Club commitments done, India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took some time off of his schedule to speak to The New Indian Express on life beyond cricket. The off-spinner, apart from sending a strong social message with regards to tackling the ongoing coronavirus threat, spoke about his other interests too. Excerpts from the interview.
How is it like, being at home at the moment?
I was playing club cricket. So I haven’t been completely rooted to home. Beyond that, I haven’t gone anywhere. Matches are over now. When at home, I usually stay indoors. It’s not like I’m doing other activities or I venture out. One difference is that children are not going to school. They are also stuck at home. Managing their energy is a challenge right now. I need to find new avenues for that.
As an elite athlete, is there more responsibility on you under the current circumstances?
I don’t know. India could be a country where the disease can be very nasty. Because self-discipline in terms of what we give to the community — thani manushan ozhukam (self-discipline) — is extremely low. I was reading an article that talked about an infected person in Maharashtra being humiliated by neighbours. We are fighting a common enemy that cannot be seen.
So people being insensitive is going to lead to more issues. People might not even come out if they show symptoms. In India, the thought process from previous generations is like ‘if it has to happen, it will happen; you can’t do anything’. There are educated people saying “Heat will kill the virus. It doesn’t survive because SARS couldn’t.” There is an amount of panic that has set in, but so has ignorance. It is confusing. In a country like India, you have to bank on a little bit of luck for the virus to evade you.
In times like these, what do you do to stay fit?
We have to confine ourselves. Thankfully, I have a cycle and a small gym at home to be in my best shape... probably stick to a diet. The most important thing now is to look after oneself and be socially responsible towards others and the community. Everything else takes a backseat. There are people who need food thrice a day on their plates.
They need to work for that. I think we should do more about community living. Help each other in circumstances like these. That is the only way we can move forward and survive. Some of the corporates are not lenient towards their employees. But I think they will get there once they understand the magnitude and enormity of the pandemic.
You had helped many during the Chennai floods. Have you explored anything about the current situation?
I don’t know where we stand right now. I don’t think WHO announced this as a pandemic without assessing the situation. People need to be responsible. I see a lot of spitting on roads. They don’t even carry a handkerchief. I’m not saying that you roam around with a hand-sanitiser all the time. But at least carry a handkerchief. Sometimes, people are gathering in numbers and treating it normally. I can understand if you go out with family. But gatherings can act as breeding grounds. I hope this settles down. It is a virus... seasonal influenza.
But the drastic steps taken by other countries are yet to be taken here. We are shutting down borders, but there is more to it. To put the onus completely on a government or on an organisation is utter rubbish. There are only some things that they can do, and it is not something that one can plan for. You plan after it starts. It happens every 100 years, if you look at it statistically. Every century, there is a pandemic that whips off certain levels of population. It is up to the people to be responsible. I feel we as a community start blaming each other, asking who is responsible, rather than asking how we should cope and how responsible we should be. This is nature’s response; the sort of situation given to mankind, so that they ask themselves to be a more social animal and get on well with each other.
When in Chennai, which spots do you frequent?
I have my parents and children here. Once in a while, we go for dinner and things like that. Or we go to movies, coffee-shops. That is pretty much it. I spend a lot of time at my academy, which gives me a lot of down-time. I drop my daughter at school and pick her up. All these form a routine. But all of that has taken a backseat at the moment.
How has the academy experience been?
There is a story. There was a guy who was playing cricket 10 years ago. He was looking for a job. He was in trouble, because he didn’t have parents and had to look after his grandmother. Although he wasn’t very talented, he came to our academy. We had just started and there was no one to look after it. Even his bike was on the verge of being seized. I gave him a job for Rs 6,000 per month. He was supposed to look after the facility and help the coaches.
Ten years on, he is in charge of GenNext Academy’s grounds in Chennai and Dubai. He also handles Tech Solutions’ cricket facilities. His name is Kumar, and he isn’t even 30 yet. He happens to be my favourite. He learnt everything on the job. I put him in touch with some of the groundsmen in Chemplast and India Cements. He picked their brains. Now he even knows how to repair a roller. He earns between Rs 45,000 to Rs 50,000. He has come a long way. He still continues to play cricket and happens to be the captain of one of my league teams.
Are your daughters interested in cricket?
Too early to say. If they are interested, it’s great. If not, then so be it. I will encourage them to play. They go for football and ballet classes. They are interested in dancing. It is hard to streamline everything, but we try and expose them to as many activities as possible to see where their interests lie. I want them to be physically active in whatever they want to do. But I want them to try and understand cricket so that they know what their father is doing.
When you go out, do they know why?
They do. They ask me to stop playing at times. They ask me why I go for matches everyday. Even when I came back after the New Zealand tour, before I left for my club cricket commitments, they were like, “Don’t go to play today.” They know if I’m going to the gym or to a match by just looking at my attire or body language. I don’t have to tell them.
I’m anything but serious in real life. But I don’t feel like showing my vulnerability to the media or other people. I like to limit that side to the people I trust and live with. I’m very open and up front. I’m even sarcastic to a great degree. I used to be the same with different people. But they make you speak — some journalists and media personnel are like that.
They actually make it seem like they mean well. But they then tell other cricketers, “Ash said this. Ash said that.” They just want access. One difference between myself and a few journalists who come to cover games is that I completely enjoy the game. So when I play, I’m totally immersed in it. When I speak about cricket, I speak only about it. That is how it is for me. Maybe that comes across as seriousness.
Do you collect souvenirs from matches?
My showcase has all the balls for each fifer of mine.
You watched Kaathala Kaathala on your wedding night. Safe to say you are a movie buff?
That tells you a thing or two about what sort of a guy I am. Doesn’t it? I love comedy flicks. I’ve watched all Crazy Mohan movies, black and white and all. I used to watch a lot more than I do now. Hopefully, I will get to watch the movies that I missed in the last four, five years, after having kids. Not just Tamil ones. I watch English, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi flicks.
Has anyone made fun of your Hindi?
I don’t know if they speak behind my back. But nobody has said anything in front of me. Early on, there was occasional banter over my pronunciation. But that was very mild. If somebody says something about me, I will question it. I’m not someone who is afraid of doing that. So people have always been cautious about bullying me or pulling my leg. I can take a joke, but it has to be good humour. It should not be racist or based on region.