Ravindra Jadeja: A king in his Neverland

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Ravindra Jadeja Ravindra Jadeja
SummaryHe always had the Jamnagar pedigree, though not the affluence.

He always had the Jamnagar pedigree, though not the affluence. How Ravindra Jadeja, wild child of Indian cricket, doter of horses and a brother answerable to his sister, aspires to become modern-day royalty

The bluest of Jadejas, Jamnagar’s ruling Rajput dynasty, who is Jam Sahib to local residents, still lives in a palace and owns a 45-acre nature reserve, which once housed about 10,000 royal pets, in the city’s centre. Miles away from the trunk of that famous family tree, but distantly connected by a thin off-shoot of a modest sub-branch, are several pleb-Jadejas. Born in a one-room government flat to a nurse and a security guard, “our Jadeja” was one such commoner.

Like the rest of India, aristocracy died long ago in this Gujarat region but an ingrained reverence for the stately second name is alive. So like all Jadejas, Ravindra Jadeja too was called Bapu — derived from baap (father), it is a term of endearment coined for benevolent kings or mass leaders in Saurashtra — and greeted with a “Jai mataji”. “Hello” or “kem cho” are for the masses. Salutations by way of hailing Jamnagar’s revered mother goddess are reserved for the “warrior class”.

It is a different world, this caste-divided, deeply religious land which is littered with history. Time here imitates the slow crawl of life on wide, empty roads snaking through imposing heritage buildings.

Uninfluenced by the lethargy around him, Jadeja took the fast lane to fame. He would go on to master cricket, a game that has a long history in this region, to be a Team India star, man of the tournament at the Champions Trophy that India won in June this year, World No.1 ODI bowler, known television face — and thus modern-day royalty. Ravindrasinh Anirudhsinh Jadeja is the newest name on Jamnagar’s cricketing honours board, one that is topped by a prince whose graceful leg glance made the British go weak in their knees.

Maharaj Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, Ranji to the world and great-granduncle to the present-day Jam Sahib, represented Cambridge, Sussex and England. In a different century, another Jadeja from Jamnagar is a regular with Saurashtra, Rajasthan Royals, Chennai Super Kings and India; teams that can match up, both in terms of skills and stature, to the ones Ranji represented.

Cricket has shrunk the great divide. Defying lineage, Jadeja has shaved off a few degrees of separation with the first family. By virtue of his long, arduous journey from a rundown government house to an upmarket flat at present and a sprawling under-construction bungalow in the future, Jadeja has geographically moved closer to the palace and socially to the royal tree. He also has the aura of the Jadejas, the ones from the palace. “Bapu, jai mataji.” Jadeja has arrived.

It is this back story that makes one understand Jadeja and the changes on a plot of land, about 25 km from Jamnagar. Three years ago, an eight-acre plot got a new owner and a fence. A sprawling modern bungalow followed, with bright-red “RJ” monograms, in roughly 1,000 points, painted on the sparkling white compound walls. Next to it a swimming pool was dug. All this needed upkeep and security. So a landless farmhand’s family of six was invited to occupy a comfortable corner in the compound. And then a couple of horses trotted in. The spindly Doberman, Rocky, had company and an experienced equine expert, the owner’s country cousin, had a 24-hour job. A young man, who had a deprived childhood, had his Neverland.

Jadeja is keen on a farmhouse interview and arrives in his A4 Audi, a luxury car worth a few lakhs over half-a-crore. The car’s boot has a different monogram from the one on the wall. It reads Ravi, with the tail of the extra-curvy cursive “R” cradling the “AVI” in dwarfed capitals. Jadeja steps out with lips pursed to help his left hand twirl the right wing of that famous moustache. The right hand, meanwhile, acknowledges the “Jai matajis” from the small group of eager retainers. Rocky comes running but it is obvious that he isn’t the blue-eyed pet at the farm. That status is reserved for Ganga and Kesar.

Jadeja’s doting elder sister, Naina, says his brother has brought home rabbits, pigeons, fish and dogs in the last few years. But these days, he is hooked to horses. Ganga and Kesar to be specific. As he lovingly pats the dark-skinned Ganga’s forehead, you ask: “Did you have pets as a child?” With a smile he replies, “Apne khane ka thikana nahi tha, in logon ko kahan palta? (We didn’t know where our meals were coming from, how would I have kept pets?)”

He changes track quickly, points to a lone white dove flying across the field in the distant horizon. “That’s where my land ends. Cotton is being grown on the last bed. The one close to us has groundnuts with mango and guava trees standing over them. And between the two, we grow the feed for the horses,” he says, before he slips back to talking about the past. “There were times when I had to manage the entire day with just Rs 10 in my pocket. When playing matches away from home, where you even had to buy water, it used to get tough,” he says. Defiantly, he adds: “I can still survive on a bare minimum. I am not fussy about what I eat or wear.” To stress the point, the DKNY shades move from the eyes to his hands. “Cricket has given me a lot. If I earn enough, why shouldn’t I spend?”

Very early in life, Jadeja realised cricket was a wise investment and would get him things he yearned for. He would play “winners take all” games where the better team would take home the kitty formed by the equal contribution from all 22 players. Most times, the winning XI would share Rs 22 and Jadeja would double his investment. The dividend would be enough to get him several long polythene flutes filled with iced water. He loved them. “That was our Pepsi,” he says with a smile.

When he failed to convince his father to part with the one-rupee he needed to be part of the matches, he would rush to the nurse station at the government hospital where his mother worked. “She would never refuse,” says Jadeja. Naina says her brother, the naughtiest of the siblings, was his mother’s pet. “I would beat him up but he would snuggle up to mother. He couldn’t sleep without her,” she says. From accompanying Jadeja to outstation games, talking to his coaches and asking other team members to keep an eye on her prankster son, the overworked nurse tried her best to be a cricket mom too.

In 2005, Jadeja lost his biggest supporter and emotional anchor. Third-degree burns following an accident in the kitchen resulted in his mother’s painful death. No one in the family is keen to revisit that nightmare. Though sketchy details do emerge. Jadeja wasn’t at home. Just 16, he wanted to quit when he returned to an unfamiliar home. But after a few days, he changed his mind. “Not after all that my mother did to make me a cricketer,” he says.

Sister Naina filled the void and shielded Jadeja from all worries. “I keep repeating one line: ‘You just concentrate on cricket’. If he concentrates on a certain thing, he will not rest till he has sunk deep into it,” she says.

In cricket’s off-season, Naina doesn’t get many opportunities to repeat her favourite “concentrate on cricket” line. Jadeja, these days, is taking a break and is in the company of horses.

He has been moving around Bapuland, window shopping at stables. It’s apparent from his equestrian talk that Jadeja’s knowledge about horses is both folksy and scientific. “Horses ward off evil spirits, I have heard,” he says. “Ganga is Kathiawadi and Kesar is a Marwari and Kathiawadi mix. Ganga has inwardly pointed ears that touch each other. That is how you identify a Kathiawadi horse,” he says, just before mounting the imposing Kesar in one swift move.

There is no saddle or a stirrup on the horse’s back. Holding the reins, Jadeja gallops between the neat rows of cotton plantations, as if in the era of kings inspecting their territory. Glistening white Kesar has turned pink with exertion and is also frothing. Jadeja is grinning. In the stable, Ganga is giving her handler a tough time. She too wants a run. She strains her neck like a peacock and lets out angry neighs. “Kesar is Cheteshwar Pujara. She works a lot and is very calm.

Ganga is like the naughtiest cricketer in the Indian team,” he says. Who’s that? He merely smiles.

Naina, at their home, says her brother isn’t naughty, just misunderstood. “Once you meet him, you will know that he is merely a restless person. I really get angry when people make assumptions about him without knowing him,” she says. But what about his very public on-field tiff with Suresh Raina during the recent Zimbabwe tour? “They are good friends,” she says, standing in front of a wall-mounted frame that has Jadeja’s India jersey and a couple of his pictures with Raina. “I shouted at him when he called me after that game. It was only when he said that all was fine and he was with Raina at that moment that I calmed down. It’s just the heat of the moment,” she says. Jadeja might be one of the most valuable IPL players and a cricketer pampered by corporates but at home, he remains a younger brother answerable to his two elder sisters.

There is another man in Jamnagar, who hasn’t let Jadeja’s fame influence his behaviour towards him. Coach Mahendrasinh Chauhan, 50, has light eyes and jet-black hair. He is a short man with a loud voice that has been ringing across the Cricket Bungalow Ground for over 25 years now. He was a police constable till he took early retirement. When not coaching, he can be found at his popular pau-bhaji shop. Chauhan stares straight into your eyes and impresses you with his passion for coaching.

Early in the interview, he makes a disclosure. “I haven’t taken even a pen from Jadeja till date,” he says. “Or anything,” he says. “He is very disciplined here. Even now when he comes here, he keeps standing.”

Chauhan, a modest cricketer in his playing days, is an old-school teacher, whose training methods involve endless laps of the cricket field and eating to one’s heart’s content. Laps for warming up, laps for cooling down, laps as punishment and a cross-country run on weekends to break the monotony. “That is why Jadeja is so fit,” he says. He fishes out an anecdote to describe Jadeja’s appetite. “Once the entire academy got invited for dinner. Jadeja was about seven. They served him half a rotla (bajra bread which has the size and thickness of a medium-sized pizza). The seniors got two. I told the organisers that the kid had an appetite and to treat him like a adult. Jadeja polished off seven rotlas. He worked hard and so he needed to eat,” he says. Young Ravi would be the last to leave the academy and only when his sister would come looking for him.

Chauhan’s innovations at the cricketing hub too were intriguing. Once, Jadeja got into the habit of bowling flat. The coach wanted him to flight the ball. Chauhan’s solution was to ask a young trainee to stand in the middle of the pitch when Jadeja bowled at nets. The left-arm spinner had no option but to lob the ball over the terrified kid.

Once, he took the batting group to a circus. “I wanted them to see the elephant play cricket. The animal just flicks the ball with the bat in his trunk. I wanted to stress the importance of supple wrists in batting,” he says. So what was the one thing that impressed him about Jadeja? “He plays like a Jadeja. When a Bapu decides on something, he achieves it. We are a very proud community and have a certain ego.”

Be it his coach, friends, family or the watchman at his building, they all talk about a royal streak in Jadeja. “Like kings, he always had a taste for good things,” says a friend. From his first major earning of Rs 5 lakh, which he got after the 2006 World Cup, he bought himself a Maruti Esteem. Around the time Chennai Super Kings broke the bank to buy him, the farmhouse came up. The watchman says that the Audi and Esteem take Jadeja’s car count to six. Plus there is also the Hayabusa motorbike. Jadeja doesn’t just spend, he flaunts. It is again a Bapu thing.

Check with the watchman, where one can meet Jadeja in the evening and he becomes philosophical. “Kings don’t have a fixed location. They can be found anywhere in the kingdom,” he says. It is a changing world; while some have lost princely privileges and privy purses, others have gone on to claim these perks.

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