To pen a life story at 82 must have been a life-long desire achieved late in his career but then Jaidip Mukerjea, one of India’s best-known tennis stars, does a decent job. Titled Crosscourt, co-authored by Papri Sen Sri Raman, and published by Vitasta, it is a welcome addition to India’s tennis literature.
“Whenever we lost a vital point in a big match, Jaidip always charged back. I never saw him `steal’ a point. For camaraderie and performance level, our 1966 team was the best ever team to represent India,” says Ramanathan Krishnan, one of the greatest tennis players in India. Krishnan, Jaidip and Premjit Lall formed the Three Musketeers of Indian tennis, winning the hearts of their fans across the world.
Krishnan and Jaidip featured in India’s Challenge Round finals against Australia in 1966. India lost the contest 1-4 but the one win, in the doubles against John Newcombe and Tony Roche, remains a feat to remember. Newcombe and Roche had won all the Grand Slam events and Krishnan considers that victory the best in the doubles for an Indian pair.
Jaidip holds the unique record of reaching the last 16 of every Grand Slam. “This is an outstanding achievement, which shows that he could play on any surface under different conditions,” writes Krishnan.
Among the many delightful anecdotes, Jaidip recalls his meeting with the `Big Man’ in the house of his maternal great-grandmother, Basanti Devi. “On the way, I was repeatedly warned to be on my best behaviour. When I saw him (Mahatma Gandhi) I exclaimed to my mother, ‘You told me that a big man is coming but this person is a small man’ The Mahatma had heard Jaidip’s remark and smiled, “Yes beta..my son you are right. I am a small man.’’ Jaidip’s mother and grandmother were very upset. But Jaidip was not done with his pranks. Later that day, he playfully hid Mahatma Gandhi’s footwear which he restored. “That day, for the first time, she (mother) thrashed me,” writes Jaidip.
Jaidip’s mother gave him another spanking when she caught the eight-year-old trying to balance on the parapet of the second-floor veranda, 25 feet above the ground. She came up from behind and brought him down. “She then proceeded to spank me soundly.” It was a matter of pride that she watched Jaidip in action only once on the court at the South Calcutta Club. “That day, in 1966, I defeated Ramanathan Krishnan to lift the Asian Championships,” recalls Jaidip.
Jaidip laces his life story with details of India’s rise in tennis, including time spent with Amitabh Bachchan, who spent time in Calcutta looking for a job before venturing into the film world, and playing in front of matinee idol Dilip Kumar at the Delhi Gymkhana and winning the Davis Cup tie against Germany.
Jaidip, who counts Arthur Ashe and Margaret Court among his friends, came in for praise from the legendary Rod Laver. “Jaidip was a very fine player, a gentleman,” says Laver. And that sums up Jaidip Mukerjea, who rates Anand and Godfather as his favourite movies and Sophia Loren his favourite female actor.
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