Mrs Lakshmi Shastri is most qualified to write a book on Ravi Shastri. Not just because she happens to be his mother, but for the amount of stories she can relate in little over an hour of our meeting.
Ravi turns 50 today.
Mrs Shastri lives alone in her Navjivan Society dwelling at Mahim after her husband Dr Jayadritha Shastri passed away at 78 in 2007. Her children (Ravi and Deepika) and grandchildren are all over the living room in the various photo frames.
“I can’t believe it’s 50 years since his birth,” she says, remembering May 27, 1962 when she gave birth to her first child in Purandare Hospital at Chowpatty.
Mrs Shastri is soft-spoken, but open and warm. Her love and respect for her departed husband lace her thoughts. “My husband encouraged Ravi a lot. He was always behind him and forever supported him,” she says.
She remembers coach BD Desai at Don Bosco telling Ravi to ‘drop that tennis racquet’ and concentrate on cricket. Not long after that, in 1974, Ravi led Don Bosco to an inter-school title, beating fancied St Mary’s in the final at Parsee Gymkhana. “No one will come and watch me, Ravi told us. He didn’t want us to come, but my husband went. As he got off the train at Marine Lines, he saw Ravi being lifted by his teammates. He knew he had done something special,” she recalls.
Mr and Mrs Shastri wanted to be as encouraging as possible, but they had their share of fears. At the start of his cricketing career, the question was, “how good is he?” The answer came from Podar College coach Vithal Patil, who told them: “He is Test match potential. Don’t come in his way.” In March 1980, Ravi represented Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy.
Mrs Shastri was a professor at National College, Bandra. She headed to work one February morning in 1981 with her ill father playing on her mind. During the day, she was called to the office and asked to open an envelope that had a message from her daughter at home. She opened the envelope with trepidation. The news was not what she thought, but about her son being called for India duty in New Zealand as a replacement for the injured Dilip Doshi. For the history professor, the rest was history.
“Ravi will tell you how he got the news,” she says, before giving little away: “He heard it from a security man while playing for Bombay in Kanpur. Ravi would never talk about himself at home. Like, on the evening he hit six sixes in an over (off Tilak Raj in a Ranji Trophy match against Baroda in 1985). He came home and started packing for the next match. I asked him what happened in the match and he just wouldn’t answer me. ‘Watch the 7:30 pm Marathi news,’ he said. Before that, I went to buy some groceries and a bhelpuri wallah told me that he had hit six sixes.”
She remembers the people who helped her son emerge as one of India’s finest all-round players — former Test great Polly Umrigar, who lent Ravi his India sweater to beat the New Zealand cold in 1981, late Rashid Kudroli that great torch bearer of Karnatak Sporting Association, Pradeep Vijayakar, late cricket writer, who provided encouragement in print.
“I used to follow cricket even before my marriage. I watched matches at Brabourne Stadium and used to collect photographs of Sir Don Bradman. If only I had them now. I followed Ravi’s progress closely. Whenever it was possible, I prayed for his success.”
Life was never the same after Ravi played a key role in India winning the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia where he was crowned Champion of Champions. Mrs Shastri remembers: “The media was not allowed to meet the players at the airport when the team returned, so everyone came here and the people from the area celebrated in the wee of the morning with a band.”
There was also great excitement when the Audi car arrived. “Ravi went to England after that and people from all over India used to land up here to see the car. That meant opening the garage each time, but we just couldn’t say no. Ravi was blissfully unaware of what was happening here. He then invited us to spend some time in England. I went to see the ground in Swansea where Sir Garry Sobers hit six sixes in an over.” There were not-so-happy times too. The first was when Ravi didn’t make the Bombay under-22 squad. “That affected him a lot, but he said, ‘I will show them with my performance.’ He was always passionate and determined.”
The booing at Wankhede Stadium in later years could never be pleasing for his parents although they took it in their stride. However, the victim of jeering told them, ‘once I am on the field, nothing affects me.’ She ensured her son completed his education. “Ravi was in New Zealand (1981) and it was time to fill the forms for his final-year exams. I remember filling them on his behalf and saying to him over the phone, ‘you are going to get this degree’. And he passed.”
Although his parents were close, fellow passengers in Ravi’s cricketing journey, they didn’t interfere with his personal choices. Ravi dated Bollywood actress Amrita Singh in the 1980s.
“He had a lot of female following. I used to receive lots of letters. Some of the envelopes just had a photograph of Ravi and somehow they were delivered to us. At one time, there was a very good marriage proposal for him and when we asked him, he said ‘I have someone in mind’,” Mrs Shastri recalls. That ‘someone’ happened to be his wife Ritu, who he married in 1990.
In 1994, he decided to call time on his cricketing career. Mother was not in agreement with the decision, which opened up a career in commentary. She says: “I told him, ‘anyone retires at 32? Okay, if you are dropped, you can always come back.’ But his father encouraged him towards commentary while I wondered how good he was going to be.”
Eighteen years later, Mrs Shastri has no more doubts; only prayers for her son.