He was a living legend and his exploits the stuff fairy tales are made of. A superstar for even those who were born much after he retired from the game.
1983 was a turbulent year with the rise in tensions surrounding nuclear weapons. The Cold War occupied everybody’s minds. Nuclear cruise missiles owned by America and Russia began arriving in Europe and the IRA was terrorising the UK.
Around the same time back home, a different set of events were rolling by. In the Ambala mess, bar man Chow was busy fixing the evening drinks. Incidentally at that time, Chow was far more famous in Air Force circles than Kapil Dev, the new kid on the cricketing block.
Chow was a super efficient worker and had the memory of an elephant to put it mildly. When challenged with an allegation of a flawed bar-bill, he could recollect the precise number of drinks an officer had more than a month back.
As a bar-member, I had personally seen Chow chiding a junior officer, “Sir, you say I have overcharged you. I think you have forgotten the Christmas eve celebrations in the bar. Like a spirited tiger, you had boldly announced “Next drink for everyone is on me”. These extra eight large whiskies on your bill are the result of your minor folly that evening.” The poor young Flying officer had no choice but to walk away in disbelief with a shaking head.
We lost Chow quite a few years back. God bless his loving soul. But more than his impressive memory and many other kind gestures, Chow is even today fondly remembered for his large-hearted act during the Prudential Cup final. An Ambala-type old timer Sabby who was present there that day commented, “25 Jun 1983. Just can’t believe that it was almost 40 years ago. Well one more month to go if you like to be precise.” He continued with his recollections.
“The cricket world cup was on in full swing. Contrary to all expectations, Kapil’s Devils had shocked the cricketing world by entering the finals. Kapil Dev’s personal heroics had caught the imagination of the entire country. His superb 175 not out against Zimbabwe could not be seen on live TV because of broadcasting rights. So everyone was literally dying to watch the finals. After all, it was India’s maiden entry into the coveted final.”
“The two-time World champions West Indies were the other finalists. The punters were having a field day. However, the odds were still badly stacked against the Indians. Very few gave them an outside chance.”
“It was the pre-internet era. Most of the bachelors in Ambala did not have a personal television. So it was really a no-brainer choice to witness the match in the mess ante-room on the busty BPL TV. Word got around and even the married guys trouped in to be a part of the occasion. Chow as usual was busy with the other mess staff, serving drinks and snacks in double-time.”
“Cheers and claps, the oohs and the aahs! The pot-boiler had everything that one could ask for as an Indian fan. A very small total to defend but the Indians under Kapil’s captaincy gave it all. And then came the big moment! As Mohinder Amarnath trapped Michael Holding for an LBW, wild celebrations broke out in the ante-room.”
“Chow was a diehard cricket buff and an extremely loyal Kapil Dev fan. He even had a huge poster of Kapil donning the inner confines of the bar cellar. There was no way he could be missing out on the action. He joined the victory chorus with his typical high decibel shrieks. Total gay abandon it was!”
“He went back in furtively and brought the ‘bottoms up’ round to mark the historic occasion. And then suddenly he came forward and stood in front of the TV set and announced loudly to be heard over the din, “Sir all drinks today, Chow ke naam”. Meaning “I will stand all the drinks today”. Happiness defined indeed.”
“The officers fully knowledgeable about his meagre salary tried to dissuade him but a joyous Chow outrightly dismissed even the whiff of such a suggestion. After all, his idol Kapil Dev had been the key protagonist of the glorious moment.”
Yes, that moment in history changed the entire cricket-crazy nation like nothing before.
Each member of the team was considered a hero but Kapil Dev was indeed the toast of the town. Single-handedly, he had made his rather under-rated team believe that attaining the impossible was possible. All in all, the rustic Kapil with the golden arm became a national youth icon. The spirited mascot could do no wrong. Such was the love for this new-found darling of the masses.
Over time, Kapil switched over from cricket to amateur golf, quite in line with his greying hair. But what did not change over the years was the adulation that he received from a grateful nation. He was a living legend and his exploits the stuff fairy tales are made of. A superstar for even those who were born much after he retired from the game.
People listened when he spoke. An all time media favourite, he was never short of endorsements for ads of all kinds, from Palmolive shaving cream to health care and what have you. Such had been his respect and aura that no one ever grudged him his windfall gains. With multiple stakes in many investments, he is today reported to have a net worth of about 220 Crore rupees.
So seeing Kapil in a TV advertisement peddling a new product had not at all been unusual all these years. But seeing him in a surrogate ad for a Pan Masala* company? Someone of Kapil’s stature, eminence and standing going down to such abysmal levels! It was downright shocking for me. And that is an understatement.
I had earlier seen and despised plenty of filmy heroes falling to the call of ill-gained lucre. Leading impressionable young minds to addictions through insensitive recomendations. But you too Kapil? You were a real hero. God, you cannot even remotely fathom what you have done!
As I saw Kapil popping the surrogate Kamla Pasand** bits in his mouth, for some inexplicable reason, my thoughts went back to Chow. I wondered, if he was alive today what would he be thinking about his cricketing God? The large-heartedness of the magnanimous Chow and the vulgar display of greed of his deity. The contrast seemed indigestible.
And so I fell asleep with disturbing ruminations in my mind. Normally I sleep very soundly but they say indigestion causes bad dreams. No wonder I was rudely awakened by a rare one. My better half handed me a glass of water and put me at ease. She asked with loving concern, “What is it Honey?”
The nightmare fresh in my mind, I recall, “I clearly saw Chow clinging to me and sobbing uncontrollably, “Sir, my Kapil is no more”.” I try to console him….
“Chow, please don’t cry. He is kind of alive. But yes, he is no more Kapil.”
In mourning as well,
P.S: I have this odd habit of looking for silver linings in all dark clouds. The only saving grace I could think of was, “Thank God, Chow did not live to see this day!”
*Pan Masala: Among humans, it is claimed to be a leading cause of oral submucous fibrosis that often progresses to oral cancer.
** Kamala Pasand: Leading manufacturer of Pan masala and such like products.
First published at seekmediation.com on 22 May 23
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