Former captain of the Indian hockey team V Baskaran has met the likes of Usain Bolt and Roger Federer. He played a hand of tennis with Steffi Graf in Germany. He is also friends with Rajinikanth.
If we continue to name drop, the list will be studded with stars. But it is important to acknowledge that despite the celebrities on the list, it is likely that Baskaran is the main character here.
When he strides into a room, however small it may be, it is evident that the man who led India to their victory at the 1980 Moscow Olympics has arrived. He does so with simple gestures. There are firm handshakes, easy conversations and an ever-present smile.
At Irani Cafe on Mount Road where we meet for tea and kutti samosas packed with vegetables, it feels like everyone knows him. “I used to come here back when a tall Pathan man who was about 6 ‘4, sold tea. We would finish our hockey matches, cycle down Mount Road through Taj Connemara and arrive here. The cafe would be rife with discussions. Tea was chargeable but the samosas were free,” he says.
Having spent all his life in Chennai with a significant chunk in Royapettah, Baskaran knows the thoroughfares of the city’s centre like the back of his hand. The hockey star studied at Wesley school and Loyola College, and began playing the sport at a young age. The third son to his parents, Baskaran calls his mother a “strong, kind lady” and his father “an Englishman” with a laugh.
School and college life would be spent eating and playing. This is besides the occasional mischief. “We were hungry all the time. My mother would make us two breakfasts. Idlis at 7.30am and dosas in the pocket for a second round at 8.30am on the way to school,” he says. On days he would win matches, there would be an inventive-filled lunch with different meats. “On other days though, my mother would know. She would ask, ‘Enna thothutengala da?’ and ask us to eat a hearty mix of chickpea and yam for our protein,” he says.
There is no doubt that Baskaran is a family man. He says that he thoroughly enjoyed growing up and living with his parents, wife, brothers and sisters in law in Royapettah. The house would always be packed and there would be too much laundry to do. The house always embodied the several dictates of Baskaran’s father. There was usually cheer, hard work, kindness and never too much discussion about money. In an ideal world, he would not have moved out of this set up but the future needed to be accommodated.
This is when the ‘Hockey House’ came into the picture.
Located off Tiger Varadachari road in Besant Nagar, this house is famous for being famous. With hockey sticks and the Olympic rings on the facade, the house makes one pause, gape a little and engage in some casual voyeurism. It is a beautiful, unique house.
Baskaran says that he is not a Besant Nagar man at heart but turned a corner when he could make this property his own. It has laid the foundation for the growth of his family. It is where his son and daughter grew up and where he now continues to spend his time.
This is not to say that he doesn’t come back to Royapettah and Mount Road. The hockey star’s favourite indulgence is a pair of well-tailored pants and shirt. His wife complains about his wardrobe brimming with many unused and stunning t-shirts. “What can I say, I like the occasional shopping,” he says.
You might wonder if this 73-year-old is ever didactic. He has, after all, lived a long, exciting life. He isn’t.
“I don’t think we should tell people how to live their life,” he says and follows it up with “Be kind, make friends. The money will follow.”
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