The name came back, sepia-toned like the pictures, when I read the news yesterday. Back in the days when we would crowd around a radio to hear the deep robust voices of Anant Setalvad and Dicky Rutnagur bringing cricket to us, back in those school-uniformed, adolescent-angst days, we made up a name for the man. It was a play on his real name, but it was really a tribute to the catches the deep voices told us about, that we could only imagine, even when we later saw them in print. "Donath Manykar", we called him, soon changed slightly to "Do-haath Manykar". Good old "Two Hands, Make Many", meaning Make Many Catches.
Clumsy, you think? But what we really meant encapsulated all our yearnings for those matches, maybe in some metaphorical way even our yearnings in general. So it was even clumsier: "dive headlong and pull off many catches, always with those two hands just inches off the grass, stretched in front of you as you lie there, so close to the batsman that Setalvad's commentary makes us tremble in anticipation."
All that, wrapped up in two clumsy words.
Eknath Solkar became "Do-haath Manykar" and we chuckled at our wordplay cleverness ("ek" becomes "do" -- "one" becomes "two" -- and "sole" becomes "many", and of course "haath" is "hand"). Yet our name for him was also a measure of the excitement, above all, the man put in us. Sure there were Gavaskar's centuries, and the sharp captaincy of Pataudi and Wadekar, and Chandrashekhar's unpredictable genius with the ball. But for me, one man defined the competitive winning instinct Indian cricket found for a magical few years in the early- and mid-1970s. For me, one man stood for the coming of age not just of Indian cricket, but in some strange way of my friends and me, as we muddled through our teenage years.
And that man's name was Eknath. That man whose unbelievable catches had an uncanny way of turning matches upside down.
And the sudden catches he would conjure up left me with one lesson; yet the odd thing is that I think I did not fully articulate it to myself until I saw Pakistan's own mercurial madman, Shahid Afridi, tearing apart India's bowling earlier this year. These two men got me to believe that while any team -- cricket, quidditch or corporate -- needs its solid Gavaskar-like champions, it is best served by the edge the Solkars and Afridis give it. Because of the tiny element of doubt, even fear, they instil in their opponents' minds.
After all, in that stunning Indian summer of 1971, which English batsman, watching Solkar gobble up Knott out of Knott-hing at all, would not have thought to himself, that could have been be me? Which one would not have thought, how can I ever be safe when this man is around?
Just as I think that Afridi edge won Pakistan that Bangalore match, I believe the Solkar edge -- more than Gavaskar's runs or Chandra's devastating spells -- won India those spellbinding Tests in the 1970s.
So go well, Do-haath. I have no idea if there are such things as afterlives, but if there are, I know you're diving into yours. Hands first, sprawled below another astonished opponent, and forever sepia-toned.
June 27, 2005
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Do-Haath indeed. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Solkar when I was about 10 or 11. He was past his prime (this was in the early 80s), but in the one exhibition game he played, he played like it was a real game. There was an air of humility and simplicity about him.
The game may be churning out real professional cricketers now, but is it also churning out gentlemen cricketers like Eknath Solkar?
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