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Recollecting those 'sporting' moments
People always refer to the period of their childhood as the 'good old days'
People always refer to the period of their childhood as the 'good old days'. I am now beginning to realise how really 'old' my own such days were! We have noted, on several occasions, in this column earlier about the need for a fit body, an alert mind and a balanced emotional apparatus being necessary, for a human being to lead a productive and happy life. While a regular session in the gym, or the practice of disciplines such as yoga are formal methods of keeping one's body fit, games and sports offer the same advantage, but with added attraction of providing relaxation and entertainment. In earlier columns, I shared with the readers the more or less fixed annual schedule of games and sports that Hyderabad was known for in – yes, my 'good old' days!
It was during my first graduation days that I started learning to play tennis with the Lady Hydari Club courts, under the able guidance of the well-known tennis coach Farkhunda Ali Khan. Such was my enthusiasm for learning the game, and enjoyment of playing, it, that I would start at the crack of dawn from our house at Gaddiannaram and cycle for 10 km to reach the club for the morning practice. And, after a rigorous session at the tennis nets, one had enough energy left to go to the swimming pool located in the Mint near the Secretariat for more exercise! I was fortunate to be able to continue to play tennis for quite a few years thereafter, through my days as Sub-Collector, Ongole, Collector of Guntur and Krishna districts, and at Vishakhapatnam as Managing Director of the Andhra Pradesh Fisheries Corporation.
My swan song with the game was participating in an exhibition game with the internationally renowned Martina Navratilova, during my days as the Chief Secretary after which I have not touched a racket again. Since then it has been back to the daily game billiards at the Nizam Club. So far as swimming is concerned, I made an attempt to renew my relationship with a pool at Country Club in Hyderabad a few years ago. And gave up swimming forever, after I nearly drowned!
I have always been a reasonably active player of various games, and sports, indoor as well as outdoor including table tennis, badminton and indoor games such as chess and carroms. Which is probably the reason why I derived such enormous pleasure from watching various games and sports during the Asian games in New Delhi in 1982.
My first experience of administering a game was the appointment as a Joint Secretary of the Bridge Federation of India (BFI). The legendary Y. Kamalakara Rao ('Kamalakar') was the Secretary General of BFI at that time. He was a livewire of a man, enormously energetic, and with limitless enthusiasm. He was the Director of a large number of tournaments, which he conducted with extraordinary precision, perfect coordination, and a totally uncompromising attitude when it came to enforcement of rules and regulations. During my days as Collector Guntur, I even had the great honour of playing bridge with Dr. C.S. Rao and his legendary partner Koteswara Rao, the pair who had represented India in Bridge at the highest international level.
Like any other person born in Chennai, and brought up in Hyderabad, I have always been a keen cricket aficionado. In the year 1990 the charming, and extremely popular, former cricket captain of India Ghulam Ahmed walked into my office. He had just retired from the IAS. I was then the Secretary of the Planning Department and also a Secretary in the Chief Minister's office. To my surprise Ghulam Saab asked me to contest the forthcoming election to the Vice President of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA). Apparently, he felt that the affairs of the Association were in a mess, and needed to be cleaned up.
A bit reluctant, but in deference to the wishes of a person who was my childhood hero, I accepted. I felt much more confident and reassured when the matinee idol of Hyderabad cricket, M.L. Jaisimha, called me to tell me how happy he was that I had agreed to join the fray.
One day Chief Minister Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy, upon reacting to a complaint made to him that I was interfering in the affairs of HCA only said cryptically "I hope only you are sure of winning!"
Years later, by which time I had been elected unanimously as the President HCA, I received a call one day from Sharad Pawar (then Chief Minister of Maharashtra) to support one of the candidates contesting for the presidentship of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
My tenure as President of Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) was, by and large, smooth and successful. I doubt that I gave my guru Ghulam Ahmed any cause for regret on the occasion when Chief Minister Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy had come to the Lal Bahadur Shastri grounds to inaugurate a one-day international cricket match. As was customary, I was to invite him to be introduced to the players of the two teams, by the respective captains. And, typical of the bad luck which had been haunting my relationship with the Chief Minister for quite some time by then, the microphone failed just as I was addressing the spectators!
For some time then, a proposal had been pending to construct a cricket stadium in the Parade Grounds at Secunderabad belonging to the Indian Army. As the land was located in the Secunderabad Cantonment, the permission of the Director General of Defence Estates, in the Ministry of Defence, Government of India was needed before construction work could be taken. Along with Shivlal Yadav (well-known Hyderabad cricketer, and, at that time the Secretary of HCA, I visited Delhi and met the Director General for necessary clearance.
Despite several such efforts, however, the matter could not get resolved and, finally, when I took over as Chief Secretary "(by which time I was no longer the President of HCA), it was finally decided to construct the stadium in Uppal (on the outskirts of the city), instead. I had to play a small role in ensuring the smooth passage of a proposal made by the then Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, that the stadium be named after Rajiv Gandhi.
Although my own contribution was trivial, at least according to me, the powers that be, for reasons best known to them, decided to name the foyer of the new stadium after me! The Afro-Asian Games and the Military World Games 2007, which were organised during my stint as Chief Secretary of the state, were staged in that stadium. I also had the opportunity to watch a couple of one day Internationals in the ground and was pleased to see that the facilities were comparable with the best in the world.
There is a tradition (at least was, those days), of organising an annual cricket game between the elevens captained by the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police. That friendly encounter was, governed by the principle that, no matter what the actual scores, the Chief Secretary's eleven won, and always by the margin of a single run!
I had another pleasant brush with the game of cricket recently when the HCA approached me to request, on their behalf, V.S. Sampath, formerly Chief Election Commissioner of India, to be the Election Officer for their elections.
It was, again, during my tenure as Chief Secretary, that explosive growth took place in sports infrastructure in the twin cities, largely on account of the conduct of the games referred to earlier in addition to the National Games on one occasion. I visited the Hyderabad (now Telangana) Rifle Association one day and, was invited by the Secretary of the Association, to (quite literally!) have a shot at two dummy ducks floated into the air, as much to my surprise as that of those around, I shot both at my first attempt! No, not the NCC training of the days of yore, but sheer beginner's luck!
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)