September 09, 2013

Leander is, well, just Leander!

My younger brother Barry cleaned him up in straight sets, 6-1, 6-0.

I did it quite convincingly too, 6-4, 6-3.

The person who lost both singles matches on the same day to us in a club tournament was one Leander Paes.

Yes, this is a true story.

But now the real truth.

The year was 1979. Barry was 16, I was 18… Leander was 6!

Calcutta’s favourite sporting hero (jointly with Sourav, I would say) won his 14th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday night.

Actually, if you count his junior Grand Slam titles it would add up to 16.

In the age of Instagram and Facebook likes, the word legend is used all too easily. But for Leander, legend sounds right. Deservedly.

Consider this: he has won his Grand Slam titles over three decades.

If that hasn’t impressed you enough, try this: his singles record against both Pete Sampras and Roger Federer is one win each and no loss!

But our old friend is more than records and surly statistics. There is so much more to this lad (lad?! the man is 40!) who played his early tennis at DI and CC&FC before his father Vece did what most parents wouldn’t do — packed him off to the BAT (Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy) in Chennai to pursue his passion.

Those of us who have seen Leander grow up know that his first love was actually football, not tennis.

Notwithstanding all his Grand Slam wins and considerable achievements, Leander has always remained the boy next door. Whether it’s paying a visit to the hole-in-the-wall Bengal Hair Dressing Salon next to Mithai in Beckbagan or charming septuagenarian “uncles” and “aunties” in the clubs of Calcutta he grew up in or playing a practical joke on his eldest sister Jackie... Leander is, just Leander.

A few days ago I had lustily TV-cheered Stepanek and his partner as they upset the top seeds, the Bryan brothers. Then the final; a cruise: 6-1, 6-3.

That was a wonderful way to round off a Sunday evening in Calcutta. The effortless win took little over an hour.

Now let me tell you about Sunday morning. There was a lady in a blue top sitting just in front of me at Sunday mass at St. Thomas’ Middleton Row. This was the first time I saw her there (she usually goes to a different church). It was Leander’s mom, Jennifer. Surely her prayers were heard.

[This article was carried by The Telegraph | Monday, September 09, 2010]

September 08, 2013

David Cameron of Kolkata RIP

My Tribute

For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend David Cameron these days. He’s always been a bit of a go-getter, full of beans and brimming with ideas far ahead of his time. Not everything’s paid off. But at least David’s settled into a good home now.

I first met David and his wife Angela some 40 years ago. He was already famous in Calcutta’s Anglo-Indian community as an audacious sort of chap. Some even called him a lovable hustler. His children were my pre-teen companions — Rodrick, John and the pretty young sister, Maria.

David began as a teacher in a Christian school in Howrah. He graduated to become principal of St Thomas’ School at Khidirpur, right near the city’s dockyards. The letter ‘E’ defined David Cameron. Education was his profession, entrepreneurship his calling and anything equine his passion. Well before it was conventional wisdom, David realised the potential of schools as a business. In the 1980s, when past 50, he chucked up a good, safe job to run a start-up boarding school in McCluskieganj, near Ranchi.

When the school was up and running, David, the eternal wanderer, sought new pastures. He had a thing for horses and owned a few racehorses in Calcutta. Indeed, he was a regular at the races, especially on the New Year’s Day. The vast open frontiers of McCluskieganj gave him an idea: this was the perfect location for a stud farm.

It was a crazy dream — to breed racehorses in the middle of Jharkhand (then south Bihar). David’s ‘partner’ was a priest who owned the land where the stud farm was set up. After the priest died in a two-wheeler accident, David became the solo boss. He imported mares and brought in Midnight Cowboy, a legendary racehorse from Calcutta, as the farm stallion. An investor from Doha put in some money, with a plan to export colts to the emirates of the Gulf. Just outside sleepy Ranchi, in those soporific pre-liberalisation days of the 1980s, David Cameron was thinking big.

In 2010, all that survives of that stud farm is a large vegetable patch. The dream has retired, the dreamers have gone. Angela now lives in Perth, as do Cameron’s children, John and Maria. Rodrick, a horse-lover like his father, looks after the stables of the royal family of Bahrain. In his charge are not racehorses but free agents who go long distances, uninhibited by the horizon — just the way David Cameron lived his life.

Today, pushing 80 at the Mary Cooper Old Age Home in Calcutta, David must be counting his wild gambles and unusual schemes. Did his ambitions extend to being elected prime minister? I almost wonder.

[This article was carried by Hindustan Times | Tuesday, May 25, 2010]