Last Saturday, I went to the Cooperage to attend a 4:30 pm condolence meeting in memory of the late sports writer K Bhaskaran, who had passed away earlier in the week. Since I checked in early, I was called to an area where the pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s Mumbai FC vs Pune FC I-League match was being held.
To get there, one had to walk either in front or behind the stands. I chose the latter and couldn’t help thinking about how often Bhaskaran would have frequented the Cooperage in his active years. It was a venue close to his heart, as dear as the Nagpada and Indian Gymkhana basketball courts.
K Bhaskaran was probably the last surviving sporting institutions who worked for The Times of India till their retirement. Pic/mid-day archives
Bhaskaran was probably the last surviving sporting institutions who worked for The Times of India till their retirement. Yes, they were institutions as famous as the people they covered. Sample this line-up: KN Prabhu (cricket), Sunder Rajan (cricket, tennis), Cecil Hendricks (horse racing), Joe Crasto (athletics), John Crasto (hockey, boxing), Leyland de Sousa (hockey, golf). Pradeep Vijayakar who joined them in the 1970s is no more too, but GK Menon, a former Times man, who ended his career with the Indian Express is still around, aged but sharp.
Bhaskaran was the quiet man from this group. He knew his sport but never indulged in lecturing. Nor did he misuse his platform. He was candid without being hurtful.
Former journalist Bruno Goveas recalled ‘KB’ arriving well before time for football matches and being well prepared for the starting whistle. “He never waited for the line-ups to be delivered to him in the press box. He would go down to the Western India Football Association (WIFA) office and collect it himself. And if you were late, he’d share the sheet with you and in a subtle, humourous manner remind you that you should have been in the box much earlier,” said Goveas.
Former India footballer Henry Menezes, now the WIFA’s CEO, remembered how he improved his game reading Bhaskaran’s reports and if he dished out some praise, you knew you had done well. Several in the football fraternity felt that if they missed a game at the Cooperage, Bhaskaran’s match report the following day told you everything that happened... move by move.
Football in India has undergone a sea change. English clubs want to make their presence felt here and the Indian Super League has attracted some level of glamour and awareness. Bhaskaran would have been happy, but he would have, just like he did to one of the game’s promoters not long ago, emphasised on the need to invest a good amount of those profits to talent spotting and infrastructure.
Bhaskaran was an antithesis to his best-loved sport. While football can be rough and its practitioners brash, he was forever calm and tidy. He walked at a brisk pace, his well-combed hair was never out of place and the lens of his spectacles was spotless.
He wrote regularly for this newspaper and in the pre-email days his copies were immaculately typed and delivered, many a time, by himself at our Tardeo office. I’ll miss those phone calls whose conversations used to be prefixed always by, “Bhaskaran here.”
He was quick with a piece on systematic problems in football or an obituary to do justice to a football personality who deserved to be recognised. I remember calling him late in the evening, as he got ready to sleep, for a piece on a fellow football writer who had just passed away. He obliged with the condition that someone would have to take it down.
Although he covered football and basketball extensively, he loved cricket literature. A few years ago, he called to say that he’d like me to have some old cricket books from his collection and sent them through a common contact. When I opened the packet I discovered they were classics, including Ray Robinson’s Between Wickets, Richie Benaud’s A Tale of Two Tests and a 1955 bound volume of World Sports magazines.
One of his last pieces for this newspaper was a tribute to footballer KP Krishnan in 2008. Bhaskaran started his piece like this: “ ‘if you have to go to a place you know to be dangerous, you shake with fear. If you go to the same place, accompanied by a friend, you do not visibly shake, though you still have fear. If you go to the same place with three or four friends, you do not know what fear is.
“ ‘In similar vein, if you knew that from VT station only bus route No 81 would take you to the Cooperage ground, you would be awaiting that bus for long, sometimes far too long, and let other buses go by. But, if you knew of other buses that can take you to the Cooperage, you would have reached your destination much earlier, more relaxed and comfortable. Likewise, in football, the greater your knowledge and skills, the quicker will be your progress.’ Thus did KP Krishnan, the football evangelist who breathed his last at Kozhikode on 7 June 2008, aged 88, explain to his wards the concept and practice of teamwork and the need to expand and master skills.”
Bhaskaran’s bus to ‘Elysian Fields’ (two words his sports editor at the Times of India, K N Prabhu used ad nauseum in his tributes) arrived last week. Bhaskaran would have loved that to be replaced with Cooperage.
Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor