Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The greatest VVS Laxman innings I witnessed off the cricket field...

The Sivam center at Hyderabad.
A VVS special at Shivam grounds VVS Laxman today is one of the stars in the galaxy that Indian cricket is and a very special one at that too. In fact, Ian Chappell, another great cricketer, termed him as ‘Very Very Special’ Laxman. The name has stuck since then and VVS has indeed demonstrated why he has been very, very special (or VVS) for Indian cricket. Laxman is retired now but still is hugely popular for his exploits on the cricket field. In fact, he is credited to have played one of the top 5 all-time knocks in cricketing history - the epochal 281 against the mighty Australians while following on in a Test Match. The result? It became the third game in the 200-year sport where a team which was following on went on to win a match.

While cricket enthusiasts will revel in these stats, the other readers will surely be simply nodding out of courtesy, waiting for something which they have begun to expect of these posts that I make about my Master and Lord, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. (By the way, in India, Cricket is almost a religion and great cricketers are considered Gods!) And it is with great joy and pride that I write what I witnessed on the 9th of June, 2013, during a magnificent children’s music programme organized at Sivam, Hyderabad.

A side-view of the stage during the children's performance on the 9th of June, 2013. Photo courtesy- Sai Kiran Boppanna
One of the guests for that event was VVS and he minced no words in revealing what made him Very Very Special. In fact, his name itself proclaims that truth because the ‘S’ in his initials does not stand actually for ‘Special’. It stands for ‘Sai’. The actual name is Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman and he got that name because his parents are devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The experiences that changed Laxman into a staunch devotee of Baba are indeed ‘very very special’ and interesting! Those were the stories that he narrated on that very very special evening.

An evening of music and color

The evening came as the culmination of a 5-day residential summer course conducted for children of the age group 10-15 in Hyderabad district. The summer course introduced them to a healthy, practical and correct way of leading life, placing emphasis on human values and Swami’s teachings. And for this, the members of the Hyderabad wing of Sri Sathya Sai organizations had toiled day and night, living with the children and lovingly guiding them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these teachers and volunteers epitomized Swami's love and divine energy. As part of the valedictory for this summer course, a group of over 50 talented kids had toiled hard for about 2 months to prepare for a musical extravaganza.

As VVS Laxman later admitted publicly,
“This has been a thrilling experience for me. After Swami left the physical, it is for the first time I felt His presence in my heart and in front of my eyes! You children are indeed blessed. My son, Sarvajith was asking me how children could do so many things in just 5 days. I told him that where Swami is concerned, nothing is impossible. My wife Shailaja never accompanies me to the public functions where I am called. But for this event, she insisted on coming. I am thankful to the organizers for giving me this opportunity.”

As the programme transitioned from instrumental numbers to group vocals, the stage needed rearrangement and the microphone levels had to be set. It was in this gap that Laxman was invited to the stage to share a ‘few words’. And it was in this short interval that I witnessed him play a ‘gem on an innings’!

The jubilant participants of the music programme and the 5-day summer course just before the curtains came down. Photo courtesy: Sai Kiran Boppanna
A different kind of pitch - a different kind of debut

As he stood on stage, VVS could not help but recollect his journey with Sai. It lasted 15 minutes but at the end of it, he got an ovation like he had received often after scoring those marvellous centuries on the cricket pitch. I felt so overwhelmed. I walked to him and said,
“Sairam! I had once the chance of interviewing you at Prasanthi Nilayam”
He remembered immediately, “Ah yes! How are you?”
“I am fine thank you. What you spoke now was simply awesome. You said that you are sharing with your Sai family here. Can I share the same with the Sai family worldwide?”
“Of course! Why not? I stand by every word I said”, he smiled.

And so here is the content of his brief but brilliant innings on stage.

Though his parents had been devotees of Bhagawan Baba, VVS got his first taste of Swami in late 1997. That was the time when the Sri Sathya Sai Unity Cup cricket match was being planned at the Sri Sathya Sai Hillview Stadium. Before the actual match between international players comprising a World XI against the international players of India XI, a trial match was to be held to judge the readiness of the pitch and the ground. That match was between the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh state cricket teams. VVS Laxman had just made international debut and was invited to play the ‘test’ match as a member of the Andhra Pradesh team.

His agreement was conditional,
“I will play only if I get close darshan of Baba and an interview.”
Little did he know that nobody can ever promise on Baba’s behalf.
“If you really wish that, Baba will make it happen”, was the assurance given.

Laxman did come to Puttaparthi for the first time in 1997. He played in the stadium there and even scored a half-century of runs. All the players were seated in Sai Kulwant Hall for darshan when Swami arrived and invited them all inside. The first question He asked got VVS stumped,
“Who is Laxman?”
The cricketer presented himself and was just in a daze. His mind went blank.

Laxman continues to wax eloquent in an extempore speech. Photo courtesy: Sai Kiran Boppanna
“There were so many of us cricketers in that room but none of us spoke. We were just staring at Swami, transfixed. That is natural; after all He is God”, Laxman admitted in the speech.
Laxman was going through a very tough phase in his career. He had just got the team India cap a few months before. His position in the team was more on an experimental basis and he had been shuffled in the batting order from being the 7th to being the opener. He had also batted at number 3 and number 5. He had been trying very hard but success had eluded him. Thus, he was facing heavy criticism. He had hoped to get some solace from his worries during the trip. Just seeing Swami made him light and happy. He seemed to have forgotten all his worries!

But Swami did not forget it. He lovingly held Laxman’s hand and said,
“I know that there are lot of worries in your mind. But don’t worry. They are just passing clouds.”

Laxman admitted,
“I knew that He knew exactly what I was going through. That was my first experience with Baba the God! After that, I know that He has been with me through and through. There is no doubt that all the things that I have achieved after that have been Baba’s wish. I am blessed to have experienced Swami so many times in my career.”
"There are many cricketers whose lives are centered
around Swami."
Photo courtesy: Sai Kiran Boppanna

Lost in admiration of another classy innings by VVS.
Photo courtesy: Sai Kiran Boppanna

Baba is an integral part of the cricketer’s lives

“It is not only me”, Laxman continued extempore on the stage,”many cricketers have their lives centered around Swami. Starting from the legendary Sunil Gavaskar who has had so many personal experiences with Swami to the greatest Sachin Tendulkar, their faith in Swami is firm. Even to this day, Sachin keeps a small altar with Baba ‘s picture and daily lights a lamp in front of it. On the field we discuss only cricket, but off it, we all talk about Swami so many times. It is our satsang.”

Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid are looked upon as Gods themselves by Indian cricketers and cricket fans alike. Little wonder that those that have not yet had the privilege of getting acquainted with Swami also begin to talk about Him! The way Swami touches lives is inscrutable.
“Someday, we should get even Sachin Tendulkar’s story”, I thought to myself.

Laxman continued to share how his life had been filled with Swami’s love and grace.
“My wife Shailaja was not a devotee when we got married. But today, her devotion and faith in Baba are stronger than mine. She even insisted that Swami alone should name our children. We went to Puttaparthi and waited for days because we wanted Swami to name the children. Swami did not disappoint us. He named the elder one as Sarvajith (one who conquers all) and the younger one as Achintya (the one beyond thoughts).”
VVS Laxman and his wife Shailaja with Baba
as He names their child, Sarvajith.
Photo courtesy: Nitin Acharya

(As I heard this, I remembered my classmate Achintya who was actually staying with Swami for a few months during that same period. His experiences with Swami are captured in an article entitled:

“My children are blessed to have seen Swami and been named by Him. All of you assembled here are also blessed to be Baba’s children. What else can I say but thank everyone for this opportunity”, concluded a moved Laxman as his wife silently wiped a few tears that rolled down her cheeks.

The gentle giant of a man who has made bowlers around the world shudder at his sight returned to the ‘pavilion’ after another ‘classic knock’. Everyone was lost in admiration for him and devotion for Swami. The grandeur and glory of Baba which we take so much for granted hits us hard when people of Laxman’s stature - he is an Arjuna awardee, a Padma Shri and the Wisden Cricketer of the Year (2002) - submit humbly to Him with gratitude and love.

The secret behind VVS being very very special is Swami as Laxman himself admits. 
I remember the words of the feared fast-bowler, Brett Lee, speaking about great batsmen,

“If you get Dravid, great. If you get Sachin, brilliant. But if you get Laxman, it's a miracle.”

In this respect, I would like to say,
“Mr. Brett Lee! Bhagawan Baba has got Laxman - not once but repeatedly. It is not surprising because miracles are visiting cards for Baba!”


I also had the privilege of interviewing Laxman as part of my duties for Radiosai. you can download that 52-minute audio clip from here -

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  1. Beautiful!!! Worth the wait :-) Will be great hear stories of Sachin and Rahul and actually will be good to just get a glimpse of their Cricket Satsang off the field. Swami is GREAT!!! Love you Swami. Sairam. PS: This was a quick read at work, will read it again slowly at home

  2. Feels so good to read Barru...

  3. Sairam Brother, I am so inspired by all your writings.


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