Chance encounter

We were thrilled to bits and had a barrage of questions for him.

As I was boarding the train at the Bangalore central station recently, I was reminded of an incident that took place in 1968. The newly built railway station was being inaugurated. My father (C M Poonacha) was the union railway minister at the time. I was posted in Chennai on my maiden job. My father had asked me to meet him at Bangalore. It was a major event with deputy prime minister Morarji Desai as the chief guest. The chief minister of Karnataka Nijalingappa and several VIPs were present. Morarji Desai dedicated the new railway station to the people of Karnataka and the nation. 

On my return trip to Chennai soon after a hurried lunch with my father, I met an old friend from college who was on the same train but had no reservation. I was searching for my seat and my friend tagged along hoping to find a place. The train was chock-o-block full. While walking along the corridor of the train we passed by a first-class coupe occupied by a gentleman sitting by himself reading a pile of newspapers. My pal peeped in and requested if we could occupy the two vacant seats. “Sure,” said the gentleman, gathering the newspapers to a side.

We thanked him and settled in the comfortable coupe. My friend, a real chatter-box, started his non-stop jabbering. Both of us being avid tennis enthusiasts spoke extensively about the game, which we had played a great deal while in college. We soon started talking about the up-coming young tennis star named Anand Amritraj. Aged sixteen, he had already been named in the Davis Cup squad. Having seen him in action we had a lengthy debate on his potentials. We also spoke about his lanky younger brother, Vijay Amritraj, who was also beginning to make waves as an excellent tennis player. But it was Anand’s stylish power-game that we extolled. That’s when the gentleman turned to us and said, “I have been listening to you both, and I am fascinated with your passion for tennis. I am particularly elated the way you gentleman spoke about Anand and Vijay Amritraj.” What we heard next dropped our jaws. 

He extended his hand and said, “I am Robert Amritraj, father of Anand and Vijay. I have another son, Ashok, who too is shaping well as a tennis player.” We were thrilled to bits and had a barrage of questions for Robert Amritraj. He spoke enthusiastically about his sons and how he was pushing them to the limits in training and practicing.  While disembarking at Madras central railway station, Robert Amritraj invited us for lunch at Madras Gymkhana Club that week-end to meet his sons. While my friend could not, I happily accepted the invitation.

 It was wonderful meeting Robert Amritraj along with his wife Maggie. Just as we sat down for lunch, the three Amritraj brothers breezed in after their vigorous training schedule. I had the privilege of shaking their hands and making small-talk about tennis. They soon appeared impatient, and were obviouslyhungry. 

That prompted Robert Amritraj to quip, “Right now these boys could eat a horse!” The rest is history.

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