Has there ever been a moment where you’ve said, …’No Ashwin, you were like this in school, and you are like this now, …Why!’ I mean, for cricket you would travel, …take a thousand flights, …pack and unpack 20,000 times! But you will not pack for an overnight trip with me or the girls. I’ve enjoyed teaching, …per se, even from my university days, …I used to enjoy… …passing on knowledge before my semester exams to my friends, …so it kind of gives me a lot of joy and… …this is something that I really enjoy doing and am very passionate about, …so it’s just a part of the journey. Very often cricketers are asked, what are you giving back to the world, …and very few can confidently say what you can, …which is this dream project, the Ashwin Foundation, isn’t it? It’s kind of a stage set up where you say that, …you start a foundation and you want to do a service to the community, …but this began a long long time ago, to be honest. What you see at the culmination of it, is the Ashwin Foundation. When I used to play, …cricket in the 15s and 17s, …so on and so forth, …there were a lot of cricketers, …who actually gave up the game… …sometimes, even at, …the age of 16 and 17, you see a lot of people working, …lot of kids going to work, …so we just thought we’ll conduct a talent hunt, …and fund their education, fund their cricket, …look after them in a way that, …their parents are not obliged… …to send them to jobs, to look after their family. A lot of my cricket, …was played on the roads. Every evening, 4 to 6. Everyday used to be a gala party at my house, …but it was very serious, it was damn serious. I didn’t need a lot of skill top up, because most of it was… …innately baked… …outside on the roads of Chennai. And it doesn’t happen any more! These kids don’t get to play on the roads, …Their day to day activity of… …on the roads, or for the game is so little, …that the skills don’t get developed automatically, …so we’re actually having to go backwards in the way that we coach these boys. We actually have the responsibility of compensating, …for all the street cricket that we played, …packaged nicely into a cricket academy. Do they ever… …muster up enough courage to come and ask you about… …what does Sachin do, does he say these things, because… …they know that you have access to these… …legends that they have admired over the years. Yeah, it has happened occasionally, …but one thing I will say, …with a lot of respect for the current generation, …they actually don’t care! Yes, okay, a Sachin or a Virat or a Rohit, …or whoever be it, whoever the legends are, …they have respect for them, …but they want to be them, …on one of those days, …and they are quietly confident that they can be there, one day. We don’t try to suppress this attitude of theirs. Yes, it’s very important to stay humble, …we try and teach them the importance of staying humble, …but I think it’s this generation that needs to be respected. Their attitude needs to be respected, …and it’s up to us to hold their hand and… …take them in the direction they want us to take them. And not try and take them back and say… …”In those days, this is what we did.” …and that’s one of the curses of our cricketing community, and I want to change that. Oh, so this is what the Ashwin family earned, …over two decades. To be honest, this has been collected only because of my dad and mom. One thing that I had to really drive about was, …this particular trophy. It was my 50th Test Match. It’s quite emotional. It was in Sri Lanka that they awarded it to me. Sweet. Because of the energy culmination, …that went into playing the 50 Test matches, it meant something to me. Obviously, if you look at the cabinet, one of the biggest… …awards will be the…
Centerpiece! Would be the Arjuna Award that I got in 2014.
Nice. That’s pretty much… …where the true center of it lies, …and the biggest and the most cherished award for me was this… …particular trophy. It’s the Airtel’s Champions League in 2010. That is the bat with which I got most runs in Test Cricket, until then. This was Sachin’s 200th Test, …and I said, okay, how can I do it better, …should I get it on a jersey… …I said okay, no I will… …get my favourite bat and get it signed, …so it was his final game, …it was also his 200th Test, …and I got it in Bombay. All these trophies are from my Under-10 and Under-12 days in the front here. Wow. So if you take a closer look at it, …these are all fresh and clean, …because my dad actually takes them once a year and cleans them up and polishes them. It’s thankfully just my dad. My grandad is no more, …but before that he also used to join the party. It was a part of them actually socialising on a weekend. I’ll be wrong and I might sound… …arrogant if I say it doesn’t mean anything to me. But it’s not that, …it is not the be all and end all, …I’ve gone out there and played it, …I’ve played whatever I’ve done, I’ve achieved whatever I’ve done in the game, …because I solely love the game. It gives me happiness playing the game. And, that’s where it stops. Where’s your first India Blue Cap? India Blue Cap? -Oh God.
-Kept it somewhere? I don’t know. Genuinely, I don’t know. Like I said, …that’s how much I’ve done with it! And if at all there is an India Blue Cap, …that’s been saved, it’ll be with my dad. It’s definitely not here. Actually, had my husband played cricket continuously, …he would have played for India. I’m very confident about it. -Such a… cricket fanatic!
-No no, sorry no. -No no! She’s exaggerating. -No no, one minute, one minute.
-No no! She’s exaggerating! See, there are so many children across the length and breadth of the country, …not all, even though they had the talent, …not everyone went on to play higher cricket. So that’s mainly because, …the perseverance and determination was missing. But, even a person with… …a little bit of skill… …could reach some level, it’s because of the attitude. My husband had that kind of an attitude. Without which, Ashwin wouldn’t have come to this level. Ashwin, basically, …converted himself to the game, …mainly because of the exposure he had in the family. That is what I could… -No, when I was going to cricket no, this fellow would accompany me… …so he started developing the interest and the passion. And my sister was stayed behind my house, …when he would go from my house to my sister’s house, …he’ll take a stone and then he’d bowl like this and throw. Ashwin, he was a very chilled out dad I believe, he wasn’t very strict? All he wanted was for you to study well, and then do whatever else you liked, wasn’t it? It was my self interest. If that is not strict I don’t know what is. I can’t remember a day where I used to have the time to spend for myself. My dad used to wake me up at 5:30, …and this is what I tell kids even now. As much as you can say that the kid needs to be motivated, …sometimes as a child, it’s very difficult… …to still wake up in the mornings and go. And he used to wake me up every single day, …get me ready, put me on the bike, and then he’ll come back home. My mom wanted me to be an engineer. And I did it, because I actually struggled through it. I actually slogged my entire sweat out then… …to actually do engineering and cricket. It used to be extremely hard. And extremely hard is an understatement. Every morning at 5:30 he used to wake me up, I used to curse my dad at least once, …and say, “It’s only because of you I’m having to do this.” You just see, suppose he failed in 10th, …what will happen… …others, all the relatives and friends will… -…they’ll complain.
-This is precisely where our lives stood. The outlier fact, was that… …none of my friends or cousins or anybody, …gave up an educational career to actually be in something off mainstream. -Correct.
-The pressure entirely came up on my dad, …saying that he used to take me for games all the time… …I was on the road, I was on the ground, not at the school. The wealth of the experience of having gone through that, …gives me a lot more perspective today to say it means nothing. I somewhere felt, …his obligation to society, which means nothing to any of us, …was actually the biggest, …pressure load on him, …that was thrusted upon me. The constant conversation at home used to be this, …my grand dad will keep pressing, saying that… …”This is not a career, it’ll not put food on your plate.” My dad would always be devastated. “No, he will play and stuff.” My mom would always be the voice of reason. So, we never had the direction of how to go and play. What remained was, everyday will be a new start and we’ll continue doing the same thing. See, look at it. Whatever that used to come, …whatever that used to come in the newspaper, …very meticulously, the same evening, we used to cut, …and just put everything together. We stopped only after it started coming on the internet. My dad genuinely believed, I don’t know how he believed it, …because I used to ask him everyday in the morning. When I used to wake up, I’d say, I’ll ask him. “So what is the direction, what do we do?” “I’ve played Under-14 State, what’s next?” He’d say, “Next is Under-16 State.” “So what next?” He’d say, “Under-19 State.” “Then what?” “Ranji trophy.” “Then what?” “Then I don’t know, but you have to play till there.” No, because, genuinely, none of us knew the direction. One of the incidences that I remember was… …I was 14 years old, and… …that was my last year playing Under-14 State, …and every time I used to get into the team but never really play all the games, …or get a good chance or anything like that. The next game, we were playing Karnataka in Chennai. So I went and played and… …I got a zero in the first innings and got a zero in the second. Made a pair. Before that, I had actually injured my pelvis. And, I was carrying it into the game and I couldn’t really perform, -This was Under-14 level?
-Under-14, yeah. Immediately after the game, …they gave me a letter saying, you’re dropped from the next game. Oh! So it was quite heartbreaking, …and generally when they drop you at the state level, that too Under-14 level, …it’s like, basically, you’re done. I mean, they will not… Nobody will bother you anymore and you’ve got to lead your life. I was genuinely crushed for the first time. I was actually crying and I was lying down in her lap and I was talking to her, …the one thing that used to always tell me was, “Forget about doing anything, even if you’re not good at anything, …you continue playing your game, I will make sure I have enough to serve you three meals a day.” What happened was, there was… …blood accumulation between the pelvis and the bone. And because of that, he was not able to walk. If you’re not doing the surgery, …then what they said is that it will be very detrimental. And you know, …what the worst part of the surgery was, …they said that they will do the surgery now, …and at the age of 17 or 18, when he grows up, …we have to do a re-surgery, …because otherwise, there will be a… …difference in the leg. -This was late ’90s?
-Late ’90s. -’99. In ’99, it was 2.5 lakhs. Lot of money. But fortunately, …my company used to give unlimited medical coverage for surgery and hospitalisation. So, I was applying for that… …medical, you know… …advance for surgery and all… … and out of… …agony I cried, actually. Little loud. There was a regional, …sales manager who was sitting in the next cubicle. He came running to me. I said I’ve seen Ashwin play cricket since the age of 6. That’s all I’ve seen him do, actually. And I feel so sad that my son’s dream is… …going to be dead now. He came to me and put his arms on my shoulder, “There is a… …my cousin is a doctor, Dr. Gopalakrishnan, who’s in Apollo Hospital, …why don’t you take a second opinion?” Incidentally, he was the… …doctor for Tamil Nadu cricket… -…team, actually.
-Right. Sports doctor. Then, he said, put him on bed rest, …continuously for 8 weeks. And we’ll take an MRI after 8 weeks, …in case everything settles down, …he can go back and play. Then we decided, okay, in this way, I’m going to lose time, only 6 months. But there is a chance that the surgery could be avoided. And 8 weeks, …intense rest for Ashwin. At the end of the 8th week, we took an MRI, …and it was good, actually. -The blood got diffused…
-Diffused. And he was fine. And he got back to his game, after 1 year. When he got back, he lost his opening slot. And he could not bowl, pace bowl. Because of the injury. That is the history of how he became an off spinner. First time, there was a relay of the South Zone One Day match. Which he was playing. He was playing, and I took an off from my office. We are glued on to the TV, in front of the TV we were all sitting. The match started at 9:30, …at 9:45, now there was a ball that was coming in, Ashwin was about to go and catch it, …and Badri came, …and both of them collided and Ashwin fell down. Some people came from the dressing room, …and they were holding Ashwin and Ashwin was walking inside. He was bleeding! Just 25 minutes or 30 minutes later, I saw him wearing a big bandage, …and I saw him on the field. And his physio was saying, …he was not even taking any anesthesia, …because he wanted to play. So I don’t think a person can be more… …cricket fanatic than this. Ashwin has been a… …excellent student of the game. There is definitely no doubt about it. Even if it rains, Ashwin will be upset, …if there is a match. That’s the kind of a person that Ashwin is. Preaching is something which all of us do, …but we never preached anything. We did everything along with Ashwin. Actually, when… I used to tell Ashwin, …when you’re earning money from BCCI, …it’s not that one person played and you’re earning money, …three people are playing, Ashwin, …see you are playing, you will not go through all the palpitation that I am seeing with, …see when you’re batting I’m literally holding the bat. And saying, “Aiyyo, my son is batting.” Lots of things have gone into Ashwin’s life actually, …as a family, we didn’t know anything other than Ashwin. Tell me about that, …Ashwin India debut morning. They didn’t travel for the game, because the last time they travelled, I didn’t play. -Yeah.
-So this time they said, okay, we will not travel… He was playing his debut in Zimbabwe, …we were almost in the computer. I believe this is where you sit and watch Ashwin play, …on television, right? Exactly. If I used to sit in any place and if he started taking wickets, …he’ll start playing well, I will not move. I don’t want any… This door was actually put only for him. Is aunty allowed to come and talk to you? -No. -No.
-No, not allowed? They both fight when I play. My mom is lot more composed, but my dad, what happens is… …his urge. He actually genuinely feels he’s playing the game. To be honest, he was… …he was like… …more than what I could ever be as a dad. I don’t think I can do that for my kids. And he’d cook for you as well? Yeah, he’s actually the best cook in the house, till now. When I raise the topic of diets at home, …and when I don’t eat or something like that, …he usually comes to my room in the afternoon, …about 3 or 4 ‘o’ clock. And he’ll ask me what I want to eat. I’ll say that I don’t eat at this time of the day. “No no, but you have to eat something.” He’ll usually make something like poori, and I’d say, that’s not very healthy! …and he’ll say, …I brought you up all my life, you never said this when I’d cook for you when you were young! So as they say, marriages are made in heaven, …I believe love stories in Chennai start at the… …Padmashishadri Bala Bhavan School? I got the name right, didn’t I? So, how did it all blossom, where did it all begin? You guys were classmates weren’t you? Yeah we were. We studied in the same school where we’re sitting right now, …on the other side of the campus. We met for the first time in Middle School. So, she was studying in another section in 8th standard, …that year, exactly when we reached 8th, she moved from another section to my section. And, straightaway, I started liking her. I was the shy types, who wouldn’t actually go up to her and talk and stuff like that. But we didn’t get off on the right note. What was that bit about not getting off on the right note? Now that I’ve heard this story so many times, I keep thinking… …I should’ve been less meaner, …so I’d been separated, as it is a life tragedy at that point, from my friends who were in the other class. Somehow, I think we never… …we never hit it off on the right note. I don’t know, I just found his gang very hostile for a bit. Or, too naughty for my taste. I was actually quite notorious in school, …because of what I did, obviously. I played cricket and… …I’d play all the time, not come to class… …it was like being this indisciplined sort of a kid. But obviously, she never really understood the story until we got married, …about why somebody used to skip classes, you know? It probably looked something like… …I didn’t come to class and sat around in a corner and yapped away or something. Maybe that was the perception. There was no, like, so, we didn’t date in school. -There was no dating scene.
-Yeah, we never dated in school. No, it was like, …sort of a well known secret to everybody else, …but to the both of us. Yeah, Ashwin likes Prithi, that’s all. Like, the whole… …school used to talk about it. And then when we got married, people I hadn’t spoken to in years… …they started pinging us and saying, -…’See!’
-‘We told you so!’ Who made the first move? Uh, I think him. You said it?
-Yeah. But you didn’t make it romantic? -Was it?
-Yeah, she has to stand up for that. -I can’t say if it was romantic or not.
-How dramatic was it? So it wasn’t dramatic, it was very sincere. We’re not like typical childhood sweethearts, …we met in school, and then… …we knew there was something happening, but… …we again started meeting each other, …only when we were adults and he was playing professional cricket. So, there wasn’t really much time to do the whole dating thing. Because he was playing, he was already off for the World Cup Squad. But before that, we’d had a conversation. He said, “I really want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He took me to Chemplast, …it’s a cricket ground where he had a lot of fond memories from childhood. -He took you to a cricket ground to…
-Yes. Wow. That’s where my life is. -And the entire initiation is there.
-Yeah! So it’s all about cricket! I mean, I didn’t mind it to be honest. I found it very refreshing. So, eventually, years later, …on Twitter you said, #IAmChamathu. What does that mean? You gotta tell us what that means! Basically, Chamathu means innocent. We were talking about our first night, …and things like that, right after our wedding, like the muhurtam time which happens. We were out of the wedding hall even before most of the people had eaten their lunch. The next morning, obviously we were playing, -…the Test match at Eden.
-Kolkata. So we got there and all that, …and we were settling in. It was, classified, first night, you know how it is. We got back from the airport by about 8:30/9. Then we were just chilling in the room. We were watching a movie, like an old classic Tamil… …comedy movie that he was making me watch. It was called Kaathala Kaathala, -It was Kamal Haasan’s movie.
_Kamal Haasan’s movie. And he was watching it probably for the ten thousandth time, I don’t know. So, his entire point about that night was to show me, …that I hadn’t really watched the movie because I couldn’t recollect any of the jokes. And then we went to bed, because he had a Test match. Then, starts the whole alarm thing. They had alarms. First thing, I thought it was his phone. I asked, why do you have an alarm for 11 in the night, what is the point? And he was like, no no, it wasn’t me. So we thought housekeeping had left behind something, till the whole… …you know, half a dozen alarms started going off.
-Then she understood it wasn’t me and we started tracing them. And then our only job was to figure out, till what time these guys had set it. We found like, 4 or 5, and turned them off, …but till about 12:30/1 they went on and then it ended. So, when did he goof up the most? And was super embarrassed, and… …came and said, sorry, I just messed up. Have you? Like have you said sorry? Really? -I know, I’m sorry I didn’t…
-I’m the one who says sorry in this relationship. Why am I not surprised! You’ll not be! Because that’s how it is for men! It has taken me almost 8 odd years to realise, …that I am the one who’s always saying sorry. I initially used to think like, …Oh my God! This girl is so arrogant, man! I mean, all these years, and who have a gotten married to! She’s so arrogant! She can’t even apologize to anything! Then I went across the board, I actually spoke to a few people, …some of the most successful businessmen in the country and the state. And when I’m talking to them, I’m saying, …Sir, my wife is there, I need to go no… …Otherwise I’m the one who’s saying sorry, even if the mistake is theirs! And, he just says, okay, so it’s the same in everyone’s life. Take it easy, take it in your stride. Then, I realised, okay, it’s just… …in the DNA. I mean, that’s how husbands are supposed to be. Aren’t you also the world’s first professional Gully Cricketer? I believe you got paid for it! Not just me, there are a lot of people who do it. You do get paid to come and play tennis ball cricket, tennis ball tournaments. You have like prize money tournaments in Chennai, …which is very very popular. It’s just gone down a little bit now. ‘m probably going to revive that culture again. But gully cricket did give you… …Sudoku? So what happened is, first time I went and played a tennis ball game, …I was batting and there was this guy who bowling like proper action, …like beautiful drift, and then getting the ball to go nicely out and in. I mean, till today, I can’t find the guy, where he is, but… …I haven’t seen a better bowler, …who can bowl both in and out, than him in my life. His name was SK. He was the one from whom I learnt that bowling. So he basically made me look like an absolute idiot on that particular day. Because, I was this big thing around the tennis ball circuit as a batsman then. So, I said I need to learn from this guy. I used to go every morning. He used to come and he taught me for about 10-15 days. That’s where it all started. Funnily, enough, you paid a price for being a bloody good gully cricketer! What was that story? Yeah, so, we were playing some tournament, …and generally, my friend had the habit of getting me to play tennis ball tournaments, …my dad clearly didn’t like it. He doesn’t appreciate me playing on the roads as well. So, one of those days, we were supposed to play a final, and we had this… …culture of people… …priding themselves at winning a competition like that. And I was about to leave, there were like 4 or 5 guys who came on Royal Enfields, …like really muscular and big and stuff. They just picked me up and said, …”Come, we gotta go..” I said, who? “You’re playing the match here, right?” “We’ve come to pick you up.” So I said, wow, they’ve arranged for someone to come and pick me up today. And it feels great! I mean, Royal Enfield and all. What happened, I sat behind, …one person and… …another person sat right behind me, as if I was going to get off and go. I was properly sandwiched between the both of them. I must’ve been what, 14 or 15? They took me to a posh Tea Shop. Tea Shop is a big culture thing in Chennai, next to all grounds, there is a Tea Shop. It’s got the benches and all that. They made me sit there. They ordered the fritters and snacks and all that, …and they said, “Have have, don’t be afraid, we’re here to help you out.” I said okay, and it was like, 3:30 or 4 o’ clock, …and I said, match is going to start, let’s go. “No no, we are actually from the opposition, …we wanted to stop you from playing. If you go and play, we will make sure your fingers are not there.” So, I just kept staring at them, …and I was like, okay. So we had a gala time for the next hour and a half, …and I said, look, my father will be back from office, …I gotta go home. I’ll not play the match, I promise you. You’ve been pleading from 4 to 5 o’ clock. Then they said, okay, let’s go. Then they picked me up and 5 o’ clock, they dropped me home, …as they were about to leave, my dad came. He asked me, ‘who are you talking to, who are these guys?’ I didn’t have an option, I said they’re friends. ‘Friends? Those dangerous looking friends? Where did they come from?’ I said, “No no, I used to play tennis ball with them, and they just came to see me, …and now they’ve gone home.” But, has life changed after the daughters arrived? Yeah yeah. Most certainly.
-How much. -Like, about, 50-60%! -He can’t sleep.
-Maybe more. I can’t sleep for starters. I can’t take late nights, like for example, for me, anything beyond 10:30 is late. For the early part of Akhira’s childhood, …she never used to sleep, and she used to always be on my shoulders… …and I used to always leaning to the other side. She never slept properly, It’s very very difficult being a mother early. We had two kids, back to back. Okay Ashwin, time to test your Spicy Quotient! Gotta be fiery, …very very rapid, and honest as always. Carrom Ball or Doosra? Carrom Ball. Comics – Marvel or DC? Marvel. Batman or Joker? Batman. -Archeology or…
-Archeology. Okay! Ramayan or Mahabharat? Both. Mum’s cooking, wife’s cooking? Dad’s cooking! Aadhya or Akhira? Both. Chennai or Punjab? It’s like, basically asking me between Akhira and Aadhya, so… …both. T20 powerplay, or… …the last session of Day 4 of a Test match, when nothing is happening. Last session of Day 4 of a Test match. Extreme anger or stone cold silence, when you’re upset? Extreme anger… …but changed over the last year or so. I do go silent, I do go inside myself. Romantic or no? No. Not at all? Can’t say never. But, no. Like, I said, for me everything is matter of factly, …I can be romantic, …but at the same time, if I have to be romantic, …the occasion needs to demand it. Then are there, and that’s it. So is all this in line with that big dream of yours to be the world’s best entrepreneur? And I’m quoting you here! It’s all good to have an ambition or a dream, right? I mean, there’s nothing wrong to dream in life about… …I always believe that you should look to reach the sky, …sure you’ll not reach it, …but at least, you’ll know, falling down, that you have tried to reach the sky. Finishing off with a small message, …and obviously, that’s from Rajnikanth’s movie. -It’s to her, not to me, not to the cameras.
-No no no! -No no, this is not a romantic one.
-This is not a romantic one. What is it? *Tamil* Ay! That’s so chauvinistic, to say. Not doing anything romantic, but it’s a tribute to, …one of our best writers, Crazy Mohan, who just passed away recently. This is from a movie called Vasool Raja, which has also happened in Hindi, which is your Munna Bhai. *Tamil* The audience will understand?