab. She even missed her college excursion to come watch him play Ranji in Kerala. Nicely written and shows a different side of the man!

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