Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 7, July 16-31, 2019
Once, Poonamallee, Alandur and Butt Road flaunted many lively race enthusiasts who dreamed of making a killing at Guindy. That the racehorses took them for a ride when they put their shirts on a ‘hot tip’ is the stark reality. A thoroughbred expected to gallop on thundering hooves and win by a yard, would sometimes betray its backers by trotting or even walking, with equine indifference.
Several factors were attributed to a horse’s stellar performance – its pedigree (the sire, in particular), upkeep and most importantly, the quality of its feed. Exercise, including occasional swims in the equine pool & regular brush-downs, and the jockeys’ skill in staying the distance were crucial. A hotshot jockey must be nimble and compact, lightweight and focused. An interesting tidbit: the racehorses loved feeding on sugar cubes when their proud owners came to the paddock to pat their flanks with a proprietary air.
A gentleman of leisure I knew, who never did a day’s honest work but lived on his father-in-law’s legacy, had strange habits. Though he had a small Buck Fiat, he would travel to the bus stand only by a jutka (a horse drawn carriage) and count the number of carriages yet to be taken. That number was the lucky number that he would place his bets on. The alpaca coat he wore had several pockets, in which he stuffed his winnings. It was rumoured that if the horse relieved its bladder when it drove him, he would win big money that day. Once, it relieved its bladder and as a bonus, its bowels as well. Wonder of wonders, he won an incredibly huge jackpot that was carried over for weeks. In gratitude, he commissioned a statue of the animal in Italian marble and installed it at the portico of his bungalow. Racing was such an integral part of him that if his chubby wife was slow in bringing his refreshments, he would chivvy her, hollering ‘Come on, Panja Kalyani. Come on!’ But few backers were as lucky as him; more often than not, those animals took one to the cleaners.
The typical punter would find himself short on cash and filch the money stashed by his wife. He would then place his bets after setting aside his bus/train fare for the ride home. He would invariably end up cursing the horse for its treachery, though in all fairness, there was no covenant between him and the animal for such deliverance. If the horse could have heard his curses, it would have kicked his fundament in unbridled fury.
But not everyone in Guindy, where Chennai has its race course, is a horseracing fanatic. Once, I had boarded a train at Guindy on a Sunday afternoon when my office watchman whispered conspiratorially to me, ‘Sir, Lady of Shalott will win today, even if she walks.’ I was bemused to be mistaken for a punter. But I comforted myself with the Tamil proverb: ‘Even if one drinks a glass of milk under a palmyrah tree, it would be mistaken for toddy’!
In the passing away of U. Prabhakar Rao on June 9, we have lost a doyen of TN cricket. He was a cricketer-cum-administrator par excellence, highly regarded for his honesty and hard work. During his playing days, he captained the TN Ranji team; both he and Satwendar Singh narrowly missing the National cap because of political partisanship in the Cricket Board. He was a great pace bowler who, even at the age of 72, played for MCC in their annual matches. Such was his determination and love for cricket. He was stately, tall, fair, simple and had a no-nonsense approach to life. He loved TNCA so much that every day, after his work ended at 5.30 p.m, he would drive down to their office to attend to administrative matters.
He was the TNCA Secretary, Treasurer and Vice President, till he gave up the posts due to ill health. The President of TNCA, Mr. Srinivasan, invited him as a Chief Guest for their Annual Day to honour his peerless contribution to TN cricket.
He was my father’s friend of many years and to me, a godfather, guide and adviser. I was often referred to as “Sir’s pet nephew” by his office staff, as I could walk into his cabin at Patullos Road at will, without an appointment. He would make a cup of coffee for me in his instant coffee jar and we both used to share small talk over a cup of coffee. I used to address him as “Uncle Prabhakar” and always took his blessings every New Year.
Many a time, I have seen veteran players like Mr. V.A.P, Mr. Jagannathan and others meeting him for his inputs on cricket.
When his second daughter Pavitra (who represented India in Rowing along with her sister Arati Rao in the 1990 Asian Games) died in a car accident, he took it in his stride with a stoic silence and said it was the will of god. He was a god-fearing person who would commence his daily routine with a pooja. He will definitely be missed by all who dealt with him; particularly for me, his death is a personal loss, as I have lost my godfather and guide. RIP “Uncle Prabhakar”.
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