When Saraiya, ever-helpful & humble, left a lasting impression on a youngster

Suresh Saraiya (centre) at a function of the Sports Journalists Association of Mumbai.

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

The good old cricket commentary on radio lost a giant when Suresh Saraiya left on Wednesday for the Elysian Fields. I’m still coming to terms that when listening to cricket commentary in future, I won’t hear Mr Saraiya’s the patented words, “Back again.”

 

In an age where television dominates cricket coverage, the radio continues to reach the far corners of the vast country that India is. Mr. Saraiya’s soothing voice and informative commentary on the All India Radio (AIR) was a feast for the ears as it created a perfect picture of the proceedings. Having spoken to him a few weeks ago, his sudden demise comes as a huge shock as he seemed to be in good health and great spirits.

Although I grew up in the era of television, I enjoyed listening to radio commentary of India’s cricket matches. Mr. Saraiya’s voice and deep knowledge left a lasting impression on me. As a schoolboy, I was fascinated by public speaking and commentary and one of my dreams was to interact with a commentator of the stature of Mr. Saraiya. That opportunity was waiting for me a few years down the line.

In June 2012, I happened to express my interest in public speaking to my mentor, Mr. H Natarajan. He immediately spoke to Mr. Saraiya and asked him to pass on his invaluable experience to me. As I picked up my cell phone and entered the number, a nervous energy ran through me. I was about to talk to one of the legends of cricket commentary – someone with several decades of experience. A number of questions went through my head such: What will he tell me? Will I make a good impression? Would I be able to converse with him confidently?

The familiar friendly voice greeted me from the other end and said, “Oh yes, Mr. Natarajan told me about you. I will tell you a number of things about commentary.” He started by saying, “Speak at a controlled pace. There has to be clarity of diction and it should come very naturally.”

As he continued to stress on the nuances of speaking in front of a microphone, I was struck by his friendliness and natural instinct to help those much junior to him. All my nerves calmed down as his humility touched my heart and made me feel really comfortable. Immediately, I felt like asking him a number of questions as I wanted to know his views on different aspects. My enthusiasm may have gone a bit too far as I, indeed, asked him too many questions. It speaks volumes for his helpful nature and experience that he anticipated my queries and answer them!

 

Throughout the conversation, he emphasised on the importance of preparation. He said, “After a few outings, people feel that they have mastered the art. That isn’t right. The learning curve has to always go up.”

Once he gave me a list of things I should keep in mind, we commenced a general conversation. He was interested to know how I took up cricket writing and about my studies.
However, the last words he said to me left a lasting impression and it is something I would never forget. “You are young and ambitious, which is good. I am happy to have helped you. Anytime you have any doubts, do not hesitate to give me a call.” Sadly, there would be no one to answer that call.

It isn’t always that you learn a lot from short conversations. It wasn’t just a professional outlook Mr. Saraiya gave me, but it had a philosophical background to it. The essence of values was evident and his spirit is a great example for the young generation. I wish I had more opportunities to talk him, but fate had other plans.

 

May his soul rest in peace.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)