Today we have with us whom our dear Ujj has emulated since he started watching cricket. We have with us Harsha Bhogle who was kind enough to some spare time for us and chat with us and strangely not much of what follows is related to Cricket !
Ujj: I know you must have been asked this about a hundred thousand times by people, but then I need to get the obvious out of the way to get to the interesting part, how did an IIM A Grad end up commenting on cricket?
Harsha: Ujjwal, if you have an interesting part why are you wasting time on the obvious? if,for example,you have a ten minute interview slot with someone, you want to check out something that isn’t obvious!! but to cut a long story short (and actually to be more polite!) I was doing this before I went to IIM-A and my first one-dayer and test match happened while I was there. I worked in advertising and then thought I might freelance for a while. we had a house in Mumbai, my wife Anita, who was also from IIM-A, worked and we weren’t particularly worried about income because it didn’t mean a huge amount to us. by the time pro TV appeared, I had enough experience and in a way therefore, was in the right place at the right time. In retrospect, I realize that success is about how much you are willing to do when you don’t have a reward in mind.
Ujj: Cricket, as I gather, is not the only sport you follow, I have personally heard you quoting records of football, tennis and even Carl Lewis, were you always a sports freak? even in Hyderabad Public School? Did you play any sports?
Harsha: not exactly sports freak but since there was no television when we were growing up I read the entire sports page, played virtually every sport in our colony but was always more serious about cricket which I played at school, at college, at senior division in Hyderabad and for my univ in the all india inter-univ. For some obscure reason people are surprised when they hear that (I think it is a good story to say ‘he didn’t play any cricket and anything that goes against that is not interesting’). I try and watch as much of other sport as I can (watching a bit of Chelsea v Tottenham at the moment!) but am not as much of a freak as many others I know. will follow results though.
Ujj: You were on air on radio at the age of nineteen. How did that happen? and then ABC (Australian Broadcasting Council)?
Harsha: yes, did my first ranji trophy match at nineteen. I did a demo tape for air-hyderabad on one of my league matches and they were kind enough to hear it. The station director,a big jovial man, said he liked it and was bold enough to put a kid on air. The big advantage was that when a kid is on air people tend to discount mistakes. Also I learnt a few hard things very early in life and to that extent the learning curve began early.
In 1991, I wanted to broadcast overseas. the ABC said they had a very strict quality adherence policy and would need to hear something. luckily my father had recorded some commentary from an Irani trophy match and I had the cassette. I made a copy on one of those old two-deck tape machines and sent it by registered post (courier was way too expensive even for two IIM-A grads!). Got a fax back saying I was okay for one test, that they would take it from there but that their policy was that the overseas broadcaster is paid by his station. that was fine for me. worked my backside off doing a lot of other stuff (ghosting columns, writing two a day every day, shooting features for video mags…anything) so I could do commentary for which I wasn’t paid anything, but the ABC were awesome and put me onto the BBC and gave me a very nice testimonial that came in handy when TWI were looking for commentators in india. so again, how much are you willing to do for no reward!
Ujj: This is really something. Did your family ever found it odd or did they ever threaten to take you
to someone when you said, you wanted to do something other than consulting (my knowledge of management jobs is quite limited as you would have guessed)?
Harsha: Oh no, not at all because the decision to freelance was taken when I was 29. it wasn’t a risky decision because, as i said, Anita worked and we had a house. plus I knew that I could get a job in advertising again if it didn’t work out. in retrospect I realize I did not think too much. but it would be very difficult now because the opportunity cost would be too high. Salaries are seriously good so giving it up would be tough. Today’s kids would have to give up too much and I suspect they are far more driven than I ever was.
Ujj: Do you think your education both at HPS, Osmania univ and IIMA, gave something different to you that helped you in making you what you are? I would like to generalize this and ask what you think of the pedagogical system of our country that somehow seems to shout that “do no venture into unknown territories”? You may of course differ from me completely.
Harsha: I can understand why it says that because people tend to glorify those that have done something different without focussing on what can go wrong. A lot of people go wrong too, but I don’t think it is the system that says don’t do this. within the system we need to have priorities clear. but yes, school at HPS helped me enormously because that is where I started playing cricket. had a good “PT sir” and outstanding English and Chemistry teachers and those are the three memories that I carry. College wasn’t a great learning experience. the biggest thing in its favour was that it was in hyderabad and that allowed me to play a lot of cricket and do a lot of radio and television which may not have been possible had i been in a hostel somewhere, but by far the greatest influence was IIM-A. It gave me confidence and a different outlook to life. I think I sometimes look at the game, and its players, differently. It also gave me the desire to excel. you see, I had to be aware of what my batchmates were doing and if I hadn’t made some progress early on I don’t know how long I would have done it. even today, it isn’t the number of games i have covered that gets me as much respect as the fact that i have an unusual educational background!
Ujj: Would you as a father mind if your son wants to get into something totally bizzare? something like a pro blogger?
Harsha: provided I was convinced that he wouldn’t be unhappy later. but it would be very important for me to see if he really loved it deeply and wasn’t doing it as a passing attraction.
Ujj: Hyderabad has a neat history of quizzing. You studied at the Hyderabad Public School, did it have a quizzing club?
Harsha: We had a quiz team that went to inter-school competitions and of course we had an inter-house competition conducted by one of the best quiz masters I have known; our English teacher called S W Chandrasekhar. I would sometimes sit in for the inter-house quiz but while I was in the debating team I wasn’t ever in the quiz team.
Ujj: I recently participated in Tata Crucibles. The turnout this year was massive! I think quizzing is here to stay. What do you think? With business quizzing becoming a “must have round” for most quizzes, do you see some prospect in becoming quiz masters? (People have this impression that quiz masters are ubermensch of some sort).
Harsha: Tto be honest, don’t know if it can become a profession. I do the odd one for one and am clear about that. in my quizzes i only ask the questions and am aware that the participants know more than I do. in fact I think that is true of all quizzes! all I see my job being is that of a pleasant conduit between the person who sets the questions and the person who tries to answer it. if people haven’t enjoyed themselves at the end, whether they have won or lost, I think I have lost. but beyond that, I am aware that the real stars are those that set, and those that answer, questions. oh, by the way, I don’t know what ubdermensch means!!
Ujj: Ubermensch..ahem.. I was trying to impress you. Thanks a lot for the answers. Ill keep the time thing in mind. Thanks for it.
Harsha: ah, that was just a joke
Ujj: but I thank you for it.
Harsha: interesting you don’t mention cricket among your interests. no crime, but just curious since you ask me a few questions!!
Ujj: Ill clarify one thing immediately. I played cricket for my district (Jabalpur under 16 team). Hold the record for 8 catches in a match and the longest six of my college. -) Just that your Indian Express articles (especially the “ego is what brought Indian cricket to its knees”) on cricket cover most of what I could have asked you. Thanks a ton for your time.