While millions of Indians would give an arm or a leg to get a chance to touch Sachin, Rahul or MS Dhoni at least once in their life, I met someone who did this for a living. Meet Ramesh Mane aka Mane kaka, a man who went on from being a chemical plant operator to someone who keeps the cricketers “well oiled” and fighting fit. A lack of fulfillment with his job as a chemical plant operator led him to attend social service camps on the weekends and eventually a course in acupressure. He was soon conducting camps at the factory and as he honed his skills over time, even started giving massages to sportsmen at the factory.
Team India’s former masseur Ramesh Mane. Inset: Vikram Sathaye
This carried on for a while until one day he was summoned by Balwinder Sandhu to come and treat a young Sachin Tendulkar who had a back problem during one of the Ranji Trophy games. The rest as they say is history. Ramesh Mane served as the Official Masseur (yes there is such a designation) for the Mumbai Ranji team for seven years and then eventually from 2005 onwards he has been the official masseur and one of the most respected members of the Indian cricket team. Mane kaka recalls, “When I first entered the Indian cricket team’s dressing room I was told about a custom that required every new member to stand up on a chair in the middle of the room and introduce himself in a language he wasn’t fluent in.” Many had been subjected to this and all had a good laugh listening to a north Indian fast bowler speak in English followed by south Indian batsman speaking in Hindi. Finally it was Sachin who mediated and said that though this rule was sacrosanct, he would like to relieve Mane kaka from it and he went on to personally introduce him to everyone. Mane kaka said, “Sachin never liked older people being disrespected and this showed even in a lighter situation like this one.”
Whichever part of the world you meet Mane kaka in, he always has his jadi butis packed along with a cooker which he uses for preparing his ayurvedic concoctions. He says his job was to not only ensure the physical well-being of the players through massage but also create a mentally relaxing atmosphere in the dressing room. One of the many things he always does is create a praying space for players across religions to make them feel at ease.
Mane kaka believes that unless the mind relaxes, the body will not and hence one of the techniques he uses during his massages is music therapy. At any given time, he has at least three ipods with different kinds of music catering to players in the team. One of the first things he does after every tour is to go to Rhythm House (in Mumbai) to source the latest music available. When players are on a long tour, especially in countries like England or South Africa, their yearning for a simple home cooked Indian meal would often take them to his door and he would cook them a meal of simple dal rice or khichdi. He always carries a separate bag on tour which consists of dal, rice and various masalas because he cooks all his meals during the tour and he knows that if he wants better performances from the players he better feed them authentic Indian food once in a while.
He recalls an instance when almost 80 per cent of the Indian team was unwell because of the extreme cold in Ireland. Eventually it wasn’t some complicated medication but a eal of simple khichdi, the night before the game which helped the team recover and win the match the next day.
Mane was a spiritual guide: Greg Chappell
Greg Chappell, who coached the Indian cricket team from 2005 to 2007 was full of appreciation for Mane kaka. He said from Australia: “Mane played a very important role with the team. Over and above his masseur role he was a spiritual guide for many members of the team which gave many of them comfort. I have no doubt he will be keenly missed by those who availed themselves of his guidance.”