Sleepless with Sourav
Finally the end of a long day, which finished at 11:55 pm, predictably with a call from Rajdeep. It was exactly how it had begun.
At 7 that morning, when I was still snoozing in my quilt, my phone had beeped with a text message. It was the boss. "Sourav coming to Delhi. Follow it." Bloody hell, does this man sleep?
Indian cricket's biggest enigma was going to landed in Delhi to meet the new board president Sharad Pawar and attempt to salvage his career. I tried to get confirmation of the same by making calls within Delhi and to Calcutta, the former capital of Indian cricket. As usual, the signals were confusing. With Ganguly, you don't expect anything else and I decide it was time to begin climbing Moutn Everest: as in trying to reach Sourav.
Otherwise accessible, Sourav can be unreachable when you need him the most. I reached the office with a silent prayer - "I wish he decides not to come to Delhi..." and when I walked in was greeted by Rajdeep. "If you don't get his interview I will screw your happiness." The day was spent watching Indians rubbing more salts into Sri Lankan wounds and making desperate calls to confirm the news.
At 3.30 pm my phoned beeped again. Message from "Dada". Sourav was asking another question altogether and my attempts to ask him about his Delhi trip in a subtle way, was met with deep silence. At 4.30 pm it is confirmed that Sourav Ganguly was leaving Kolkatta at 5.30 pm, reaching Delhi at 7.30 pm, meeting Pawar at 8.00 pm and leaving for Kolkatta next morning at 6.30 am.
In Kolkata there were 12 cameras outside his house waiting for a shot of him leaving his Behala home. At Kolkata airport, there are 18 cameras and three OB's vans waiting for him to arrive at the airport. In Delhi airport, there are 15 cameras and OB's waiting for him to land and the same number at 6 Janpath where Pawar lives. Who is arriving here - Ganguly or George Bush?
In between, Sports Editor Gaurav Kalra keeps looking at me from behind his swish new glasses, amused at this outbreak of news rash. But there is a weariness in us all: when will this wretched Ganguly-Chappell drama end? Sorry Gaurav, my inner voice has given me no answers. I wish I had answer for your inner voice.
At 5.45pm it is time for me to head into the thick of the fight for soundbytes and camera shots. I hope to get five minutes with Ganguly but sometimes that is like expecting to find a tea shop on the top of Everest. When we get there, the OB can't find a link. There are a lot of trees on Janpath and Assignment is hollering at me as if I have planted all of them.
There only love between Assignment and reporters is that they love to hate each other. Reporters believe that only they know what it's like to be out in the field and Assignment thinks that all reporters actually do is make excuses.
Outside Pawar's house, it is windy and chilly - soon the winter fog will arrive. Digvijay, posted at Delhi airport, calls to say the flight is late. Rumours fly: he won't meet Pawar today, he will but in another location. We are going mad with anxiety. I and Vikrant Gupta from Aajtak used our Chandigarh connection and speak to I S Bindra. We manage to get refuge inside Pawar's house.
At 9:20 pm, when the rest of India is discussing Ganguly at dinner time - "arre Ganguly ka kya hua? Mila kya Pawar se?" - Ganguly arrives and walks straight past to meet the president. No eye contact. Bad news.
The meeting starts and fervent gossip begins. What will happen? Come back? Retirement? Will he get Chappell sacked? Will Pawar treat him properly as he is seen as a a Dalmiya man.? Will Pawar offer him dinner? What will the menu be? After one hour-and-five minutes, when Ganguly and Pawar emerge it's a happy, smiling photo-op. They leave the talking to BCCI member Rajiv Shukla, who has not been inside the room.
Shuklaji wants us to believe that the two men met for the betterment of Indian cricket. Yes, and Sourav's name is really George Bush. As a reporter I am in crisis mode: Sourav shakes hands and murmurs, "I am in Taj Palace." I find the cameraman, we hide our camera and mike in my bag because five star hotels don't like to see the TV media prowling on their precints.
At the Taj, Ganguly is on the dreaded DND mode and is not replying to my frantic SMSes. My wife calls to ask when I intend to come home: it is close to 11pm. Visions of Rajdeep tearing strips off me begin to float through my mind. The things you have to do in television. The duty manager's computer station is abandoned and we try to find out which room he is in. We figure out it is 760 and try to sneak up only to be sent down by security men: it is 11:10 pm.
We decide it's not worth to hanging around and turn around to leave when there's a pat on my back. It's India's most successful, loved/hated, praised/condemned captain. And its most elusive. He just wants to chat informally and he is in no mood for soundbytes. Atfer all the hard work, it seems inexplicable to back off with Sourav standing there in front of us - looking like a ripe media fruit ready for the plucking - but that's how it works with the man.
He is relaxed, discusses the meeting only in passing but mostly cracks jokes about his own state. He is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
We leave the hotel but not without extracting a promise that having refused us, he shouldn't be liberal with the bytes to others. When the Chappell-Ganguly madness began, I had thanked my stars we were not on air. I didn't expect the saas-bahu drama to carry on for four months. I get home at ten-to-midnight. The phone beeps again.
It's The Man Who Doesn't Sleep: "Any news on Ganguly?"