The last Nawab of the former Princely State of Pataudi, former Captain of India, died today in a Delhi hospital. I didn’t see it coming. Apparently very few people did. His death was a result of a lung condition that had plagued him for some time, but if you hadn’t been reading about it over the last few days you wouldn’t have guessed he was unwell. He was at there at Oval at the end of the 4th and final Test to present the conquering England team with the trophy that bears his family’s name (a tribute both to him and his father, the senior Nawab, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi), apparently in perfect health. His profound disappointment at India’s 4-0 series loss was tangible then, but it didn’t affect his poise. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was born a prince, and class practically dripped from his pores. It was always that way.
I never saw him play – not properly. He was 70 years old at his death, and he had been made Captain of India at the age of 21. Flickering grainy black-and-white clips of video footage and the reverent words of others are all most of us have as proof of his sublime ability with a cricket bat. A slight, bare-headed figure, stepping out and swinging, or slouched with languorous elegance in the field. Neither the photos that captured his easy, slightly dreamy smile nor the footage that recorded his prowess as a batsman give away his sightless right eye. Sunil Gavaskar is, in my humble opinion, an arrogant blowhard far too fond of the sound of his own voice, but I will nevertheless use his analogy here to explain the scale of Pataudi’s accomplishment after the accident that took away his eye: forget facing down a fast bowler, try walking around with an eyepatch for just one day and see if you’re able to light a candle.
Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was among the last of the Indian royals to hold a title, and among the first to inform a diverse collection of young men hailing from all parts of India and all levels of wealth (or lack thereof) that they were all equals, himself included. Many people more suited to the task than I have written, and will write more, on the many ways he changed the game, the many strokes of genius and faith and inspiration that have made him legend. Four spinners. Playing to win. Attacking. Forthrightness. I hope they do. The more the better. Their words, and his, as when he spoke out boldly in lone opposition to the IPL governing council of which he himself was a part, are now all we have left.
My mother is not an avid cricket watcher; she tolerates her husband and youngest daughter’s fixation with it, but knows little about the game and cares only out of an instinctive sense of nationalistic pride that India do well when they play. The death of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, however, has shaken her deeply. She tells me now of days spent as a young woman at the Bangalore cricket ground with friends and cousins, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the dashing Nawab. How they would watch the cricket because of him, because of the new feeling he had brought to a sport that had seemed flat and boring to them. She is a practical woman, not prone to sentimentality, but her eyes light up now, reliving the frisson of many years ago, at the memory of arguing with a cousin over whether the figure in the box five metres ahead of them was really him, only to have the dispute silenced as the man himself turned his head for a brief, wide smile.
I never saw Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi play, but I didn’t need to for his death to weigh on me. It is impossible to express how deeply he will be missed. Rest in peace, Tiger.