“Aaja, aaja, gale mil [come here and give me a hug], after all we are in the mandatory overs of life,” was the usual greeting of my opening partner Chetan Chauhan whenever we met over the last two or three years. The meetings were invariably at his beloved Feroze Shah Kotla ground, where he was in charge of the pitch preparation. As we hugged, I would say to him, “No, no. We must have another century partnership,” and he would laugh and say, “Arre baba, you are the century maker, not me.” Never in my wildest nightmares could I believe that his words about being in the mandatory overs of life would come true so soon. It’s so hard to believe that his laughter and cheerful banter won’t be there the next time I go to Delhi.
Talking of centuries, I firmly believe that I was responsible for him missing out on two occasions, both in Australia in the 1980-81 series down under. In the second Test in Adelaide he was on 97 when my teammates pulled me out of my chair in front of the TV and dragged me to the players balcony, saying I must get there to cheer my partner. I was a bit superstitious about watching from the players enclosure as then the batsman would get out. So I would always watch on the dressing room TV. Once the landmark was reached, then I would rush to the players balcony and join in the cheers.
However, here I was in the Adelaide balcony when Dennis Lille came in to bowl and – would you believe – Chetan was caught behind first ball. I was livid and told the players off for having got me to the balcony but that wasn’t going to change what had happened. A few years later, I didn’t make the same mistake when Mohammad Azharuddin was approaching his third consecutive hundred in Kanpur, and as soon as he got to the coveted mark, I was out of the change room and applauding him from next to the sightscreen. Some of my friends in the media, who had the knives out for me then, made a big story of my so-called absence. Amazingly, they had had nothing to say about the absence of some when a year earlier I got my 29th century to be level with Sir Don Bradman in Delhi.
The second occasion that I believe I was responsible for Chetan missing a hundred, was when I lost my head after being abused by the Australians as I was leaving the pitch after a terrible decision. Trying to drag Chetan off the field with me must have disrupted his concentration and he was again out short of a century a little later.
There’s one thing that few players of my generation and the one immediately after don’t know – his contribution in getting tax exemptions for them. Both of us first met up with the late Shri R Venkataraman, who was the Finance minister of the country then, and requested him to consider a tax exemption for fees received for playing for India. I must add that it wasn’t just for cricket but for all sportspersons who played for India. We explained how, when we were junior cricketers, we had to spend a lot of money on equipment, travel, coaches, etc. when we had no income at all.
“Chetan always said that if we are asked what was our best contribution to Indian cricket, we should say that it was getting [tax] exemptions for the cricketing fraternity”
Shri Venkatramanji was most considerate and in a notification, he passed a ruling that gave us 75% standard deduction for a Test match fee, then an exemption on 50% of the tour fees which we received before leaving for a tour. The cherry on the cake though was the total exemption on the one-day match fees of INR 750 which we received those days. Mind you, we barely played a game or two of one-day internationals then. That notification was in place till about 1998, by which time the number of one-day internationals had increased dramatically as also as the fees which were around INR 1 lakh or so. So around the mid-90s, players were getting about INR 25 lakhs or more free of tax. Even after my retirement, I would give a copy of the notification to the newcomers in the Indian team for them to give to their accountants.
Chetan always said that if we are asked what was our best contribution to Indian cricket, we should say that it was getting the exemptions for the cricketing fraternity. His desire to help others manifested in him joining politics, and right till the end he was a giver, not a taker.
He had a wicked sense of humour too. His favourite song as we walked out to face some of the most hostile bowlers in the game was muskura ladle muskura [smile little boy, smile]. That was his way of easing the nerves while confronting challenges.
Now that my partner is no more how can I muskura? May your soul have everlasting peace, partner.
(Sunil Gavaskar is a former India captain. Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan opened in 36 Tests for India, and scored 3010 runs together at an average of 53.75. They are the second-most successful opening pair for India in Test cricket until their record of ten century stands was broken in 2010 by Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir)