The first time I heard of Bapu Krishnarao Venkatesh Prasad was 26 years ago. I don’t know too much about cricket, even less about cricketers. The person who was talking about this stranger while blushing prettily was my Benguluru friend, Jayanthi. It was a candid, woman-to-woman tête-à-tête with me being the older woman. She was seeking my advice on the budding romance between her and a lanky, successful cricketer who had captured her heart. “Go for it!” I encouraged Jayanthi. What was there not to like about this shy, self-effacing, old-fashioned bowler who was making waves! And Jayanthi did! Soon after their marriage came their son, Prithvi. When I called to congratulate Jayanthi she joked, “He’s a long, long, long baby—definitely takes after his father.”
For a while, I followed Prasad’s career as he gradually shifted from playing for India to being an expert commentator and bowling coach. When I met Mrs and Mr Prasad recently at my book launch at the Taj West End, Bengaluru, I was delighted to see how good both of them are looking—fit, trim, wonderfully well-dressed and full of beans. Jayanthi has lost none of her sparkling, infectious joie de vivre, and Prasad retains his disarming reticence, as he lets his attractive wife hog all the attention. We talked of old times and laughed at some crazy memories of Jayanthi behind the wheel, as we sped to the impressive Titan factory in Husur. I recall hanging on to the seat of the car, as Jayanthi whooshed past traffic at breakneck speed, chatting and talking the whole time! I’m not sure if anything significant has changed about her—I certainly hope not! While all of us at the table were busy exchanging notes about old times and common acquaintances, Prasad was nibbling at his food, eating tiny portions.
Jayanthi teased her husband about being such a stickler with diets and adhering to his intermittent fasting programme no matter what. “He won’t touch a morsel of food till 12:30pm….” Jayanthi shared, much to Prasad’s embarrassment.We talked IPL and cricket, and how the game had changed since he played for the country and created such a sensation back then. Or the time Javagal Srinath and Prasad forged a formidable combo, when he was a new ball partner with his statemate. Unfortunately, Prasad got passed over in 2001 and took to coaching, even though his supporters believed he still had a lot of active playing years ahead of him. It is refreshing to meet a celebrated cricketer devoid of an ego.
I watched Prasad posing for pictures with the waiting staff of the Taj, with a kind word and a smile for all. Meanwhile, Jayanthi and I were laughing uproariously at recollections from the past—famously, when Jayanthi had sharply ticked off politico Raj Thackeray for smoking during the finals of the Titan Cup at the Garware Stadium, despite prominent signs banning cigarettes. This was when Raj Thackeray was still a force to reckon with and seated in the VVIP enclosure. He had arrogantly ignored her polite request, forcing her to draw the attention of the cops hanging around, who did not dare say a word to Thackeray. Eventually, Thackeray was persuaded by his groupies to stub out the ciggie and not create a scene.
Jayanthi remains as gutsy and indomitable even today—one more reason to love her. As for Prasad, he will be with his team (Kings XI Punjab) as bowling coach in Mumbai during the IPL, and I’m hoping his wife will join him, too.