Please tell us about yourself
There is no dearth of articles on why one should pursue one’s passion, how one can get there and what one needs to sacrifice to attain that goal. Quite a few books and write-ups focus on dreaming and why that matters so much. Some, like Mark Manson, say it is not really about you dreaming but much more about you enjoying the process and the hard yards needed to get there. For years, I remained someone who never quite knew what I wanted to do (I still am a confused soul) before I figured how my craze for sports, love for numbers and the ability to write a fairly readable piece could come together. And yes, it wasn’t serendipity alone that mattered. Luck, good timing, great mentors and a supportive family play a massive role but the contribution of the not-so-romantic factors — watching every match, poring over scorecards of pre-war matches, enjoying playing the role of a stats guy and umpire in the local cricket matches, and sitting up all night to pen articles on a blog which nobody was perhaps going to read — cannot be ignored.
“When did this love for sport start?” I have been asked by many people I know. From whatever I can recall, I have to go back to the time I was perhaps 4-5 years old. Somehow, I seemed to have developed a penchant for numbers, especially the mathematics of calendars. To everyone I met, I must have seemed some sort of mini prodigy. Armed with the 100-year calendar, doctors at the hospital where my sister was born challenged me to fetch the day given the date. It took no more than a few seconds to stun them. Before I knew it, I had performed this feat in front of a private audience of a few ministers too. Then, one day, during breakfast, my mom decided to have a little fun and asked me to help out with the day-date combination a few months ahead. I had no clue. She felt I was joking but quickly realised that the ability had vanished without a trace.
Despite years of solid grounding in mathematics and an uncanny knack for computation, I have never quite been able to reproduce what I was in those early years. My memory for facts, trivia and information was also something people around me were in awe of. It is quite plausible (and I say so after reading a fair bit on how the brain is quite economical in its functioning) that my ability to serve as a human calendar was slowly but surely replaced by an equally exciting ability to retrieve odd and thoroughly useless (not in my opinion, of course) bits of random information simply because I exposed myself far more to books, newspapers, matches, magazines and sports than I did to calendars.
As with most school kids growing up then, my life did involve a fair bit of academics and good scores meant a lot to me. Mathematics, especially, was a subject I cared deeply about and went the extra mile to ensure I was always among the best in my class. However, my parents deserve a significant amount of credit for providing me the freedom to play, quiz, and retain several other interests all through school. Between the ages of 10 and 22, when I finished up my undergraduate studies in Bangalore, I was not far from being a sports fanatic. I devoured nearly every cricket, football and tennis match I could watch and read about. Week after week, I would track down Sportstar magazines, get hold of the posters, and scout for shops that gave me access to rare Wisden magazines from the 1970s and 1980s. The day-date ability had come and gone but I was now recalling a cricketing significance for almost every number I came across. I could mentally compute averages & strike rates for every batsman, serve as the scoreboard, and yet be the umpire of choice in every local match in my neighbourhood. While all this did seem quite fantastic to most people around me, nothing about my career then suggested I was going to do anything concrete about what I loved.
What did you study?
Going to the U.S for my graduate studies in Electrical Engineering was something I never planned. But then, what had I ever planned till then? After an initial phase when I struggled to acclimatise, I quickly settled in and had a fantastic time. Two years full of academic rigour & research, coupled with a lot of sports watching & playing, suddenly entered a period that seemed more or less like the dark ages — the recession had well and truly arrived. With absolutely no jobs on offer and unlucky rejections from a number of top companies, the only aspect of my life that kept me going was sport.
During one of the thousand weekend parties I was part of, my friend and fellow sports fan (let’s call him J), who seemed to have had just about the right number of drinks that prompts a person to go into serious advice mode, suggested that I was wasting time looking for jobs in a field I didn’t connect to. He went on: “Please try and get into Cricinfo. Don’t take what I say lightly just because you think I am drunk. Alcohol brings out what one truly wants to convey.” I stared at him for a few seconds and wondered whether all that even made sense. I had given Cricinfo a shot already. During the Sydney Test of 2008 (yes, that one!), I had made a call to the Cricinfo office and spoken regarding an open position they had featured on their jobs page. I had a great hour-long conversation but was told that there was little they could do if I was in the U.S. They did, however, add that I could reconnect when I moved back to India. I felt good about the call but knew that my move to India wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
What was the turning point?
Strange things happen. Life often dishes out moments and circumstances that you can never anticipate. In a few months, I had landed a job offer but had no option but to go back to India and work in the Indian setup given the lack of visa sponsorship. Much as I hesitated about leaving the U.S and my friends behind, I had also reached a point where I wanted to go back and seek out a fresh start. At that difficult juncture, a job in Cricinfo was nowhere close to even a passing thought, let alone a priority.
There are three kinds of changes in the world — changes, rough changes, and a move from the Bay Area to Tambaram (thanks, Disraeli). When I began working in early 2009 in the office setup in Tambaram, an area that had no semblance of being part of a big city, I wondered if I had made the right choice. I had decided, of course, that I would not live there. I chose to live in a small place about 35 kilometres away in Anna Nagar, a posh neighbourhood in Chennai. I braved the challenging and time-consuming commute to work simply because I was motivated to have a life at the end of the day and not end up going home and doing nothing. More than anything else, I wanted to live alone and experience the freedom and opportunities the choice provided.
I usually shut shop by 6 p.m. and left work. Being someone who hated carrying work home, I usually left the laptop in the office. Once I was back, I hit the gym, wrapped up my dinner and then sat down to write. Virtually every day, I started working on building a blog featuring mostly sports articles. I had penned my first write-up way back in 2005 but had never quite managed to stay focussed enough to maintain a regular blog. The fact that I stayed alone didn’t help. When my friends from the U.S visited, there was little hope of writing, given that we were travelling, playing or exploring our favourite restaurants.
Weekends were spent even better. I had picked up a membership at the British Council library. Having got myself a great book, I would spend hours at Amethyst, which still remains my café of choice among the hundreds I have visited. After I had completed my reading for the day, I would also draw up a structure for my next piece and begin work on it the moment I got home. Time flew by, like it always does. I had about 35-40 articles up on the blog in around 9-10 months but never quite knew what I was going to do with them. The blog had a fairly good readership then and I started receiving a number of quality comments and suggestions from people known and unknown.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?
Often, much to my mother’s amusement, I would quip that I was bored of work. For someone who had worked in a bank for nearly 30 years, that would have seemed a ridiculous thing to hear. But then, who really was better placed to understand me? During the Deepavali visit around October 2009, I began a rant about how boring work was and how I serious I was about joining Cricinfo. Now, this wasn’t coming from someone who had had his career figured and accumulated enough in the bank to take some major risks. I had moved back from the U.S with a massive credit card loan. With an average Indian salary, I had to work on settling the card loan, education loan and yet manage the rent and living expenses. Quite often, the last week of the month was near impossible to get past. As someone who knew everything about the life I was living, my mom still decided to humour me and suggested that I try talking to Cricinfo. It was at this moment that I picked up the landline and dialed the only company number I knew — their landline.
A very short wait was interrupted by a familiar voice (let’s call him R). The same person I had spoken to nearly 20 months earlier had answered the call. Rather hopefully, I asked if he remembered me. The “yes, I do” response both shocked and reassured me. I spoke about my return to India and my eagerness to meet and discuss more. When I was asked if I was ok to meet in a few hours for a chat over a cup of coffee, I had absolutely no hesitation in answering in the affirmative. The coffee discussion was excellent. I showed him printouts of all the articles I had written. We spoke cricket, Roger Federer and much more. He suggested that I come over to the office in the next couple of weeks and meet the leadership team. Again, I did not hesitate.
I returned home excited. My parents knew I was sports-crazy and that I had what it takes to succeed in a career poring over it. However, they were terribly unsure if choosing such a path made sense. For now, they realised this was just an exploratory phase and wished me luck, perhaps hoping that better sense would prevail once I got back to Chennai. They couldn’t have been more wrong. As discussed, I arrived in Bangalore in a couple of weeks and went straight to the Cricinfo office. The chat that followed can only be described as interesting. After I spent around 10 minutes talking about why I wanted this job, the senior team went on to highlight only the challenges — very low pay, regular work, no frills, growth that cannot be compared to a tech job etc. Whether this was meant to dissuade me or actually check if I was in sync with reality, I would never know. I would like to believe it was the latter.
There was a moment during the discussion when one of the interviewers actually picked up my résumé and said, “What is this madness? Are you sure you want to do this?”
I said, “I am quite sure that if I were to come back after 3-5 years, you would once again tell me that I am overqualified and that pay would be a problem. You might as well give this to me now.”
The chat that followed is a blur. Perhaps, it was on the lines of “We will get back to you soon”. I left with little hope and mostly apprehension.
Four months later, I was terribly disillusioned with my job and decided to look for something I was better suited to do. I had also been told that the company was not sponsoring the work permit that year too. With no immediate hope of going back to the U.S, I connected with a couple of friends and tracked down an interesting (and higher-paying) role of research analyst with a good firm based in Chennai. Although I wanted to move back to Bangalore, no real opportunity came up then and I decided to take up the one I got. I put in my papers on February 8 and was to join exactly two months later. Almost six months had passed since my meeting in October and I had not heard a word from Cricinfo. I continued my writing and kept hoping that there would be a turnaround in my fortunes.
Just as the game of cricket teaches, stay patient, believe in yourself, and survive the challenging conditions when the ball is swinging, rising and zipping around. You might just play a defining knock after that.
Probably a day before my joining date, sometime close to midnight, I received an email from Cricinfo (from R, to be more precise) asking me if I would be open to taking up the role we had discussed a few months back. It took me more than half an hour to let that sink in. Here I was, with a good job offer and a joining date in a day or two. How could I even let something else confuse me? But well, this was Cricinfo. This was a role in stats. This was everything I had dreamed of. It seemed to be the perfect amalgamation of everything I wanted to do — watch cricket, analyse numbers and write about the greatest of sports. I snapped out of the thought process and sent out an email to Cricinfo saying I would come to Bangalore in a day or two to discuss more. Next, I pushed my joining date by a week. Even before I had come to grips with what was happening, I was in Bangalore discussing the role.
My parents were shocked. They were well aware that I would love this job but had no real idea what this would do to my career. At that point, I had no clue myself. I was not sure if I was going to embark on a journalism career. Nor was I very sure if this would be a launch pad for an MBA application. All I knew then was that I wanted to be there. Was life ever going to present me with a greater opportunity to do something with cricket? Surely not! There was no way I was going to let this one go. I cared not for the low pay, the hazy future, and ignored the numerous consequences of such a move. Having secured my parents’ support, I sent out a mail to Cricinfo accepting the offer and shot out a mail declining the existing offer in Chennai. On April 19, 2010, I had joined Cricinfo.
How was the experience at Cricinfo?
When I look back at my career journey after I made this move, I can feel a tremendous sense of pride and happiness. So do my parents and everyone else who knows me. The three years I spent at Cricinfo undoubtedly remain the happiest and most fruitful years of my life. In my mind, I had the best job in the world. I worked on exciting projects, wrote previews/reviews/analysis pieces on virtually every major cricket event, and met some fantastic people. Working midnights, early mornings, weekends and even during weddings was never a problem. Most of all, I know for sure that I cannot ever hope to interact with a group of colleagues as passionate about what they do. The best part about working there was the adulation and recognition I got from the people I met much later in B-school, meetings, interview panels, gymnasiums and virtually any place I went. Much as I hate to offer advice, I have one thing to say about this journey. Brave the adversity and turn it into an opportunity. You never know how things can work out. Just as the game of cricket teaches you, stay patient, believe in yourself, survive the challenging conditions when the ball is swinging, rising and zipping around. You might just play a defining knock after that.