It was some time in October 2017 that I rang up a gentleman requesting him to come on the cover launch of my book on Col. CK Nayudu - ‘A Colonel Destined to Lead’.
The man in question tentatively accepted the invite and said that he will come provided he is able to arrange for someone to look after his wife who wasn’t keeping well.
On the day of the function at the Cricket Club of India (CCI), Mumbai on October 31st, 2017, I was receiving the guests when a smart looking elderly man dressed in black blazer entered the hall and introduced himself to me as ‘Nari Contractor’.
Of course, he did not need any introduction, but I was awestruck at his humility.
Incidentally, this was also the venue of the place where Nari had scored his only test century against the Australians in 1960.
Almost 50 years back, people would have been fighting to get a glimpse of the centurion Nari. And today, the once glamour boy of Indian cricket had walked in the hall nonchalantly like a common man.
Life has probably shown everything to Nari
Life has probably shown everything to Nari. He had started his first-class career in an ideal fashion by scoring a century in each innings for Gujarat against Baroda.
Within few years, he found a place for himself in the Indian test team. Everything seemed to be going as per plan for the cricketer Nari, but God had some other ideas for him.
In 1962, when he was at the peak of his career both as a captain and batsman, he was hit on the head by a delivery from West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith in a tour match. With God's grace, Nari survived, but the injury (skull fracture) brought a premature end to his test career.
He was just 28 years old when he played the last of his 31 tests.
Led India to a famous series victory over England
But before this incident, he was one of the most sought-after Indian players in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Nari was India’s 13th test captain and also the youngest man to captain India back then. He was 26 years old when asked to lead the side against Pakistan in 1960-61. In the 12 tests that he led, India was victorious in two and lost two tests.
His best performance as a captain came when India defeated England by a margin of 2-0 in 1961-62 at home. This was also India’s first series win against the Britishers. As a batsman, his favourite opponents were Pakistan and Australia against whom he averaged 53.16 and 40 respectively.
“This is probably the first time I am hearing someone referring you as Nariman”
People close to him say that rarely did Nari lament about his injury. As sports writer Makarand Waigankar had once written about him-
“But Such was Nari that he was never bitter about it and blamed it on his own distraction. Instead, at times, he used his injury to spread laughter”.
I can second this observation as during my entire interaction with him, he seemed very jolly. Even at 83 years of age, he was very energetic and would get up to demonstrate shots that he was referring to.
When my wife Akanksha, who was the anchor at the function, introduced him as Nariman Contractor; Madhav Apte who was also present whispered to him, “This is probably the first time I am hearing someone referring you as Nariman”. And both Nari & Madhav Apte burst into laughter.
As the function came to end, I came with him till the gate of the CCI to see him off. When I asked him that how will he be going back, he said that he will take a cab.
I was again stunned by the simplicity of his response. So, I offered to drop him to his house at Cusrow Baug.
Yet again the reply said a lot about the man. He said that it won’t be right for me to leave the guests and come with him.
Eventually, I persuaded to have him dropped by my car. This was the least that I could have done for a great man who had agreed to come to my function.
My next meeting with him was in December last year at his house after the launch of my book.
Happily, he had agreed to get photographed with my book in his hand. Today, as he turns 84 years, I pray for his good health and thank god for bringing me in touch with such a humble human being.