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The Caribbean Connection

Two former West Indian greats who fell head over heels with their Indian partners.

Feature 18 Feb 2017, 17:55 IST

Sir Viv Richards meets a woman of substance in Neena Gupta

Viv Richards with his ex-partner Neena Gupta

With flashlights blinding her, the young fashion designer sits down to talk to the media even as clothes designed by her fly off the shelves at the lifestyle exhibition in the plush five star venue. She is one of the most successful and influential fashion designers of the country.

The interview begins with standard questions and comments.

“Half your collection was sold out in a couple of hours!”

“The country really loves your designs – how does it feel to reach such dizzying heights of success at this young age?”

“So when are you planning to open a store here?”

The charming designer replies with poise and grace. “I know that I have made my mark in the sense that people are really copying my work all over the country! Today somebody walked in wearing my fake! In that sense, I have arrived.”

She exudes confidence as her answers clear the park, just as her celebrated father treated hapless bowlers in his heydays. Masaba Gupta has the confidence, the single-minded focus, and the swag of her father, the iconic Sir Viv Richards. She does mention, of course, that she has also inherited her father’s short temper.

However, it does not take too long for the discussion to veer in the direction of the celebrated love story of Viv Richards and Neena Gupta - the story that dates back to the eighties.

Viv, at the time, was separated from his wife Miriam. Neena Gupta and Viv Richards met and developed an instant liking for each other, the chemistry between them palpable. When she conceived Viv’s child, the feisty Neena challenged conventions and decided to keep the baby, ignoring advice from her friends and her conservative family. Masaba was born and Neena found herself in the eye of a media storm which she faced with grit and iron determination.

The daughter of a government official for a father and a strict Gandhian teacher for a mother, Neena had a rather orthodox upbringing, who was not even allowed to go to movies with her girlfriends when she was in college. When Neena moved to Mumbai in the early eighties to pursue a career in acting, she was allowed to do so on the condition that she would stay with her mother’s best friend.

By the time she conceived in 1989, Neena’s mother had passed away. Professionally, Neena had made her mark on the Indian television and in critically acclaimed movies.

Neena’s father did not initially approve of her decision, but, when he realised she was not the kind to give in to conventions, he stood by her like a rock till the last day of his life, taking on the role of the man of the house.

With love on their side, Neena and Viv made sure that, Masaba was never made to feel like her circumstances were different from her friends in school, even as his game took Viv around the world. While Masaba understood that she was the love child of celebrity parents, the family ensured she had a normal upbringing.  

Masaba has to say, “I have deep respect and love for both my parents. They are both their own kind of people, successful and yet not running with the herd. Through the time when I was between 8 till I turned 14, I remember my holidays with my father. He was very active in commentary then, travelling the world, and he would come to India quite often. I never really stayed with him, but mom and I would go for holidays with him.”

Today, Masaba has made peace with the fact that Sir Viv likes being home in Antigua. She respects his privacy. When she is in Europe or America, the girl makes sure she makes a trip to see her father.

As for Neena, when Masaba decided to launch her fashion line, she took care of the nitty-gritties, allowing Masaba to focus on her creativity. 

The love story of Neena Gupta and Viv Richards lives on through Masaba as she goes on to conquer the world with her unique and quirky designs.

When Sobers met Anju

It was the 1966-67 tour of India for West Indies and both as batsman and bowler, Sir Garfield Sobers kept adding new feathers to his already crowded cap.

In two of the Test matches, at Bombay and Madras, India were in challenging positions till Sobers arrived at the wicket, as late as number seven in the third Test. Each time, he was ruthless and devastating to the point of being infallible, except for a shaky start in the third Test.

Although the cricketing legend did not score a single century in that series, he scored 342 runs, influencing the destiny of the series in a way only he could. As a bowler, he captured 12 wickets, changing from his usual wrist spin to the orthodox variety as the playing conditions in India demanded.

However, Indians remember the 1966-67 tour of the West Indies for yet another reason.

The first Test of the Series was played at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay. The Indians fielded poorly and ended up losing the match by 6 wickets.

It was during this Test at Mumbai that the iconic all-rounder was introduced to a model and upcoming actress Anju Mahendru, who later went on to become an actress of repute and a fashion designer. She was only 17 at that time. They met at a party, where they both acknowledged and fell for each other’s dancing style!

Gary Sobers with his wife Prudence Kirby in 1969

In his autobiography, Sir Sobers describes his first impression of Anju as a "beautiful young actress". Years later, in a TV reality show hosted by Shekhar Suman on Sony, Anju, on her part, had to say, “Sobers had a tremendous sense of humour and he had everything that a young girl would look up at.”

Cupid struck and it did not take long for the two to fall in love. However, destiny was not on the side of the star-crossed lovers.

Sobers had to leave for England shortly afterwards to play for Nottinghamshire as its overseas pro. He was ready to take Anju along with him to England and marry her. But that was not to be.

Anju’s conservative family stood in the way. They had reservations against Anju’s travelling to England with Sobers. Her circumstances did not permit Anju to act against the wishes of her family.

In the months to follow, the distance, as well as lack of regular communication between the two dealt a fatal blow to their relationship.

Sobers finally married his Australian girlfriend, Pru Kirby, in September 1969, but not before calling up Anju and seeking her permission. 

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