By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, March 24 (IANS) Cricket legend Bishan Singh Bedi always had a firm grip and control over the ball while bowling his flighted left-arm spinners. The only difference these days is that he holds not one but two balls in his hands at the same time on medical advice. Instead of the leather, these are rubber balls meant to stimulate muscles after his recent multiple operations. And when his granddaughter throws the same fluorescent coloured balls in the air, Bedi’s eyes light up and brings a smile to his face, even as he advises her: “catch it, catch it”.
Six-year-old Suhavi, daughter of Bedi’s daughter, is clearly the lifeline of the 74-year-old former India captain. So, when the ponytailed Suhavi throws the same green and orange fluorescent coloured balls high up in the air and tries to catch them, Bedi breaks into a genuine smile. And the shouts of “catch it, catch it” come out naturally and instinctively.
It is evening time and Bedi, along with wife Anju, daughter Neha, and her husband Gautam — besides the two male nurses — are sitting in the large lawn at the back of ‘Cricket Abode’, the name of his sprawling spacious south Delhi farm house. Neha affectionately makes her father drink something from a cup and eat a couple of cookies. Although Bedi is not too interested, he gives in to his daughter’s pleading.
Although Bedi is temporarily moving in a wheelchair as he recovers from a recent open heart surgery and its after-effects, his indomitable will hasn’t dimmed one bit, much like the courage he showed while flighting the ball to flummox batsmen and spell their doom. All his faculties are alert, coherent, and functioning well. This became evident when he warned one of the male nurses to not annoy one of his pet dogs.
Besides being fond of dogs — in mid-1990s there were a dozen, now there are only four left — Bedi “likes” wearing T-shirts and shorts at home, say his family members. Little wonder therefore that even these days he wears the same attire, with the unmistakable logo of ‘Bishan Singh Bedi Coaching Trust’, which he found around 30 years ago, displayed on his T-shirt and the shorts he is wearing.
Bedi speaks less these days due to weakness — only bubbly Suhavi brings out a smile from him and the odd shouts of “catch it” — but he minutely observes everything. He was quick to praise the green-and-black checked shirt of a visitor: “Very good check”. Like a perfect host, he quickly asks Neha to make tea and snacks for the guest, and tray duly arrives in no time. Talking of cookies, the affable Anju informs that her husband particularly likes cookies with embellishments on top.
Now, Suhavi, the cynosure of all eyes, changes track as her father Gautam, husband of Neha, brings out a plastic golf set. Several plastic balls are placed on the spiral, Suhavi hits them one by one to a plastic hole above the ground that her father holds a few metres away.
Bedi also grows crops at the back of his farmhouse. Since the surroundings are thick with trees, stray peacocks venture into the cricketer’s backyard. Suhavi suddenly leaves golf set and chases one of the peacocks, even makes a sound similar to that of a peacock. All this keeps everyone in the family, particularly Bedi, engaged and glued.
The only missing family members are Bedi’s actor son Angad and his well-known actress wife, also named Neha. Lo and behold, Angad from Mumbai makes a video-call on her mother’s mobile even as Bedi was engaged in a chat. Anju asks daughter Neha to hold phone to her father so that he could speak to him. When Angad asked “how are you?”, Bedi answered with a question: “how are YOU?”
Angad, a Bollywood actor, was attending his father in Delhi, but had gone back to Mumbai for some work. But like a faithful son, he remains in constant touch with his father on phone on a daily basis, and keeps visiting his father every now and then, along with his wife Neha, also an actor.
Interestingly, now since there are two Nehas in the Bedi family, how do the family members distinguish between the two when both are present. If anyone thought there would be confusion when someone calls either Bedi’s daughter or the daughter-in-law, Anju says the issue is easily resolved by following a tradition in the Sikh families.
“In our households, even the elderly don’t call the bride by name. They address them by saying ‘wife of so and so’. So, when both Nehas are at home, I call them in the similar way,” says the articulate Mrs Bedi, who shifted from Kanpur to Delhi in 1980 after her marriage.
All this while, the fluorescent rubber balls are at play, either in the hands of Bedi, who had a paralytic attack too, or of Suhavi. Pressing these balls stimulate muscles, explains Dr Natottam Puri, an old friend of Bedi. “There are several ways of doing physiotherapy, and this is one of those. When the hands press the rubber ball, it stimulates muscles and gets rid of muscle atrophy,” says the well-known doctor-turned-cricket-commentator. Then Puri pays a huge compliment to his friend of several decades, referring to Bedi’s never-say-die spirit: “There’s a fast bowler’s heart in a spinner’s body.”
Time has passed quickly, and the sun is about to set. Bedi has been sitting in the wheelchair for long, and he is now feeling tired. “Can I go inside now, please?” he politely asks his wife. Everyone agrees. “Would you like to take a walk?” Anju and Neha ask him. But Bedi is not too interested. So, Gautam pushes his chair inside. Suhavi too goes inside, after chasing the peacocks. The rest of the family members and the two nurses also walk inside the covered area of the vast ‘Cricket Abode’, far from the madding crowd of Delhi.