The smile is gone

V. GANESAN

What a wonderful man Balu was, always smiling and cheerful.

The news that Balu Alaganan is no more is extremely sad. He was one of the nicest men. I had the privilege of meeting him when he was the Assistant Manager of the Indian team during the 1976 twin tour of New Zealand and West Indies. It was during this long trip that I got to know him quite well. It is a pity that my tight schedule did not allow me to have more interaction with him in recent times. It is entirely my loss that I did not meet him in Chennai whenever I came down for the matches. What a wonderful man Balu was, always smiling and cheerful and sometimes he had an enigmatic smile and when asked what he was smiling for he would smile even more widely and say “will tell you later”.

The manager on that tour was the great Polly Umrigar. It was his first stint as the manager. In those days, the manager was everything from coach to travel agent. Pollykaka however had a terrific rapport with Balu. They divided the duties between them in such a manner that Pollykaka could focus on the cricketing aspect while Balu did everything else, from travel to giving away the weekly allowances. On our first stop itself, in New Zealand, we had trouble with the hotel we were staying in. We had landed in New Zealand after a long tiring flight which had several stopovers before we arrived in Auckland. Little did we know that the first game was in another city that was a couple of hours drive from Auckland. You can imagine what our mood would have been when we found out that we were not going to the hotel straight but to the far away venue.

The rooms, in the hotel, were of matchbox size. There was no vegetarian food available and there was no vegetarian restaurant nearby as well. The team wanted to shift to a hotel in the town where they could walk around and get some veg food. When Pollykaka spoke to the hotel manager over the phone about our intention, he threatened us with cancellation charges. Pollykaka threw his hands up and so it was left to Balu to go down and use his charm on the hotel manager. Balu asked me to come along ostensibly because I was the vice-captain of the team though what that had to do with hotels was beyond me. I accompanied him and when Balu spoke in that soft voice of his, the hotel manager thawed a bit and I too chipped in, stating how bad the publicity would be for the hotel if the team stayed further and complained to the media about the facilities.

The manager asked us to stay that night and said he would allow us to leave the next day without any cancellation charges. This move had to be cleared by the BCCI officials and that too was done by Balu over the phone.

I had my cheekbone fractured and dislocated, when a Lance Cairns shot, while sweeping Prasanna, hit me. I stayed on in Wellington while the rest of the team went on to play in the other parts of New Zealand. My wife was pregnant when I left for the tour and when Rohan was born, my father-in-law called the hotel where the team was staying but since I had stayed in Wellington he gave the news to Polly Umrigar. Pollykaka duly called me up and congratulated me but when I asked him whether it was a boy or a girl he said he forgot, so for one more day or so I had no idea if I had a son or a daughter.

We were to go to the West Indies from New Zealand via Los Angeles and New York and Balu had decided to take some days off to stay with a doctor friend. It was decided that since I was not fit to play for a couple of weeks I would go with Balu and see another doctor. Luckily that doctor said that the fracture would heal and I need not do anything else. At that time a movie had created a storm about its explicit content and I suggested to Balu that we should go and see it. Balu wanted to know what sort of a movie it was and I said it was a thriller. When Balu saw what unfolded on the screen, he was so embarrassed but took it in good spirit and for years after that whenever we met he would chide me for taking him to that movie. No matter how hard I tried to explain that it was always good to expand one’s horizons, he would not accept it but would smile in his usual delightful way.

Balu is no more with us but those wonderful memories will never go away. He of course is in a better place now and his presence will bring smiles there too.

RIP Balu.