From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.35 :: NO.12 :: Mar. 22, 2012

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CRICKET

Dravid mania

Rahul Dravid was for me a personal barometer for everything I did, a consummate reference point. Just watching him resulted in cleansing of the mind: the reflexive deference kicked me into abhorring ego, shunning negativity and embracing the all-encompassing strength of the collective over the individual. Just spelling out his name, like an incantation, unfailingly restored a sense of direction, writes Arun Venugopal as he pays tribute to his idol.

M. VEDHAN

Enthralling fans… Rahul Dravid greets students of Velammal School in Chennai. He has always been a blueprint for good conduct.

And, it finally happens on Friday, March 9, 2012. Frankly, Rahul Dravid's decision to retire still hasn't sunk in at the sub-conscious level. That's partially a result of bracing myself for a day such as this for sometime now. The other reason — paradoxically — is a naive refusal to reconcile with the finitude of my hero's career. “How can he retire,” is the shrill cry of my inner self.

The outbreak of tributes — by colleagues, adversaries, and critics — is gladdening; it's further validation of what I believe in. But the nerve-numbing noise of a dirge, which is what the encomiums sound like, has hit deafening levels. The fact that a career has reached its last stop is clearer than ever before.

“But, hey, I am not going to mourn,” I remind myself. It's time to celebrate what has been to me more than a career. Dravid was a personal barometer for everything I did, a consummate reference point. Just watching him ensured cleansing of the mind: the reflexive deference kicked me into abhorring ego, shunning negativity, and embracing the all-encompassing strength of the collective over the individual. Just spelling out his name, like an incantation, unfailingly restored a sense of direction.

It was probably around the 2003 World Cup that I became obsessed with this gentleman — not very often does this word convey itself so accurately. My other idol was Stephen Rodger Waugh, another fine gentleman. Their names had a martial quality to them, and strangely enough perfectly embodied their existence. No wonder, then, that I wanted to go to battle with them; their skirmishes were every bit mine.

Witnessing a Dravid innings has given me several bouts of panic attacks, anguish, and even nightmares. Not because the effort is laboured or inadequate, but a Dravid knock always carries with it a sense of subdued, yet intense drama — the romance of a fluid on-drive, horror of an outside edge, or the anxious thrill of a slog sweep.

Very rarely have I watched him bat without muttering to myself, “Come on Rahul, Easy Rahul, or Thalaiva (leader, in Tamil) relax.” Such self-assurances have seldom done anything to ease my heart-rate, leave alone any good to Dravid. Every action of his was copy-worthy. His maniacal allegiance to the word ‘process' found resonance in a willing fan. The hands-on-the-hip reaction, the contemplative pose… all of these found an unabashed clone. I delighted in watching his shy, self-conscious persona in TV commercials as well.

Some quirks of mine while watching ‘The Great One' bat are amusing on retrospection. For instance, during the first IPL, I had a towel wrapped around my neck during the low-scoring thriller against Chennai. By the time Rahul got out, I had twisted, chewed, and eventually tossed the towel aside.

The career-saving 136 against England in the winter of 2008 was another innings where I literally got the chills. Despite an important exam looming and a friend taking the pains to drill into my head the mysterious ways of income tax computation, my mind was unsurprisingly in Mohali.

It was an innings when I felt that I was physically present, waging Dravid's battle, arm-in-arm with him. It also meant that I was rushing to the drawing room every time Ravi Shastri boomed “fine shot”, “typical Dravid”, and “edged… it's gone past the 'keeper”.

Now, it's probably only the IPL to look forward to. A casual conversation with a friend brought about a realisation. That some of our heroes are anything but like us. I probably look up to him because he is everything that I am not. You could put it down to aspirational value but he's always been a blueprint for better conduct.

I will miss the madness in me, especially during India's games. His Bradman Oration — the chief d'oeuvre for Dravid diehards — will be ingested, memorised, and thoroughly regurgitated. But my mind will reverberate with, for as long as it lives, a ceaseless roar — DRAVID… DRAVID… DRAVID.



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