Farewell Raju, well played!

Updated: Feb 13, 2020, 07:27 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Cricket writing has suffered a blow with the passing away of Raju Bharatan, who first covered an international series as a teenager way back in 1952 when India took on England in Old Blighty

The late Raju Bharatan at his Bandra (East) residence in 2015. Pic/Rane Ashish
The late Raju Bharatan at his Bandra (East) residence in 2015. Pic/Rane Ashish

Clayton MurzelloA pile of cricket-centric Illustrated Weekly of India issues stare at me as I write my tribute to the man who produced a majority of those numbers almost single handedly.

Those issues provide ample evidence of Raju Bharatan's zest for cricket, the undying desire to tell a good story, captivating the reader with a blend of data and drama, nostalgia and narration of the finest kind — many a time — through the lips of his subject.

Bharatan, 86, passed away a week into the second month of this year. Only few knew he was ailing for the past couple of months and fellow journalists like me who met him in mid-November at the MIG Cricket Club in Bandra for a tea party arranged for him by Makarand Waingankar, it was nothing short of a blow. He showed no signs of any illness. He shared the tea table, relished the snacks and reminisced of the time when he covered his first cricket tour — England 1952 — as a teenager.

Bharatan, who also excelled in Bollywood music writing, was an analytical writer but didn't shy away from putting the onus on cricketers in his first person pieces for the magazine he commendably served.

He assembled a star cast for his World Cup 1979 special issue: Sunil Gavaskar on being among Sir Garfield's Sobers's 10 best batsmen, Dilip Sardesai on India conquering the West Indies in 1971, Eknath Solkar speaking on his best catches, MAK Pataudi on his experiences as an editor, Ajit Wadekar on his most awkward moments as captain and Vinod Khanna on cricket, and not films, being his first love.

Other specials were no less well-received. When Khushwant Singh wrote his autobiography Truth, Love and a Little Bit of Malice in 2002 (Penguin Books), he didn't fail to mention Bharatan's cricket issues. "I must admit that it was neither my features on criminals, courtesans, cabaret dancers, communities, film stars or politics which hit the highest mark, but those on cricket prepared almost entirely by Raju Bharatan," Singh wrote, mentioning that the circulation figure once reached 4,10,000 copies. And if the magazine could boast of images shot by the highly-skilled and popular Patrick Eagar, it was only because Singh sent Bharatan to England to chose the best photographs for the magazine.

The 1970s was a rocking era for Indian cricket and Bharatan wrote extensively of this period. He may have not been in the West Indies or England for those Wadekar-led series triumphs but he did justice to those series in the Illustrated Weekly. He was stunned as any other cricket enthusiast about how India stormed back in the 1974-75 home series against the West Indies after being two Tests down only to lose the deciding game, something that India replicated during the Australian summer of 1977-78.

Bharatan wrote on cricket regularly across five decades; that's hell of a lot of work, but his tour de force could well be The Victory Story (India v MCC 1972-73), India's second full length cricket film after Pace v Spin that featured the 1966-67 India v West Indies contest.

Bharatan decided to direct The Victory Story for the Films Division of India. Putting together a 112-minute film of a five-Test series was not so much of a worry but sifting through 58,000 feet of film was as chaotic as chaos can get. It meant working from 6 pm to midnight every weekday and double the time on weekends for 151 days (as mentioned by Bharatan in his piece on the film in the April-June 1976 issue of Sportsweek's World of Cricket). A less patient individual would have given up if he discovered that footage of the first day of the fourth Test was in the film reel that had footage of the opening Test. But Bharatan was blessed with a splendid producer in Pramod Pati.

Pati comforted Bharatan and coerced him in tough times when the producer himself required a shoulder to cry on with him suffering from cancer. Pati got out of hospital as promised and somehow managed to clear the film. At the end of a viewing in 1974, he stretched out his hand and exclaimed, "Good work, Raju. I knew you could do it." The hand that Bharatan held was, in his words, "cold and yet warm — cold from cancer, warm from joy." Pati earned a promotion at Film Division for this project but couldn't conquer cancer. He passed away in 1975.

The film which some cricket lovers viewed at Plaza in Dadar, received mixed reviews. Bharatan accepted the criticism but attributed the bouquets to his producer who he felt, "died unhonoured by the cricket world, though it owed him an unrepayable debt of gratitude for the pioneering zeal he displayed in organising India's first full-length feature film from mere newsreel leftovers."

Bharatan didn't have a copy of The Victory Story and I had the pleasure of presenting him a DVD procured from Films Division a few years ago.

I owed Bharatan much more than that. His 1979 World Cup Illustrated Weekly issue fuelled my interest in cricket. I lost the original one and he regretted not being able to find one for me when we got to know each other in the late 1980s. When I finally got my hands on one, I made sure I treasured it and got him to sign it.

That issue is at the top of the pile as I end this. Rest in peace Raju Bharatan. You've earned your rest.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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