Our house in the staff quarters was a five minute walk away from my father’s office. So the postman usually delivered our letters to his office, irrespective of whether they had the residential address on them. There was an unsaid rule at home. No one opened letters which were not addressed to them. But on one day in the month of September, my Dad made an exception. He opened a letter which was addressed to me. I must have been in Std 9 then.
At lunch, when we met, he apologized to me for opening my letter. And then said, “I could not resist doing so, as it said it was from the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay”. I looked at the cream coloured envelope, with the Taj Hotel insignia embossed on it, and I could not figure out who could have written to me. The handwriting on the address was neat and clear. I didn’t have any friends in Bombay. Who could it be?
I opened the letter and gave a whoop of delight. Lunch was forgotten. It was a hand-written letter from someone I idolized. Sunil Gavaskar! I had written to him on his birthday in July, and he had responded several months later. But he had responded, and that’s what mattered. He said he’d been touring and the servants had placed this letter in another room, and he had found time to respond now.
My friend, Vidya and I, were huge fans of Sunny Gavaskar. I hardly understood cricket then or now, but this man- was so inspiring. Since then, I have written to him multiple times. And each time, he has always responded- in his neat hand writing without fail.
The dream day came in 1987, on the 31st of October. Vidya’s father managed to get us passes to watch the Reliance World Cup between India and New Zealand in Nagpur’s VCA stadium. It was the first cricket match I ever got to watch in a stadium. We were all excited and didn’t mind the stringent security rules. We were finally going to see Sunil Gavaskar!
It was a match which was memorable, not just for India’s win but also for Chetan Sharma’s hat trick. But our eyes were glued to Gavaskar. In the 105 previous one day internationals, the greatest opener of our generation had never managed a century. And today, while he was down with high-grade fever, he decided to leave his mark. He scored 103 not out, taking multiple rest breaks in between. And Vidya and I still want to believe with all our school-girl hearts that he scored that century just for us!!