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  • The Dalai Lama and the cricket captain

    Posted On March 13, 2000

    By Karan Thapar

    What is it that makes a man truly great? The question is as interesting as it could be misleading. Most of us assume that great men are defined by great qualities. Not so or, at least, not necessarily so. More often than not it is the little, inconsequential things that make a man great. Perhaps not individually on their own but when they are added up they count for much much more than the great qualities we keep mistakenly looking for.

    Last week I met two men who are truly great. They are in every other way poles apart. One is nearly 65, the other is barely 27. The former is spiritual, the latter athletic. The elder is wise and noble, the younger enthusiastic and striving. Well, after those broad hints, I guess you can tell which was the Dalai Lama and which the cricket captain. Yet in one very noticeable way they were similar.

    I met the Dalai Lama in Mcleodganj. This small town is situated on the mountain tops above Dharamsala. Other than the Dalai Lama and his entourage there is nothing else to see, meet or think about. Just as his physical presence once ruled Tibet, here his very aura dominates Mcleodganj. I had gone there to interview him.

    “The interview is scheduled for 8.30 tomorrow” his secretary told us.

    “In the morning?” I asked unable to accept I had heard correctly.

    “Yes” he continued and then added “but His Holiness is bound to be early. He hates to keep people waiting.” “Oh.”

    I am only used to politicians who deliberately come late. They measure their self-esteem in terms of how much they have delayed you. An interviewee who does the opposite is not just rare but hard to believe.

    We arrived the next morning at 7.15. It meant getting up at 5.00 but I was determined to be punctual. At 7.40 a beige Range Rover pulled up outside the room where we had set up the cameras. Ten seconds later a large smiling man walked in. He was the Dalai Lama.

    “I’m early” he laughed. His eyes lit up and his face creased into the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. “Do you want me to go away and come again?”

    “Of course not Sir.”

    “I’m sorry” he continued “but I did not want to keep you waiting.”

    As we settled down to start the interview I couldn’t help notice that the Dalai Lama’s right hand was totally exposed. The left was covered by his deep red robes. But the right was bare. Given that Mcleodganj on an early march morning is cold and that morning, after a freak hailstorm, it was in fact freezing I could not curb my curiosity.

    • “You must be shivering” I said.
    • “You mean this?” the Dalai Lama said holding out his right hand.
    • “Yes” I muttered, but by now I was feeling rather silly and my voice started disappearing inside my throat.
    • The Dalai Lama sensed my embarrassment and laughed.
    • “Don’t worry” he said reassuringly. “If you look carefully the right hand is stronger. It’s the same with all Tibetan monks. That’s why we like to show it!”
    • I had not expected His Holiness to have a sense of humour. After all when you call a man his holiness humour doesn’t fit in with the image you form of him. Yet the Dalai Lama laughed like a child. Not the sheepish, half-hearted, wholly-embarrassed squawk politicians manage. Nor the overly loud guffaw that is too garrulous to be genuine and which men who want to impress put on. But the real thing. When you hear it you will recognise its authenticity.

      Later when I recalled that six million Tibetans look upon him as god I realised how lucky they were to have one who comes on time and has a sense of humour. I don’t know what I want of mine. To be honest I haven’t thought about it. But I can’t help feel that punctuality and wit are two very desirable qualities.

      Yet these are not the big, great values one customarily looks for in the Dalai Lama. You go in search of bigger things and in their quest the little ones that actually matter are ignored. What I discovered were small seemingly inconsequential qualities. They don’t count in the big scheme of things. Yet they are far more telling. They are more relevant. Perhaps that’s why he is a god his people genuinely love.

      Oddly enough the cricket captain is also like god. Not in the spiritual sense – no, definitely not – but in the way he dominates, absorbs, infuses and fulfils our lives. A few days after DL our CC was to be my next interviewee. It was a most fortuitous arrangement. My perceptive Assistant Producer, Vishal Pant, had persuaded Sourav Ganguly to accept long before anyone had thought he would be captain. When he was elevated we kept our fingers crossed he would keep his commitment. He did.

      However, the problem was that as captain Sourav’s time is very restricted. When would the interview be? It was originally scheduled for the 13th but he was only arriving late that night. The next morning he was practising. On the 14th afternoon there were cricket board meetings and in the evening a board dinner. On the 15th was the match with South Africa and the next day he was gone. So it looked as if despite his willingness to stick to his promise Captain Ganguly was a lot busier than batsman Sourav.

      “Don’t worry” he reassured me on the phone. “What about 1.00 o’clock on the 14th? If you pick me up from Faridabad I’ll leave practice early and all you have to do is ensure I get back to the hotel in time for the board meeting.”

      “What about lunch?”

      “Now stop trying to find problems with my suggestion and anyway it won’t be the first time I miss a meal nor will it be the last.”

      For Sourav the interview was a little thing but for us – not just me but the full team – it was a big event. That’s why his willingness to forego lunch and curtail practise meant a lot. And we didn’t have to plead to make him do it. He suggested it himself. The only possible reason was that he wanted to keep his word.

      Like the Dalai Lama, it was the small seemingly inconsequential details about the encounter with Sourav that were truly impressive. Why? Because it’s the small stuff most of us identify with. History may be about great big details but quite often they are beyond one’s reckoning. Sadly, history books don’t tell you that cricket captains keep their promises or that Dalai Lamas stick to time and have a sense of humour. They should. It’s the little things that matter and remember just because they seem little doesn’t mean they are unimportant. The grand gesture can be deceptive. A little thoughtfulness is often more meaningful.

      And now for a little bit more

      If you want to know more about the Dalai Lama – not just the present one but the thirteen before him – I can recommend a richly rewarding book. Published by Roli and printed in Singapore it’s a pictorial history called The Dalai Lamas of Tibet. The cover page carries a quotation from the Manchu emperor K’ang-si. It reads : “The Dalai Lama is like a ray of sun shine which is impossible for any one group of people to obscure.” How true ..... and how tragic that K’ang-si’s temporal heirs should have forgotten his maxim in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Clearly what the Chinese emperor once knew the Chinese communist government has good reason to remember!

      Oh and one other thing : is the man in the picture on page 62, in a white kurta-pyjama with hands folded in a respectful namaste, greeting the Dalai Lama on his arrival in NEFA, Major Jaswant Singh? If not he has a double and the foreign office better beware.


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