Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 21, February 16-28, 2019

A Tennis Champion at 80

by N.S. Parthasarathy

V.K. Parthasarathy.

V.K. Parthasarathy (VKP) turned 80 recently. Much about him was remembered at a celebratory function. Pachu, as he’s known to all his friends, accomplished much in tennis and for tennis. He was Junior Singles South India Hardcourt Champion, won the Stanley Cup as a University student, was Madras University Champion, captained the University and the State teams, was singles champion of Madras and neighbouring States, and played under the aegis of the International Lawn Tennis Club of India against visiting teams of veterans from Australia, Holland, France and Belgium. He was, for many years, the Honorary Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association and Vice President subsequently. VKP, along with Ramanathan Krishnan, N. Sankar and others, trained under the legendary T.K. Ramanathan, the country’s “tennis ancestor”, who inspired generations of talented youth to take to the game and achieve international recognition.

Krishnan recalls how he and VKP visited Pakistan to play matches there in 1961 when Pakistan invited Krishnan to take part in their National Championships. Krishnan chose VKP as his doubles partner for the tour. Playing there, they won all the three doubles tournaments, including the Pakistan Nationals held in Rawalpindi. VKP reached the finals in the singles tournament, losing to Krishnan. Krishnan still remembers how the two of them were provided bodyguards throughout their stay.

N. Sankar, industrialist, sports patron and VKP’s tennis mate, says that it was at the suggestion of VKP that prize money was introduced in 1994 for the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association League. In the beginning, the prize was only in the thousands, growing to a few lakhs over time and necessitating external financial assistance which the Sanmar Group provided to sustain the League’s role in encouraging talent.

Ever willing to help the cause of tennis, when the first synthetic tennis court in South India was being laid out at the Madras Club in the early 1990s, VKP identified the technical consultants and contractors and helped the Club supervise its satisfactory completion.

VKP is so well known for his role in tennis that it is necessary to have a tennis link to be eligible to speak about him! We met over fifty years ago working for the same employer and struck an immediate rapport. In 1967, when he was 28, he was still an active participant on the Indian circuit. He saw me playing a game that vaguely resembled tennis and took upon himself the task of improving my game. He would find time between his tennis engagements to bat the ball with me at the National Sports Association courts. From consistently hitting every shot into the net, I started hitting them consistently over the net – the improvement was so major that every ball soared over the thattis behind the baseline of the opponent court!

Those who came into contact with VKP remained his friends for life. His large number of friends in tennis circles would speak of his on- and off-court virtues. What may not be as well-known as his tennis is the fact that he was also a champion corporate manager. I was privileged to have had a ring-side view of his managerial phase. The secret of his success, as a professional manager, was his human qualities and natural humility. He was a dream boss. This did not mean that he was tolerant of shoddiness in order to be popular. In correcting the errant, he was stern but constructive, without hurting confidence. To his boss he was an indispensable asset and to colleagues, a pro-active team member.

Succeeding an Englishman as manager of the Cuddalore branch of English-owned Parry & Co., he lorded it over the whole historic complex of buildings along the coast that had once housed Robert Clive. VKP was managing the shipping operations at that port. Handling the then difficult labour, he could ensure speedy turn-round of discharging vessels and extend a high standard of on-shore services to them. Under VKP, ship owners and importers preferred Cuddalore for discharge of their cargo to other ports.

In charge of the Company’s Public Relations in Delhi, in dealing with senior government officials, he was exemplary. In the 1960s, licenses, permits and allotments were required for almost everything. Producing more than the declared capacity was not applauded but frowned upon as violation of Law. In such an atmosphere, PR persons of firms all over the country were viewed by the government with suspicion. VKP, by his dignified conduct, honesty and strict conformity with rules and etiquette, was one of the few readily accepted by the bureaucracy with respect. He raised his employer’s stature and acceptance in government circles. In his post-retirement phase, VKP served, with distinction, the Group owned and managed by Sankar, his old tennis partner.

VKP had a clear vision of right and wrong and never hesitated to voice his views when moral values were involved. More even than taking a stand on such issues, admirable was the way he could do it with no trace of damage to relationship.

VKP has simple pleasures that make him a supremely contented person. Free of jealousy, he can and does rejoice in and celebrate others’ successes. With his puckish humour, he drops jokes with a poker expression that seems to challenge you to spot them – like his deft, angled drop shots.

The humility is natural, not feigned, and perhaps even genetic in the sense that it runs in the family, evident to those who have known VKP’s bothers. VKP’s wife Hema is well known as a Professor of French and honoured by the French Government for her services to the cause of French culture. She has been VKP’s support all the way, now standing by him to fill in for the inevitable weakening of his faculties with age. Knowing them both, from their courting days, and having run errands between them, it can be said that, to this mixed-doubles pair, goes the Game, Set and Match.

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