Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was a superbly talented batsman and a shrewd captain. On the field he had a regal touch to everything that he did. But there was much more to him than his cricket alone. He was a man who knew how to enjoy life to the fullest. He was a great lover of Hindustani classical music and ghazals. Talat Mahmood was one of his favourites.
But there was also a naughty side to his personality. And he loved to play practical jokes. One of the pranks he played on his teammates is known to several cricketers but not many people outside cricket circles have heard of it. It was an elaborately planned gag which shocked and terrified some of his fellow players.
Pataudi himself narrated the incident very briefly during a television interview with film actress Simi Garewal. But his friend M L Jaisimha, former Test cricketer and captain of Hyderabad, narrated the incident in more detail on one occasion at a gathering with journalists at his house in Marredpally in Secunderabad.
Pataudi had invited a group of young players over for a day of shikaar (hunting) in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. The region was notorious for the presence of dacoits (bandits).
A day before the shikaar was to take place, the “pitch was prepared” by Pataudi and his close friends. The cricketers were told stories about the grave risk of going into the forest and they should be careful during the trip.
Dacoits often kidnapped celebrities and held them to ransom. They were desperadoes who stopped at nothing. Shooting and killing was an everyday affair for them.
So the next morning, with some trepidation but also with a sense of adventure, the party of cricketers set off on Jeeps and Landrovers for a day of hunting. Pataudi was in the group too.
But when the vehicles reached a remote part of the forest, they found their path blocked. A gang of fierce looking and fully armed dacoits stood in the way and ordered them to halt. Unknown to them, these were all Pataudi’s men. They had been planted in the forest to carry out this stunt.
They were Pataudi’s employees, like cooks, gardeners and helpers who had been rounded up the day before and told what they should do. That morning they had been made to dress up like filmi dacoits and told to wait in the forests till the players turned up.
The men had brought along a few kitchen knives and gardening tools and whatever looked dangerous. But they were all dressed like typical Hindi film dacoits complete with turbans and covered faces.
Only Pataudi and one or two more in the group knew what was going on. The rest thought they had really been kidnapped and were soon trembling with fear. In their fear they didn’t even notice that the dacoits were addressing Pataudi as Janaab and treating him with great respect. The rude behaviour was only for the other players.
After a while a fake argument ensued following which E A S Prasanna was led off deeper into the forest and then the captive players heard a gunshot. Thereafter they were informed that Prasanna had been shot dead. Leg spinner B.S. Chandrasekhar and G.R. Viswanath immediately broke into tears when they heard that the world’s best off-spinner had been unceremoniously bumped off by dacoits. Viswanath who was tied to a tree was scared out of his wits. He thought it will definitely be his turn next.
Another player, V. Ramnarayan, has also written about the incident in his book and added more details. According to Ramnarayan, the former Test cricketer Vijay Manjrekar, realizing that his life was in grave danger, did some quick thinking and came up with a ruse. He had retired from cricket by then and was working in Air India.
But he told the dacoits: “I am a very poor man. Please let me go. I am only a Lower Division clerk. My salary is only Rs.300 and my DA is Rs. 225 and my HRA is Rs. 150. My family lives on my meagre income. Please let me go.”
Hearing him verbally rattling off an entire salary statement to the fake dacoits, cricket administrator Raj Singh Dungarpur, (who knew what was going on) could not contain himself any longer and ran away to hide his laughter. Seeing him run away, Manjrekar felt very hurt and disappointed. “Dekho. Yeh admi bolta hai ki woh Rajput hai. Kaisa Rajput hai. Darr ke bhag gaya,” he remarked.
After several hours of stress and tension, Pataudi finally decided that the players, both young and old, had enough for one day and revealed that it was all a prank – a game which had been enacted by his men at his own orders.
So they need have no fear. Nothing would happen to them and they would all return to their homes that night. The players were so relieved that they didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Till today they remember the scare that they got that day with mixed feelings.