Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Reminiscences on a Sunday afternoon

By Shevlin Sebastian

On Sunday afternoons, when the world slows down, when everything is quiet, the sky is blue, the sparrows are chirping in the trees, and a breeze is blowing, I usually lie down for a nap at my home in Kochi. And inevitably, without fail, I ask existential questions to myself.

Where will I be 100 years from now? Will I meet my parents, wife, children, friends and relatives in my next life? Is there something called a soul? Does it fly out of the body at the point of death? Where does it go? Will I meet God? Is he Krishna, Allah or Jesus Christ?

But on a recent Sunday afternoon, I thought about a particular person. His name was Ashok Kamath. An intense, bespectacled man, he was the sports editor of 'The Telegraph' at Kolkata. And years ago he published my first article in a mainstream newspaper.

This was how it happened. In August, 1983, the World Athletics Championships took place in Helsinki. A week before that I had gone to the American library and was going through the Sports Illustrated magazine.

In it, there was a story on the then unknown athlete Carl Lewis. The magazine predicted that he would make a big impact at the championships. Prodded by my intuition, I wrote an article. At the championships, Lewis won the 100m, long jump, and the 4x100m relay gold.

Ashok was looking for a write-up on Lewis when mine arrived through the post. And, amazingly, he took it across six columns of the sports page, with my byline in 12 point. I still remember the shock and exuberance I felt when I opened the paper the next day and saw it.

Thereafter, many articles of mine were published in 'The Telegraph'. With all these clippings in hand, it was easier for me to secure my first job in Sportsworld magazine and begin my journalistic career.

In 1990, Ashok and I went to Beijing to cover the Asian Games. He represented 'The Telegraph', while I went for 'Sportsworld'. And I remember our trip to the Great Wall.

It was a sunny day, but when you stood at the wall, at the Badaling section, a bracing wind blew about. So, to counter the chill, as an avid jogger, I set out on a run. Up and down the sloping paths I went. I ran up the steps, to the watch tower, and carried on to the other side. And when I returned, Ashok smiled and said, “Good run.”

We were both enjoying our experiences of being in China, watching sports, and interacting with the people of so many countries. The beauty and joy of life! But little did we know that dark clouds were beginning to gather on the horizon.

On September 2, 2001, Ashok died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 44 years old. By then, he had become the Resident Editor of ‘The Times of India’. He left behind his wife, Shampa Dhar, who is now the Managing Editor of ‘The New Indian Express’, and two sons, Raunaq, 14, and Vivan, 9.

Ashok had played a decisive role in my life by publishing those articles of a beginner. And as you become middle-aged, you tend to look back, and think of the people who impacted you. For a few moments I felt a sadness at Ashok’s untimely death. Suddenly, my 11-year-old son shook me, and said, “Baba, get up. Let's go out.”

(This appeared as a 'middle' in the New Indian Express, all editions)

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