Video: Media chaos mars Dravid book reading
Newer faces, fresher talents may have displaced Rahul Dravid from his once eminent position in the cricket pantheon -- but he is still capable of starting a riot in his native city, Bengaluru.
"Unfortunately," Dravid said in an SMS later that evening, "these things always seem to get out of hand."
That short text message revealed a master of understatement -- 'out of hand' barely began to describe an evening when adults went berserk and kids, panicked by a stampede, screamed in fright.
It started innocently enough, with Dravid appearing at the Landmark bookstore in the Forum mall on Old Hosur Road, in Koramangala to read from Cricketmatics, a children's book brought out by the Chennai-based Karadi Tales company as part of a series.
The event was part of 'Will you read with me?', a campaign designed to promote reading among children that has thus far seen the likes of Bollywood stars Vidya Balan, Sanjay Dutt, Konkona Sen Sharma, Boman Irani, Jaaved Jaaferi and Soha Ali Khan lend their voices to the various titles, 18 of which are planned to be released over a nine month period.
Cricketmatics, the latest in the line, is the story of a young boy whose love for cricket interfered with more mundane activities like academics, particularly his pet peeve, mathematics. Written by ex-IITian Anshumani Ruddra and read by Dravid to music and special sound effects by Narayan Parusuram of Three Brothers and a Violin, the book proved intrinsically good -- the kind of fare kids would lap up.
A relaxed Dravid -- 'relaxed' applying only to the early portion of the evening -- laughingly said he knew the previous titles in the series off by rote, because son Samit insisted on playing them endlessly in the car.
The evening seemed set to be a hit. With publisher Shobha Vishwanath emceeing, Dravid and Ruddra read selected excerpts, Parasuram conducted an impromptu sing-along and Ruddra took over again to conduct a cricket-related math quiz for the assembled children, numbering several dozen.
With children, opportunity for unscripted humor is always high, and this evening was no exception. 'How do you hit a six?', a seven year old asked as soon as the floor was thrown open to questions, prompting a laughing Dravid to point out that he didn't hit enough of them to qualify as an expert. 'I've been trying hard for several years,' he quipped. 'Sometimes I just get lucky!'
Dravid takes his role as role model for the young very seriously -- as was manifest in his many lightly phrased, yet dead-on serious exhortations to the assembled young to read, to focus on studies, to concentrate on math -- 'Oh, and it is okay if you watch some cricket in between when I am playing!', he added to their delight and the rueful laughter of the parents who stood on the other side of the barricade.
Perhaps the moment of greatest magic came when Dravid blurted out the answer to one of Ruddra's quiz questions -- and got it dead wrong, to peels of laughter from the children, several of whom got it right. Turning a pratfall into profit, Dravid promptly spoke of his own less than stellar record in school, especially in math, and warned the kids, by now completely in his pocket, to learn from his example and pay attention to their multiplication tables.
"It is not enough to hit sixes," he quipped. "You also need to know how to count them!"
And then, without warning, the evening went to pot. Publisher Vishwanath threw open the floor to the media -- and on cue, several of the nearly two dozen television camera crew and still photographers launched into an acrimonious argument that nearly led to fisticuffs.
'Do you know who we are?', one television lensman demanded of the organizers, provoking a expression of complete incredulity on Dravid's face.
The organizers attempted to paper things over by announcing that the star batsman would now sign copies of the book -- but that well-meaning attempt to give the evening direction only made things worse, with the media personnel refusing to give room to the young ones who surged forward, holding copies of the book out for autographs.
One little girl fell and screamed in fright as feet, of the young and old, marched right over her; as the pandemonium increased and the wailing of bewildered kids signaled the complete ruin of the evening, a group of security guards rushed Dravid out of the hall, as the only sure antidote to unscripted chaos.
"I always dread that someone's going to get hurt some day," Dravid messaged later. It was no fault of the media's that his long-felt apprehension didn't come true last Saturday.
Video: Reuben NV
Image: Rahul Dravid