I wanted to run back home till 2015-16: Cricketer R Ashwin

From a small lane in West Mambalam to becoming one of the all-time sporting greats from the country, R Ashwin’s book is a story of resilience
Co-authored with Sidharth Monga, Ashwin’s biography is a deep dive into his two-decade-long journey from Chennai to conquering the world through the eyes of the 37-year-old.
Co-authored with Sidharth Monga, Ashwin’s biography is a deep dive into his two-decade-long journey from Chennai to conquering the world through the eyes of the 37-year-old.

BENGALURU: 1st street, Ramakrishnapuram. It's a street that's just about 160m long, connecting Arya Gowda Road and Ramakrishnapuram Ln in West Mambalam locality of Chennai.

From the outset, it might seem like a random street. But in the context of sporting history of not just Chennai, but the country, 1st street, Ramakrishnapuram holds paramount significance. After all, this is the street where R Ashwin, India's premier off-spinner, hails from. The street is not just an origin story of Ashwin — who has played 100 Tests for India, is the first from Tamil Nadu to do so and take 516 Test wickets so far. It is so much more. To understand the significance it holds to Ashwin and what it means to him, all one has to do is read just two paragraphs — the first one of the prologue and the last one in the book — of his newly published biography: I have the streets — a kutti cricket story.

Co-authored with Sidharth Monga, Ashwin's biography is a deep dive into his two decade-long journey from 1st street, Ramakrishnapuram to conquering the world through the eyes of the 37-year-old. For any top athlete, especially an elite Indian cricketer, whose life is constantly under the public eye, their life on and off the field is often well documented with different perspectives for the fans and readers to perceive. Ashwin, in 'I have the streets', gives his perspective of things and how he felt and reacted to every small thing that happened to him, his fight with the perception that was constantly created about him without getting into who's right or wrong in a particular situation. He has done so as a conscious choice, and with his typical comical sense and pop culture references.

R Ashwin
R AshwinPhoto | Martin Louis, EPS

If the reader is an ardent follower of his YouTube channel, one should not be surprised if they read it in his voice. And someone from the same part of the country as him might relate a little more and there are underlying reasons for it. From being in an national-level age-group camp without knowing Hindi to his constant fight for acceptance despite growing up the ranks as an international cricketer, Ashwin has not held anything back. He has put himself out there, being vulnerable, while telling his side of the story in a relatable manner.

"Firstly, I think we need to understand if you are coming from this part of the country you need to fight for acceptance. You can't quit. So that is one thing I wanted to really establish," Ashwin says on the sidelines of his book launch event at the Taj Coromandel, Chennai. "I don't want to label it now but we very often want it too easy and don't expect it to be tough. It is what it is. You believe it or not the capital is in New Delhi. The financial capital is in Bombay. You accept it or not is your choice. But if you want to be in the big boys league and if you aspire for it you must adapt yourself to be that."

R Ashwin
R AshwinPhoto | Martin Louis, EPS

Even as Ashwin tried to adapt and fight for acceptance for the first half of his career, he found peace and solace in coming back home to Tamil Nadu for domestic cricket; to 1st street, Ramakrishnapuram for his under-arms tournaments. In fact, it is something he circles back to throughout his early years in international cricket. "It is just the bare truth," he says.

"My debut was in 2010, I had been travelling with the Indian team since 2009, and professional cricket from 2006 for TN. The Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy dressing room felt a lot more like a safe haven. As a professional cricketer, I am hitting my 17-18th year. I would be lying If I said I have felt comfortable for a large part of it. I have always wanted to run back home to my friends and my family till 2015-16. And only after that, I can't really say what opened up but things do change. And you need to find it. You need to first accept that this is how it is. And you need to learn how to combat the dealing mechanisms."

Photo | Martin Louis, EPS

And Ashwin eventually did figure out his way to deal things and find acceptance, but one will have to wait for the sequel to know in detail about it. I have the streets, meanwhile, is about him running back to his streets where he felt like home. It is about a family — his parents, and grandfather — making immense sacrifices to give him the best chance to do what he loves the most: play cricket. It is about a young Tamil guy from a middle-class family finding his small joys in friendships, gully cricket, movies while being the fiercest competitor during a cricket game at 1st street, Ramakrishnapuram.

For Ashwin, writing this book is about sharing his story and leaving it to the reader to decide their take on it. "I care very deeply about what I have written. But I didn't think about what sort of an impact it would leave. I can't force upon it being a powerful story line for someone. You reading it might resonate with it. Somebody else might not. But my only goal for this was as long as it leaves an impact on five per cent of the people that read the book I would have done my job. I believe we all grace this planet for a very small period of time. If we can touch the lives of people through any form that you can. Even if you can make them laugh or if you can make them learn through your story it's great."

'I have the streets' is available on local bookstores and online (Price ₹699)

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The New Indian Express