The state of Karnataka is made up of three sections, each previously part of another political regime. There is ‘Old Mysore’, the districts in the south which once belonged to the princely state of that name. There is the ‘Hyderabad-Karnatak’, the collective name for the arid northern districts (Bijapur, Raichur, Gulbarga, etc.) that once formed part of the Nizam’s Dominions, whose capital city was Hyderabad. And there is the ‘Bombay-Karnatak’, which lies in the north-west of the state, around and beyond the twin cities of Hubli-Dharwad, and which in colonial times was part of the Bombay Presidency.
These three names were once in common usage, referring as they did to regions united by language but divided by culture and ecology. Thus the ‘Hyderabad-Karnatak’ was known for its gorgeous temples and mosques, the ‘Bombay-Karnatak’ for its cuisine and its (Hindustani) musicians, ‘Old Mysore’ for its irrigated farmlands and its (Carnatic) musicians.
I grew up using these names and inflections, but with the state of Karnataka now almost fifty years old, the young have no use for them any more. For my son, ‘Bombay-Karnatak’ means not the sublime music of Mallikarjun Mansur, but the equally sublime partnership at the crease of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
Nor should we cavil at this. For, as the recent Kolkata Test against Pakistan showed, this has been one of the great jugalbandhis of world cricket. There is Hayden and Langer, for Australia; Lara and Chanderpaul, for the West Indies; Gibbs and Kallis, for the South Africans; and, above them all, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar for India.
The order in which I have just placed these names is not the order which comes naturally to Indians. For years, when I asked my son, ‘Is the great man still batting?’, he knew precisely whom I had in mind. Checking with friends, I found that they too routinely referred to Tendulkar in that way: as, I am sure, did and still do thousands of other cricket fans. But in my family at least the term has had to be modified somewhat. After Rahul Dravid’s match-winning knock of 148 in the Headingley Test of 2001—which I reckon to be the finest innings played by an Indian overseas—and after the many fine hundreds that followed, the Karnataka batsman is rarely referred to in our home by his name either. He is the ‘greater man’, so that, when it is a one-day match (where Sachin opens), the question is whether the greater man has joined the great man at the crease. In a Test match (where Rahul bats at one-drop), the same question is posed in the reverse order.
The usage, I hasten to add, is somewhat ironical. It is not that we call Dravid the ‘greater man’ because, like him, we live in Bangalore. Nor are we passing a definitive cricketing judgement. History will probably (and rightly) judge Tendulkar to be the better batsman all around, especially when one considers his extraordinary achievements in the one-day game. However, over the past few years Dravid has arguably been more crucial to the Indian Test side. But since his game and his character are of the unglamorous kind, because he goes about his job quietly, efficiently, unspectacularly, he has perhaps not got quite the recognition he deserves.
It is intriguing to compare the Tendulkar-Dravid partnership with a Bombay-Karnatak combination of an earlier generation. I refer, of course, to those near-contemporaries, close friends, brothers-in-law, and fellow batting geniuses, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath. While they played, cricket fans were deeply divided as to who was the greater batsman. Those who favoured classical orthodoxy gave their vote to Gavaskar. Those who had an eye for artistry and innovation preferred Viswanath. After they retired, however, the cold print of statistics has allowed Gavaskar to far outstrip Viswanath. (Remember, Gavaskar scored as many as 34 Test centuries; Viswanath, a mere 14.) But then their respective worth to Indian cricket can never be measured in numbers alone. For Viswanath never scored a hundred in a Test that India lost; each of his centuries was made to help his side win a match, or at least save one. Gavaskar might have been the greater player, but certainly not by (as those centuries suggest) a margin of two-and-a-half to one. Viswanath’s case has not been helped by his personality; for he was, and still remains, the shyest, sweetest, most self-effacing character ever to have played Test cricket for India.
In the hands of a writer more energetic than myself, a whole book might be written around these triple comparisons: between Gavaskar and Viswanath, between Tendulkar and Dravid, and between the first pair and the second. Here, let me end only by noting the one respect in which the present Bombay-Karnatak collaboration is superior to the one that came before. Though they played much of their Test cricket together, Gavaskar and Viswanath only shared four century partnerships. Dravid and Tendulkar have already been associated in fifteen.