“Are today’s kids still at it? ‘Sign here please, sir?’ Or has the adventure, let alone the simple wide-eyed romance, gone out of sport for a generation weaned on the inane, so-called intimacies of television after-match quotes, or meaningless newspaper confessions?” That was written by the wonderful Frank Keating in the 1980s.
I am not sure if today’s kids collect autographs. For one, the selfie-with-the-star has replaced the hand-written squiggle. And for another, autograph-chasers tend to belong to the generation of their fathers and uncles.
If a John McEnroe landed up at the local tennis court, chances are that those holding out books to be signed would be in their 40s and 50s, while the kids (if they recognise him) will badger him into posing for selfies.
A friend of mine is on a mission to collect the autograph of every cricketer who played for India. His efforts swing between near-success and frustration. But you cannot embark on something like that without oodles of patience, what the WADA calls knowledge of whereabouts, a single-mindedness, and I suspect, low cunning! He has been at it for decades, so this clearly is not a pursuit for the weak. Sometimes players help get autographs of other players. Sometimes you can exchange three signatures of one player for one of another. Supply and demand decide.
The first autograph I ‘collected’ was that of Gundappa Viswanath. My little autograph book also had the signatures of Tiger Pataudi, M. L. Jaisimha, V. Subramanya and others. And then I lost it — there is nothing like shifting residences to lose things. I have also lost — I am ashamed to say — the menu personally autographed by some of the greats of the cricketing world at the first official dinner on India’s inaugural tour of South Africa.
As a journalist, whenever I met Tiger I regretted I wasn’t carrying his book Tiger’s Tale to be autographed. As a cricket writer, you tend to take great players for granted. They become friends, you go out with them for a drink or three, and there is a subtle shift in the balance of perceptions.
The autograph book has been replaced today by the published book. Viswanath hasn’t written one, so I haven’t replaced his autograph in my ‘collection’. But Sunil Gavaskar has, and I must get his, although the copies of his books haven’t weathered well. Publishers should release hard-bound (or even leather-bound) ‘autograph copies’, but they never do.
The Bradman Albums , a two-volume collectors’ edition, is a good example. It has scores, articles, photographs and records of the matches Don Bradman played. My copy is signed on four pages by Bradman — that mission was accomplished on a tour of Australia when I met the great man at his house.
In the article referred to, Keating quotes his friend as saying, “I don’t know why these autograph-hunters don’t just forge them: no one would ever know.”
The death of wide-eyed romance is one thing, but to knock out innocence too?