There could be detected a mischievous gleam in his eye when he described how Erapalli Prasanna deceived a vaunted Australian batting line up. You could also feel his pain when he described how Simpson and Lawry collared the Indian attack. When he spoke about cricket, you listened. The man knew his stuff. He better. For he was a nippy left armer who took 6 wickets for just 1 run in a Universities game. T.V.Viswanathan might not be Curtly Ambrose but his 6 for 1 for me is no less than Curtly’s feat of 7 for 1 at Perth. Even though I was deprived of viewing the former since the event took place even before I was born. Perhaps now we know the source of the Ambrose inspiration!
Today after an indefatigable battle with the insidious beast that is cancer, my Uncle T.V. Viswanathan breathed his last. But not before showing his finger to the disease. That was his character. Adversity just made him stronger. He just did not possess a weak bone in his constitution. Cancer might have got him, but only by resorting to means insidious and unfair.
My memories of Chittappa (the Tamil vernacular for uncle) revolve around cricket, cigarettes and culinary delights. A connoisseur of the game, he distinguished himself as a player. A left arm medium fast bowler (a rarity in itself in India), he devoured 6 hapless batsmen in a University game played in Chennai while conceding just one run. But considering the fact that it was the 1960s where a professional career meant a degree in either Engineering or Medicine, and sans either money or muscle one had no hopes of purveying one’s chosen ambitions, Chittappa had to relinquish his hopes of being a fast bowler and instead concentrate on an engineering degree as his future.
However, the cricketing bug never left the man. A fanatic of the game, he read its every nuance and perfected its last intricacy. From Shane Warne’s flipper to Andy Roberts’ Yorker to G.R.Viswanath’s delectable wristwork, cricket ran in his DNA. Every Indian victory for him was a euphoria and every defeat, an elegy. The man exuded passion. A passion that was raw, unhinged and inveterate.
Chittappa was also my surreptitious nicotine source. Even though I was in Bangalore and Chittappa in Chennai, the vagaries of his profession ensured that he was in the town of Bidadi most of the time. Which meant, a trip to Bangalore on weekends. These were the days I looked forward with an anticipation that was unbridled. Over copious swigs of Old Monk Rum (Chittappa knew class) and Wills cigarettes, Chittappa used to regale me with seminal games to which he was a witness at Chepauk. Chittappa was also a chef par excellence. In so far as gastronomic delights went, he could pull not just rabbits but elephants out of his formidable hat! Vegetable Nilgriri Kurma was his one specialty that sent me into raptures of delight! Monumental testimony to his culinary prowess was one instance whereby he cooked scrumptious Mutton Biriyani and got it by bus in a cooker! Yes you read that right a bloody cooker!
Chittappa was, rather is, for I can never concede that he is no longer in flesh and blood, a father figure to me. A man, whose needs were so limited so as to make the word frugal sound affluent. Selfless to the core, he was never tainted by the lure of either fame or fortune. He took unbridled delight in making people around him feel happy and contended. I for one, never knew what he desired, for he never expressed his wants.
Yes, he wanted to come and spend some time with me and my parents in Kuala Lumpur. After coaxing, coercing and cajoling him for 8 years, he finally got his passport done. But the bloody bastard of a disease got him before he could get his air tickets. Moreover, the raging pandemic that is COVID-19 put paid to my dreams of hosting Chittappa and being regaled by his explanations of outswingers gone wrong and inswingers beguiling batsmen.
He lead a life that was pure, simple and fundamental. He was almost elemental in his material possessions. He never blamed anyone nor wallowed in self-pity. He knew neither mirth nor materialism.
Today he is gone. Just like that. Like a candle in the wind. A gentle rustle that does not even invoke reactions. But he is not gone. He never will be. He cannot. He has no conceivable right to. He cannot bid goodbye unless and until we order him to. And none of us will. So long as we are living, breathing and existing, Chittappa has to give us company. He does not possess a right to refuse. In cricket speak, he does not have the liberty of a DRS. There is no umpire’s call. He has to be here. He cannot abdicate us and leave us in the lurch. There are still bottles of Old Monks to finish, plethora of chickens to make biriyani from and thousands of leg breaks to scalp hapless batsmen.
Chittappa, I just cannot believe that you left us all and decided to go. Maybe you deemed this was the most appropriate time and maybe you felt the game of cricket could offer you nothing more. But you are wrong. You will continue to be with us so long as we are alive and well. Even though I am in no hurry to meet you and demand an explanation, be assured that when the time comes your grilling will put to shame the ones that are the sole prerogative of the CBI & RAW!
Till such time sleep well Chittappa and words cannot describe the gratitude that I nurse towards you. If I can be even a fraction of a man that you were, my life would be one well lived. Every time hereon in I happen to nurse a bottle of Scotch, it would be in honour of your legacy, memory and life. I will never ever mourn you but celebrate you. Celebration of a life that is pure, poignant, passionate and profound.
Love You dearest Chittappa! Sleep well. Till such time we meet again. By the way when you meet Harold Larwood just ask him whether Sir Don Bradman was the greatest batsman he had ever bowled to.