By Jaideep Ghosh
VVS Laxman didn’t need to be a cricketer to have a fan following. He didn’t need his magic wrists, iron will or sensational hands in the slips to be famous. All he needed to do was be himself.
We were at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo in late July of 2004 as India began another Asia Cup campaign. As bad luck would have it, we got stuck in the same flight as the team (if anyone thinks it’s a great thing to be in the same flight with your dear cricketers, wait till the luggage comes out).
So there we were, stuck for all of the hour, as coffin after coffin came out, bearing the names that makes most of India go ballistic – Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman…
Eventually my pitiful little suitcase made an appearance and off we went. Well, almost. The big boys were leaving, so we had to wait.
The airport used to have a swing door, a strange contraption which was supposedly meant to help passengers with trolleys to push through. But this door also used to swing back at an alarming speed, threatening to whack the next guy in the line.
So as the team left, someone held the door open. But no such luck for the reporters, of course. Till such time that Laxman, the last man to be leaving, turned around.
He saw us waiting there, ready to be hit by the door as the enthusiastic local official left it and ran after the team. So Laxman grabbed the door and held it open, as all of us reporters streamed out, with sheepish smiles of acknowledgement and appreciation. All this while his wife stood on the side, waiting patiently.
That is VVS Laxman for you. A good man, a man of class and education. That he became a great cricketer was for the better of the game, but those who have interacted with him on a personal basis are the real fortunates.
Laxman is also a deeply religious man, with pictures and statuettes of deities always a feature of the shelf in his hotel room, irrespective of which country he was in. These graduated to a CD player and devotional CDs later, but the sentiments were the same.
Ironically, its being ‘nice’ that has cost some of our best players. Laxman was thumped around, up and down the batting order, as per the whims of respective captains. He has also been accused, abused and derided for his lack of limited-overs fitness and even dumped by his home franchise of Deccan Chargers – the same Hyderabad which is now moaning about not having him sign off there.
Being nice doesn’t pay in competitive sport. That is where Laxman is different. He may not have been a star if he hadn’t played cricket. But he’d still have been a success, as a man. That is something that no one can take away from him.