The death of the veteran cricket writer Rajan Bala has thankfully not gone unnoticed.
ANI reveals that his real name was Natarajan Balasubramaniam. Cricinfo, the Bhagwad Gita of the Beautiful Game, has a short obituary. The Times of India‘s Satish Vishwanathan uses a Sachin Tendulkar anecdote to demonstrate Bala’s hold.
His protege, Suresh Menon, writes of walking into the offices of Deccan Herald in Bangalore over a quarter of a century ago:
“On my first day at work, fresh out of university, I asked hesitantly, “Is it all right to smoke in here?” and was welcomed with the memorable words: “So long as you don’t f**k on my table, you can do what you want.”
Here, Hemant Kenkre, the former Cricket Club of India captain, a first cousin of the legendary Indian opening batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, pays tribute.
By HEMANT KENKRE in Singapore
I first met Rajan Bala when he came with Sunil Gavaskar to our family house at Forjett Hill in 1971.
The 21-year old maestro had just come back after his epic debut in the Caribbean islands and had brought along Rajan when he came to meet his uncle, Shashikant Gavaskar. As a 13-year old, I listened, with rapt attention, the discussion (on cricket) they had which went on till the wee hours.
Over the years, I kept reading Rajan’s columns in newspapers where he held forth as the sports editor—from Calcutta, Chennai to Mumbai. His views were always forthright and came straight from his heart.
Whether one agreed with them or not, one always admired the way he put things/issues in perspective. Whatever the topic, Rajan had a distinct and a unique point of view.
Once Rajan was convinced that a person had talent, he would back him to the hilt, irrespective of the player’s performance!
A cricket romantic to the core, Rajan essentially belonged to the era of the ’70s, the days when international cricketers carried small kit-bags containing sparse equipment; a bat, few clothes and necessary guards.
The days when Walkmans and iPods did not keep cricketers from discussing the game and the times when cricketers (most of them)—after a game—went straight to the bar before they went into their rooms.
M.A.K. (Tiger) Pataudi, M.L. Jaisimha, Bishen Bedi, Ajit Wadekar, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekar, Gundappa Viswanath, Dilip Sardesai, Salim Durrani, Eknath Solkar and Gavaskar were some of the super humans whom Rajan made superheroes with this dispatches and columns.
Jaisimha, in particular was one of Rajan’s favourite cricketers.
I distinctly remember meeting and travelling with Jaisimha during the India-England series (1992) and the many post-match drinks (not cocktails, mind you) that the debonair Hyderabadi shared with Rajan.
From Chennai to Jamshedpur, most of my evenings were spent in the company of these two titans, soaking in stories about Sir Garfield Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, Pataudi, Wadekar and Gavaskar, and about the trials and tribulations that Indian cricket went through during the ’60s and ’70s.
Rajan was also a keen music buff. Knowing my how obsessed I was with Rahul Dev (Pancham) Burman, it was Rajan who told me stories about Dilip Naik, the guitarist who played most of his opening riffs from Teesri Manzil onwards.
He used to narrate graphic stories about Sachin Dev Burman’s exploits with the tennis racket while he sipped his drink in the company of his senior K.N. (Niran) Prabhu, (Matunga Gym friend) K. Satyamurthy and Priya (Rajan’s lovely wife) after a hard day at work.
It was his encouragement—having given me a weekly column in the Bombay tabloid Afternoon Despatch & Courier (ADC)—that made me write on the game. His (tongue in cheek) quip then still rings in my ear: “You know son, cricketers should write their own columns.”
Whatever the opinions that people may have about Rajan, I will always remember him as not just one who loved the game as a passionate romantic but someone that understood Indian cricket.
Wherever he is, I know, for sure, he is in the company of his mates including Jaisimha sipping a drink and discussing whether two-sided bats, power-plays and the reverse sweep are good for cricket.
RIP Rajan: I will always miss you, and thanks for everything!