Mohammed Azharuddin and I grew up in the same locality – his home was but a minute’s walk away from mine – and went to the same school where he was my younger brother’s classmate. And our careers – his as a cricketer and mine as a sports journalist – took off around the same time (of course, he launched his in more spectacular fashion while I had to be content with learning the ropes as a back room boy).
Our professional relationship has had its share of ups and downs but I do not believe either of us has had room to complain against the other. And that is the reason we keep in touch, long after he made his last appearance on the cricket field and left it in circumstances that were no less stunning than a Greek tragedy.
Some years ago, we found ourselves sharing the press box in Dambulla (Sri Lanka) and as the cricket itself was unexciting, we got talking life. There was an unwritten agreement that we would not talk about events of 2000 – he appeared to cope well with what life had doled out – and we would focus on his philosophy of life.
It was obvious that he had gleaned much of his learnings from his maternal grandfather at a very early age. And what he shared that days has stayed fresh in my mind despite the passing of more than four years since that day in July 2004 when he gave me an insight into his personality beyond cricket.
“If you stop your car at a traffic light and a beggar knocks at your window, you reach out to your wallet. Give out the first piece of currency that comes up from your wallet,” he said. “If it is a twenty-rupee note, so be it. But if you think before you give and search for a five-rupee note or coin, it is likely you will think again and seek a one- or a two-rupee coin.
“By the time you find it, the traffic light will have turned green and you would have to drive off without giving anything at all. It will rankle in you all the time and, what’s more, God won’t forgive you for not sharing what you have,” Azharuddin said, revealing a generous facet to his personality that groundstaff across the country will corroborate.
Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla Stadium curator Radhey Shyam Sharma is always effusive in his praise of Azharuddin’s gesture of tipping the groundstaff generously at the end of a game. Come to think of it, younger cricketers recall how the Hyderabadi would gift them anything from his kit that he could lay his hands on – gloves, pads or bats.
To get back to our time in Dambulla, the next day, Azharuddin wrote a few lines in my notebook. They made sense when he inked them. They make greater sense now. Here is what he wrote:
- You are not finished when you are defeated but the day you give up, you are finished.
- All rules permit an exception.
- Necessity knows no law, except to prevail.
On our last day in Dambulla, he wrote more such lines. And while I could see he was deeply immersed in what came from his heart, I was getting a rare peek into his personality beyond either magically wristy strokeplay or allegations that he had friends who were up to no good. Here is what he wrote:
- Good advice is usually what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear.
- Best of men are those who are useful to others.
- Every player needs to know his importance to the team and his role in it.
- The complete elimination of errors in any game is a fantasy. Everyone is prone to make mistakes.
- Man-made laws are bound to be flawed as man’s knowledge is limited.
- If you look to succeed, do not look for acknowledgements.
One of his lines from my notebook brings a broad smile to my face. “There are no permanent friends and enemies in politics. The only thing which is prevailing is opportunism.” Touche!