BY SAEED NAQVI
I thought the din had died, but the memorial meeting in New Delhi triggered some more nostalgia on Tiger Pataudi.
Miliye us shaqsh se ki jo adam hovey,
Naaz apne Kamal par usey kam hovey.
(Meet the person who is, above all, a human being! Who carries his achievements with modesty)
There is no fuss in Mir Taqi Mir’s description of the man he holds in high esteem. Tiger Pataudi is probably chuckling somewhere at this somewhat pretentious reference. But the simple couplet goes some distance in explaining the aura in which Tiger has been shrouded these past few weeks. No fuss: that was the cardinal ingredient in Tiger’s carriage.
In a general sense, a triple hierarchy defines the highest rungs of the Indian elite. The princely order, for one, would come under the broad feudal category. Second, two hundred years of British experience left behind another category – Macaulay’s elite. Third has been the most durable, if not the most glamorous, caste elite.
A combination of the three would appear to be a compelling formula for unbeatable charisma. But, it turns out, mere possession of these attributes does not make for an outright winner. There were other, compulsory pre conditions for a winning combination – good looks, speech, demeanour, carriage and that inexplicable agent of attraction called phiromenes, which some people exude to attract others of their kind.
For all these elements to come together is a rare enough occurrence, but Tiger Pataudi exceeded even this rare configuration. His achievement as a cricketer, youngest ever Indian captain, one who knit together the greatest quartet of spin bowlers in world cricket, authoured the country’s first overseas series win, stroked the ball along a silken carpet and that supple agility in the covers which earned him the title, Tiger.
If this is hyperbole, where does one fit in other details: his sporting lineage, for instance, in addition to the princely one. His father, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, played for England and captained India. He had a gentleman’s disdain for Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tactics to contain Bradman. “This is not on” he said. “This isn’t cricket.” This lack of obsequiousness was a trait Tiger inherited.
It is so appropriate that Tiger should have held Jawaharlal Nehru as something of a model. They shared several elements in their background – aristocratic demenour, education, achievements in totally diverse fields.
Put it down to my biases, but that extra élan they had, derived from a shared composite Urdu culture.
Pandit Nehru’s “mother” tongue was not Kashmiri: it was Urdu. This, because like hundreds of Kashmiri Pandit families, the Nehrus had settled in Oudh. In fact they played a pioneering role in shaping Urdu literature.
Tiger’s grandmother came from the family of the Nawab of Loharu with which the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib also had links.
The word “Nawab”, unlike “Raja”, reverberates in Urdu. The basic character of Urdu derives not from religious texts, but elegant agnosticism, a certain irreverence bestowed on it by its poets. It is this broad Catholicism which explains Nehru’s aversion to religious rituals at his funeral. He shunned religious rites. Nehru most lyrically wanted his ashes to be sprinkled on the Ganges, the Himalayas.
Did Tiger have any “will”, for his funeral, that he should be buried according to a strict religious code? If I know anything of him, he must have left his family totally confused where to look for a “moulvi” of suitable affiliations to perform the last rites.
In the framework sketched by Urdu poets, a distance from dogma associated with the clergy is an essential pre condition for realization of my Truth. Little wonder, throughout the annals of Urdu poetry there is not a single passage of any note which has a good word for orthodoxy, dogma, wares that the clergy peddle.
I have dwelt on the Urdu component in Tiger’s personality because it also gives him an indigenous platform on which is settled his very anglaise persona, making for an integrated human being, rather like the person he held up as a model. Without the Discovery of India, Nehru would have been something of a rootless person, neither here no there, complaining to his father, Motilal Nehru, that he had made an outrageous mistake in hiring an English governess for his sister, Vijaylaxmi, in total violation of custom prevalent among the British aristocracy which placed a premium on French governesses. Mrs. Vijaylaxmi Pandit told me this story. But proximity to Mahatma Gandhi and the national movement changed all that.
With his insights into the game why did Tiger not commentate more or serve on cricket boards and so on? Also, why did he not join politics? Because he could not. That would involve what the vagabond poet Jafar Zatalli calls, “ghusar phusar”. He told an interviewer “I don’t think I would have achieved very much more by running around”.
Yaas Yagana Changezi warns “Dawar-e-Hashr” or “Creator”, not to lose sight of the profound distinction between “banda-e-naumeed” and “banda-e-beniaz”, a disheartened loser and the elegantly indifferent, one who couldn’t do the “running around” and which others including “Princes” do all their lives for pointless prominence.
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)