Very often when we see celebrities, particularly professional sportspersons who reach the pinnacle of their particular sport and play the game so effortlessly, we tend to miss the trauma and pain, grit and determination, long and silent suffering that are hidden somewhere in the aura of the famous person. Hence the peppy and frank conversation that Indian cricket’s two stalwarts — Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan had with Vikram Sathaye in Pune during a session at D 3131’s district conference was as absorbing as it was an eye-opener. Of course the dashing Yuvi’s penchant for fashion and a hep dressing style was reinforced, as also the suave Zaheed Khan’s entrepreneurship skills which have helped him launch several restaurants and ProSport fitness centres. But we also learnt of the deep bond of friendship that exists between the two and how Zak, as he is called by his teammates and friends, pushed Yuvraj to overcome his stiff neck and all kinds of injuries and excruciating pains, and literally commanded him to go out and play in the 2011 World Cup and get glory for India and himself. Yuvraj recalled that a year earlier, in Bangladesh, he had broken his wrist, and even earlier, sustained some 4–5 fractures in a row. “My neck was stiff, I had all kinds of problems with my body and talked to Zak about the physical challenges I was facing. I thought he will say go see a good doctor but he said ‘Tu world cup jitayega. (You will get the World Cup for India)’ I said bro, the World Cup is in a year. And he said bus bol diya (I’ve said it).”
Even while scowling at this “weird advice from a friend”, he decided to play. The World Cup started; he spent sleepless nights due to the pain and pressure and he told Zak he wasn’t going to back out. But again he said “tu match khel.” He did and got the first 50 of the World Cup, followed by another three 50s and a 100 and a 50 in the quarter finals. But battling cancer and emerging triumphant to return to Indian cricket was much more serious. “It was about whether I would survive or not. The question of life ending is very serious. And after going through this battle, injuries now seem like getting temperature and taking Crocin to fix it,” he said amidst huge applause.
On his persistent shoulder injuries Zaheer said that after detailed chats with sports psychologists and through personal experience he had learnt that shorter the time one spent on each of these phases, the quicker was the recovery. After his shoulder surgery in 2008–09, he thought his career would end because 80 per cent of his bowling action comes from the shoulder. This put him in “a very negative mind zone,” but then during rehab, he’d put his hand on his shoulder to transfer healing and positive vibes, and it worked!
They are of course national icons, but I’m sure each of us, in our personal lives, can tell stories of ordinary people who have displayed extraordinary courage when faced with pain, disease, death. They are heroes too. And if we talk of gender, and celebrities of a lesser god, my vote would go to the feisty captain of the Indian women’s cricket team Mithali Raj. When asked the same clichéd question by a reporter on who her favourite male cricketer was, she quipped: “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?” Touché!