Jaisimha's way

My Way — The biography of M. L. Jaisimha by A. Joseph Antony with Jayanthi Jaisimha. Printed by A. Joseph Antony at Card Box Company, 10-2-289/120/7, P. S. Nagar, Masab Tank, Hyderabad 500057. Distributed by Westend, 2, Prime Hill Apartments, Road No 10, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad 500034. Price. Rs. 100.

IT will be futile to search for a contemporary cricketer as colourful as M. L. Jaisimha. Cricket found itself in this gifted all-rounder, a radiance that was a spectacle to behold. He was more than an icon in his heyday; a star performer who evolved a style of his own, from walking to any branch of cricket, nay, to tennis, badminton and snooker as well.

MLJ — "More Luck and Joy," thundered that inimitable commentator, Vizzy, even as Jai was setting the Eden Gardens aflame with that momentous innings against the Australians in 1959-60, that is part of Indian cricket's folklore. Whether cricket really witnessed the full bloom of this marvellous wielder of the willow is a matter of debate. Jai played like a millionaire, generous and lofty, like an aristocrat that he was by birth and deed. He exemplified the nuances as though ordained by a divine power, mirroring the grace and elegance of stroke play, the canny awesomeness of the art of off-spin bowling. How many are aware that Jai could use the new ball controlling the swing as impeccably as an acknowledged medium pace bowler. His perspicacity made him an excellent captain material although the country was not fortunate enough to exploit this endowment in the measure it should have.

Joseph Antony, Special Correspondent, The Hindu, and Jayanthi, wife of the renowned cricketer, have combined their inputs to chistel out an appropriate tribute to the life and times of an icon who symbolised the essence of art and artfulness of the sport not only in Hyderabad, but all around the globe. It may be a misnomer to term the book strictly as a biography; in fact, it is an amalgam of anecdotes assimilated across Jaisimha's cricketing spectrum, stringed in a sequence that keeps the reader fairly riveted to the narration.

"Cricket for Jai was a game of chess played on a field. His knowledge of cricketing history was exceptional. He could not be conned. In a discussion with him, one had to be thoroughly convincing, or Jai would dismiss you as a load of rubbish," writes Joseph Antony. He adds: "The nuggets of cricketing wisdom from Jai never came in the form of lengthy lectures. They were worded in a sentence or two, or in casual conversation, always as suggestions to make minor modifications, and not as major changes, which they actually turned out to be."

Dicky Rutnagur, that versatile columnist, once confessed to a group of cricket writers, that "one's knowledge of cricket goes up by at least two percent, every time you sit and interact with Jaisimha."

The endeavour of the authors to portray a charismatic personality as Jai in a proper perspective without inhibitions to minimise or exaggerate the fads and foibles is indeed commendable. Jai's life is an open book; his epicurean taste forming very much part and parcel of it. Jai viewed life as a medium in pursuit of what it offers as pleasures. Music, fun, festivities and the allure of liquor all made Jai a dashing and debonair individual admired and applauded by every section of society.

Replete with instances and innumerable details identifying the history of the times, its trauma, turmoil and tragic moments faced by cricket, its practitioners, and, of course, Jai himself, the book provokes a mood of nostalgia to those who marvelled at the aesthetic approach to sport by the enviable Hyderabadi and his enigmatic ways. It is an authentic and authoritative work, which encapsulates the class, calibre and competence of a hero, whose place in the pantheon of Indian cricketers cannot easily be denied.

The final moments before Jai met his Maker on July 7, 1999, are captured in vivid and poignant details. "The `Little Master' sat at Jai's bedside, holding his hand, trying to will him open his eyes. Jai was too sedated to respond. Much to Gavaskar's relief, Jai was looking as handsome as ever. A thin sheet covered his frail frame as he lay in bed, wearing a thin muslin jubba." The string of words registers the mood before the end came. An appreciative foreword by Sunil Gavaskar enhances the value of the book. — S. Thyagarajan