Friday, June 17, 2022

C/O Support System

Whenever I see someone on Twitter post a tweet about feeling low, my response invariably involves two words – support system.  I might not know them personally.  But my hope is that my response urges them, if they have not done so already, to tap into their support network.  I don’t think any rule applies to everyone.  But I can aver that a core set of people whom you can bank on for sharing your lows and highs, is a vitally important ingredient in the recipe for peace of mind.  I state this based on experiences, be it my own or shared or observed.  Regardless of whether they are an introvert, ambivert or an extrovert, the ones in whom I observe immense centeredness, are the ones who have a set of people in whom they place tremendous amount of trust.  If this is so simple, why do we not do more of it?  Why do we still feel the burden of the world’s weight on our shoulders from time to time?  Why do we sometimes feel suffocated, heavy, and unable to think clearly?

To begin with, self-reliance, as a concept, is overrated.  Emotional independence is not a binary concept.  Instead, it is a spectrum that has, on the one end, people that have the requisite inner steel to take good care of themselves regardless of the highs or lows that they go through.  In the middle are the ones who rely on others for certain aspects of their lives but are self-sufficient for other matters.  At the other end of the spectrum are ones who have much reliance on a set of people to get through their lives.  Excitement or anguish, for these people, cannot exist in a vacuum.  It must be shared.  Every place in this spectrum has validity.  No position is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others.  What matters is that we identify where we are in the spectrum, know when to tap into our inner reserve and when to unhesitatingly seek out the presence of the ones in whom we have entrusted our genuine emotions.

It is equally important for the ones who are a part of others’ support systems to realize where in the spectrum are the ones who seek their support.  If I know that I am an essential part of the support system of someone who really needs me to be an engaged listener on certain aspects of their life, then it behooves me to make time for them when those aspects of their life are amplified in importance.  People seek support in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it is to vent, at other times, it is to seek clarity.  Some seek advice, others seek perspectives from our own lives.  Regardless of what they seek, it is important that we know when to give, and how.  Our preferences don’t matter as much as their needs. 

One thing I especially admire in people who give out support, is their ability to push, coax and prod the recipient to think and identify a solution from within.  As they say, it is better to teach how to fish than buying them fish.  Of course, not all situations might lend itself to that kind of guidance but it is certainly a trait that I admire in people.  I also have tremendous respect for the ones who urge the people they support, to seek professional help, be it psychological, legal or any assistance that would get to the core of their issue.  When someone near and dear gives that sort of advice, we are bound to feel less worried about societal stigmas and antiquated notions.  Of course, as recipients of advice, we would want to filter it through our own sensibilities.  But nevertheless, it is wise to listen to the well-meaning advice of trustworthy people in our life even if it feels like it would take some effort on our part to execute on it.

At the end of the day, a support system, regardless of whether we are a giver or receiver or both, takes time, thoughtfulness and effort.  Support systems take time to blossom.  When they do, it is an absolute pleasure to be a part of them.  When they dissipate, due to reasons ranging from extreme ones such as death to moderate reasons such as incompatibility or milder causes such as lack of proximity or change in geography, it is essential to accept and acknowledge that lacuna and move on.  Of course, it is easier said than done.  But do we always have a choice?

As Emma Thompson observes in the movie Burnt, “There is strength in needing others, not weakness.”  We need to be comfortable with the fact that there will be times in our life that we may need others to help bridge the gap between our current state of mind and a healthier, peaceful state.  Despite all this, yes, we may feel the weight of the world on our shoulders.  But a reliable support system can lend a hand to share that burden.  They might not solve all our problems.  But for a fleeting moment, we can breathe easier, feel lighter and think clearer.  That's a start, not the end.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Beyond the Cheek: An essay on some unique aspects of Kris Srikkanth

In a world of witty youtube channel names, “Cheeky Cheeka” is just about perfect for former Indian captain and chairman of selectors Kris Srikkanth.  Merriam Webster helpfully defines “cheek” as “insolent boldness and self-assurance.”  If you have watched the best of his innings for India – I rate his 57 versus England in 1985 and his 116 against Australia in 1986, both at Sydney, as his best – you will find it hard to disagree with the attribution.  And beyond the on-field exploits, the insouciance that marks his interviews, speeches and video vignettes, are a delight to many admirers like me.  But Srikkanth is one of those people whose outwardly carefree nature sometimes makes us lose sight of the depth of character.  This essay is an attempt to dig a little deeper, to showcase the depth and profundity that you may have missed.

The 57 vs England (Listen to Bill Lawry exclaim, "He doesn't even run!" at the 57-sec point)

The genesis of this essay was the video he released today about Sachin Tendulkar.  He tosses off detail that another person would have used as an excuse to turn the spotlight unto himself.  Two cases in point from the 1989 tour of Pakistan.  Indian cricket had been embroiled in payment-related issues between the players and the Board. (Srikkanth wrote about it 18 years after it happened.) But when a worried Tendulkar, who was making his debut in the series, approached Srikkanth to discuss the dispute, Srikkanth assured him that he would not be impacted by it.  Srikkanth (30) was nearly twice as old as Sachin (16) back then.  And as a senior, Srikkanth had exhibited an almost paternal attitude towards the kid.  

Ditto for the way Srikkanth, at the start of the series, promised Sachin that he would play all 4 Tests.  This seems insignificant now, given that Sachin’s legend has been cemented for eternity.  But for a 16-year old kid that failed in his first Test (he was out for 15), the security afforded by constancy would have done wonders for his confidence.  Sachin scored his first 50 in the next Test.  And he never looked back.  If you think about the professional setting, when a company is going through a crisis and a leader has his employees’ back and walks the talk, imagine the ease with which the employees can silence the extraneous noise.  That is what Srikkanth did for Tendulkar back then.  True to character, Srikkanth does not dwell on his pivotal role in allaying the concerns of the youngest member of his team.  But I shall dwell away!

The protective attitude was something that Srikkanth extended to not only Sachin but also the seniors who were front and center of the payment dispute.  Srikkanth wrote, years later, that when the then BCCI president urged him to take a second XI team, he flatly refused.  He wrote, rather touchingly, "I was the representative of my players.  At that moment, I wanted to do my best by them.  I could not betray the people whom I might have had differences with from time to time, but who were also the people I considered my mates."  That the Board, in their wise old ways, dropped him for his batting failure in one series – we do know of players being given a slightly longer rope, don’t we? – is a rather unflattering example of the unfairness of the system back then.  Srikkanth, through those two trying years out of the Indian team, maintained a dignified silence.  Of course, when he came back, his form tapered off after a successful WSC series and his career wound down with a whimper.  But if we are focused on higher order things such as character, loyalty and long-term friendship, Srikkanth, by getting dropped, may have lost the battle but he certainly won the war.  The lack of bitterness at his ill treatment and his warm camaraderie with peers like Kapil Dev three decades after the end of his career are all elements of his character that we must not lose sight of. (It was a delight to see these 1983 world cup heroes celebrate his birthday last December.)

Another trait of Srikkanth that we take granted for, is his positivity.  Let’s admit it.  It is hard to be as consistently positive and nonchalant like him.  We dismiss preternaturally positive people as frivolous.  We only do ourselves a disservice by not seeking to emulate that energy.  It is safe to state that Srikkanth’s effervescence is consistent, unforced and intrinsic.  It was on full display in his batting histrionics, it was evident in the way he fielded, it was there to be seen in the way he cheered for bowlers when they took wickets. (Former wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani once ribbed him about wearing spiked shoes and stepping on him in a moment of ecstasy, post a wicket!)  And age has done nothing to rob him off his sparkle.  His commentary style is a reflection of that personality.  When he says “avan” instead of the more respectful sounding “avar”, it is not a sign of disrespect.  Instead, the colloquiality is a byproduct of artlessness.  The heady mix of positivity, cheer and transparency deserves to be treated with respect and admiration instead of being perceived as a lack of seriousness or focus. (For the record, you don’t top-score in two humungous ODI finals without a sense of focus!)  Harsha Bhogle summed it up best when he wrote of Srikkanth, "As a captain and as a person, he never wore a mask and you always knew where you stood with him." 

His mentorship of the subsequent generations of players is another aspect of his personality that seldom gets attention.  From Sadagopan Ramesh to Ravichandran Ashwin, the memories shared of Srikkanth tend to focus on his candor, forthrightness, his genuine advice and generous acknowledgement of their talents.  The great VVS Laxman, in his autobiography, mentions Srikkanth’s encouraging words during a tough phase and how their religious nature helped solidify their bond.  Even outside of cricket, voice artiste and motivational speaker Ilango (he happens to be visually impaired) shared how Srikkanth inspired and created an opportunity for him to channel his strong voice, thereby shedding spotlight on a talent that has luckily not gone unnoticed.

In the movies, we have a subconscious tendency to not treat well-made light films with the respect they deserve.  In society, we tend to often take lighthearted people lightly.  I once read, "lighthearted is not the same as lightweight."  Casualness can coexist with commitment.  Frivolousness can coexist with focus.  Temerity can coexist with thoughtfulness. 

In short, yes, Cheeka may have a surfeit of cheek.  But as an inimitable inspiration, there is nothing that Kris Sri…can’t do!