When Kapil Dev lifted the World Cup at the Lord’s balcony, the erstwhile BCCI president and one of the powerful ministers in the Indira Gandhi cabinet, the late NKP Salve, had a different worry.
It was still some years to go for economic liberalisation and an astute businessman like Jagmohan Dalmiya’s foresight to turn cricket into an industry.
Kapil’s Devils needed to be celebrated but the BCCI, which currently is looking at $5 billion television contract, barely paid its cricketers a daily allowance of 20 pounds.
Salve had to turn to his Man Friday and Indian cricket’s one-stop encyclopaedia, Raj Singh Dungarpur, for a solution to be able to reward the players for such an achievement.
Raj bhai, as Dungarpur was known in Indian cricket circles, decided that the only way was to request his close friend and one of country’s biggest cricket fans, Lata Mangeshkar, to do a pro-bono concert in the national capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
The JLN was packed to capacity as Lata did a near two-hour programme.
The event ensured that the BCCI collected enough money and each of the 14 members got ₹1 lakh each as cash award.
“It was a very decent sum in those days. We would otherwise save up tour money and daily allowance for that month and it came to barely ₹60,000,” Sunil Valson said.
“I remember some people said we will give you ₹5,000, some said ₹10,000 and it was very disrespectful at times. But then Lata ji sang in that concert. What a function it was and one of the most memorable evenings to watch her sing live,” Valson said.
The BCCI, and more so Dungarpur, never forgot how Lata saved Indian cricket from sheer embarrassment just because of her love for the game.
As a mark of respect, the BCCI till her death kept two complimentary VIP tickets allocated at any Indian stadium for her, where India played an international match.
“Just like we have quota for each match for sponsors, state associations, there are two tickets at every cricket match for Lata ji,” a BCCI official said.
The Mangeshkars were really cricket fans but one of the finest chroniclers of Mumbai cricket, journalist Makarand Waigankar, recalls the days in the 1960s when Lata was a regular visitor at the CCI Stadium and later at the Wankhede Stadium in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“Lata ji and her brother music composer Hridaynath Mageshkar were regulars at Test matches held at Brabourne Stadium. Later through the ‘70s, she would hardly miss any game even with such busy recording schedule,” Waingankar, who was a young journalist back then, recalled.
Mangeshkar would sit alongside Dungarpur and former Mumbai legend and Test opener Madhav Apte and watch the proceedings.
There is an old video of Mangeshkar also watching an India versus West Indies Test match in Chennai, where she must have gone for a recording back in ‘70s.
She was very close to all Mumbai cricketers, including Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar.
She would often drop in at the Cricket Club of India and enjoy cricketing discussion in the company of Dungarpur and another distinguished Test cricketer, Hanumant Singh, who was the former’s nephew.
Tendulkar would often say that she saw “Maa Saraswati” in Mangeshkar.
The Nightingale of India left a day after Saraswati Puja.