It was a cold Delhi winter morning in December 1999 when a neatly dressed Ankit, Aditi and Vineet (that's me) stood outside an amazing colonial style bungalow armed with folders and pens, on to get an interview as student reporters, one that was considered rare keeping the man's stature and his love for his privacy.
It was a big occasion for me in particular for the fact that I had grown-up listening to how the 'Tiger', the 'Nawaab' had got India its first overseas win, and that too with some classic display of the game called cricket. We soaked in the well-kept garden's sights and sounds and were seated in the lobby overlooking them. Shortly, a kurta-clad man arrived and such was his aura that we knew he was coming a few seconds before we could see him in the doorway.
My first sight of Mr. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was that of a well travelled rich man with apples for cheeks and a demeanor that smelled regal. "Hello kids, a crisp morning huh? How are you today," he said, followed by, "What will you have?," and he immediately started discussing the options - "Juice. No that would be inappropriate in this cold, hot chocolate, nah, not good." He gave us a glance and smiled mischieviously, well knowing that the words chocolate brought a gleam to our eye, and gestured an attendant, "Get them some hot kesar milk, its the right thing."
Such was his style that he commanded everything with a panache, making you an agreeable party with your interests in mind. Amazing, I registered. In the due course of the interview (a delightful conversation if I dare say), he told us about some anecdotes of the cricket in his days among other things.
We were lucky to be kids back then, as he opened up on a lot of things, gave his views and even played a bit of cricket with us (4 balls, to be precise, keep the elbow straight, he said).
When I asked him about what he felt about the fact that his son, Saif Ali Khan, could not be an athlete like his father, he quipped," Its good that he didn't take cricket too seriously, he wasn't particularly good at it. I think he is a more gifted footballer but lacks on the fitness front, all weights and no cardio."
For many, he is still the 'real' aggressor skipper to have led the Indian outfit and the nine Test victories under his leadership often betray the magnanimity of the feat, particularly when the pitches and the seamers of those times would give a heart attack to a modern day T20 specialist.
When we asked him what ailment afflicted the Indian team's performance at that time, his words then are as useful as now, specially after the drubbing in England, "Develop better pitches and play more first class cricket abroad. There is no substitute to exposure to different playing conditions, if it is tough, then be it. You have to do it if you want to win."
Spoken like a Tiger indeed! May you rest in peace o timeless hero.