Cricket – ‘Ab Praveen Kumar English bolega’

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May 3, 2015

Praveen Kumar last played for India in 2012. After two years in wilderness and depression, he returned to IPL. Sriram Veera meets the street-smart swing bowler who is now at peace with himself, dreams of becoming a bowling coach and is learning a new language.

May 3, 2015

Praveen Kumar last played for India in 2012. After two years in wilderness and depression, he returned to IPL. Sriram Veera meets the street-smart swing bowler who is now at peace with himself, dreams of becoming a bowling coach and is learning a new language.

"Social media? Mujhe acha nahi lagta! Koi zaroorat nahi ki mein apne aap ko expose karoon. Log jaante hain mujhe. (I don't like it, I don't need to expose my life to the world, people know me)," says Praveen Kumar.

Praveen Kumar is talking about the Indian philosopher Chanakya and Hussain Zaidi, a raconteur of tantalising tales from the underworld. His ringtone is the gruffly voice of Amitabh Bachchan speaking a dialogue from a movie. He talks about how he loves the sound of guns and relishes target shooting. He swears “mummy kasam” that he has never physically hit anyone in his life, goes all sweet about his Labradors, and turns mush about his two-year old daughter Saaya. And talks ambitious about his new dream to become a bowling coach. “Ab PK English bolega," says the new PK in his old style.

Through his career, all sorts of things have sprung up about him. Sometimes, he is following a doctor with a rifle in his hand, getting a bad rap from a match referee, yanking out stumps from the nets and threatening a bunch of unruly fans who were riling Rohit Sharma.

So much so that it’s easy to forget this man was hailed as “Magician” by Manoj Prabhakar and dazzled the world with his swinging skills in the 2008 tri-series final against Australia during his early days or even in 2011, the year he played his last Test in England. In between he played 68 ODIs and 6 Tests and took 104 international wickets while pursuing the dying art of swing bowling.

He might see himself as “mast maula” (carefree spirit), and to a large extent he is, but it’s clear that he is a very emotional man. So much negative stereotyping cannot but leave a mark on such a character. He still tries to shrug them off but inside it keeps bubbling, festering, like a faceless monster. It’s almost a futile battle when you don’t know who you are fighting against. Chanakya can help but as he says, “mobile mey yeh quotes sab acche lagte hain but real life kuch aur hai yaar” (These quotes sound good when someone forwards them on your mobile but real life is different).

Big family, bigger heart

So we start with his real life. Hailing from a large joint family of farmers and wrestlers, his interest was always in sports.

They were relatively big farmers owning about 50 acres but the vagaries of sugarcane farming meant the cash flow wasn’t always great and the family was large. 38 of them, in fact. Only his father brought in regular income from his job as a constable, especially after his uncle, a wrestler, lost his job as his company DCM shut down. It’s in these years that PK grew up.

Kumar remembers his school lunch. Roti rolls, folded up with boora, finely granulated form of sugar. “Boora jaanta hai na? Voh leke jaata tha and at school, other kids would have fancy stuff. What we eat these days.”

And what were those? “Jeera-Alu, sandwich, vagera. Mein sochta tha, yeh kya hai?, Mummy bolti thi beta boora sey jyaada shakti milegi tujhe. (Black cumin-potato curry, sandwich, excetra. I used to wonder what these things are? Mummy said it’s more nutritious and will give you strength).”

 “Voh thoda aarthik sankat ka period tha. Theek hai yaar. Hota hai sabki zindagi mey, hain na?” (That was a period of economic difficulty, it’s alright, these things happen in everyone’s life). Another memory bleeds through. The U-19 trials was in town and Kumar realised he needed a shoe with spikes. His eye fell on swanky new Puma shoes that had hit the market then. “Told Mummy, it will be Rs 3,000 . “Teen hazaar?” wondered the mother. "Koi nahi, mummy, main jugaad karta hun”. (No problem, mother I will try to manage).

Off he wheeled his Hero Jet bicycle here and found a person, at a sweets shop, willing to sell his old pair of spiked shoes for Rs 2,000. “So I told my father. Look, my papa is an emotional man like me. He mumbled out that he shall see. Next morning, he had given mother the money.”

That U-19 trial changed the life of Kumar, as he was spotted and encouraged by Gopal Sharma, former cricketer. “But look at the mind-set of my parents then. They knew I wasn’t lying or going to waste the money; they had the belief in me.”

People constantly encouraged this naughty kid. Like his brother. Kumar skipped the practice exams before the final board exams of the 10th standard and went to play cricket. “That evening my brother asked me where had I gone? I told him exams. ‘Ok, exams? Where is the question paper? They took it back ! ‘Hmm, really, by the way, you hit that six well today’. I knew he had found out and told him sorry sorry bhaiya, don’t tell papa. He only told mummy!” Kumar laughs as he tells the story.

Rohit, friend for life

Some days to laugh, some days to forget. The year after he couldn’t make to the 2011 world cup due to an injury — that miss still gnaws him — he was hit by dengue fever. To his horror, when his body recovered, Indian cricket seemed to have moved on without him. He couldn’t get sold in the IPL. Depression set in. The mast maula was gone and a brooding emotionally vulnerable man was in his place, unable to comprehend what had happened. Kumar is a proud man and couldn’t reconcile to reality. He shudders even now at the memory. “Yaar, I was bowling so well in England, everybody was praising and I was dreaming about Test career and then suddenly, gone, Gaya sab kuch.”

Help came from a team-mate. Rohit Sharma rallied behind Kumar and convinced of his skills, he fought to get a contract with Mumbai Indians last year.

“Dost hai, mera brother hai. Tamam zindagi nahi bhoolonga (He is my friend, brother. Won’t ever forget his help all my life). I want to send a message to other people. People who would say one thing to my face, say something else on my back, and now, say something else altogether, I am the same PK. Insaan nahi badalta yaar, halat badalte hain, insaan ko change nahi hone chahiye. (Circumstances might change, but people shouldn’t change).

Rohit, Kumar says, was instrumental in him getting out of depression. “People don’t know him and say this and that but Rohit has a big heart. He is a genuine man, a real friend.” What does losing a spot in Indian team and time in wilderness really mean? Was it the loss of money? Was it the dream crashing? Was it the pain of turning anonymous? “I have seen glamour. I have played cricket for India. No one can take that away from me. Google sey mera naam nahi mitega. At least for 20 years. (My name won’t be erased from Google!).”

He then takes a lovely snarky jab at the perceptions floating about him and society in general. “Sab hawa hai. Hawa mey Hindustan mey cricket khel jaate hain log, hawa mein Hindustan mey business kar jaate hain log. Main Meerut sey hoon bhai. I knew all this from before!” (Everything is hawaa. Hawaa makes people play for India, start big business. I am from Meerut, I am wiser).

And what is hawa exactly? He explains it in his own style. “Tomorrow I shall say you are a 150kmph bowler or a good batsman. That your fielding is great. That your attitude is great. And keep repeating it. Then image sets in about you. This is hawa!” And he winks!

It wasn’t the loss of money that hurt him. “What is money? We are a 38-member family. We are still together. Behen ki shaadi kiya, Tau ji ke ladke ko kaam pey lagwaya, chacha ke ladke ka school banwaya, ab do behene hai, unki shaadi karni hai (Sister got married, got a job for uncle’ son, a school for another uncle’s kid and now I have two more sisters for marriage.) So this is PK. People might say a lot but come to where I live and ask about me. Then you will know. I am not saying all this to say I did this and that; I am proud of it that I could be of help to my large family. Money has its purpose to do good things for the people you care. That’s all.”

Daughter, wife, sukoon

It’s time for Chanakya. Kumar flicks through his phone and paraphrases a bit. “Jo dhan ati kast sey prapt ho, dharm ka tyag karne sey prapt ho, shatru ke saamne jhuk ne sey prapt ho, is prakaar ka dhan ko katay apne paas na rakhen.” (The wealth that comes from great difficulty, that comes from shirking your dharma, or that comes from bowing down in front of your enemy, never keep that kind of money with you). Chanakya is a legend. I respect him a lot.”

It’s something deeper that has hurt him. The suddenness of feeling unwanted, the forced push into wilderness when he thought he had more to offer, the feeling of being let down by some people and the thought of being denied what he loved doing. “Ek Junoon (passion) hai yaar. This strange feeling, I know that I am good and can play.”

He is at peace with himself these days. If the implausible return to Indian team happens, it happens, he says. His two-year old daughter Saaya has helped.

“I play with her during the day. In the evening, I go to the farm with my father, then back to my wife Sapna (“love cum arranged marriage”) and daughter. Some time with my friends in the evening. Simple life of sukoon (peace). What else does one want?”

The talk about his daughter begged the question. What sort of father he sees himself as? “Take-care father yaar. I love my daughter. If she wants anything, I shall get it, even if I have to climb a mountain.”

A short while earlier, he had talked about how there was no concept of pocket money in his childhood days and about how it was unnecessary even. Will he give his daughter any money to spend? “200 lakh percent ! I will give. Whatever she wants! I won’t give it to a son, maybe but to my daughter yes!”

Good times are here. The angst seems to have subsided for now. He is focussing more on bowling well for whatever team he plays and work on that desire to become a bowling coach.

“People tell me that I have this ability to share whatever I know about bowling to others. I want to become a bowling coach. People know that I have this knowledge. PK ch****** nahi hai. I am learning English as well. Ab PK English bolega!” And he slips into that lovely naughty laughter again.


Courtesy: Indian Express Author Sriram Veera