Mumbai has many beloved sons. Some were born here; some just lived here. Millions come here to change their lives. No one can say who will make it and who won’t. ‘Mumbai is all about fate’, they say. But there have been people who changed the fate of Mumbai itself. Destiny seems to be the silhouette of Nari Contractor’s life.
Nari Contractor never played for Mumbai. Yet, he is a Mumbai boy. Fate found something so interesting in this man that it never left him alone. While his pregnant mother was returning from a small place called Dohad in Gujarat to Mumbai for his delivery, she began to feel uneasy. Nari’s uncle was the engine driver on that train and his duty was to get over two hours later at Godhra.
Helpless, he told her to get off the train and promised to take her to Mumbai next day. But a son was born to her the same day there. Little did they know that on the basis of this incident Nari would be eligible to play for Gujarat.
How was he selected to play for Gujarat? Gujarat captain Phiroz Khambata watched Nari play in the selection trial matches for MCA’s Silver Jubilee matches in 1955. Having done well in the trials, he was confident that he would be selected for the matches against Pakistan Services & Bhawalpur Cricket Association and rejected the offer of Khambata.
Nari wasn’t selected for the MCA. Immediately, he sent a telegram to the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA): ‘available if selected’. But on the day, the Gujarat team was selected to play against Baroda. Despite that he received a telegram from GCA, asking him to reach Baroda for trials.
Nari batted confidently in the nets. The team was announced while Nari waited with bated breath. The last name was his. Captain Kambatha had dropped out. Batting in the middle order, Nari scored hundreds in both innings, a debut record that he still holds in Indian cricket.
Soon, he was selected for India. Nari became an opener when Vinoo Mankad didn’t turn up for a Test match against New Zealand at Delhi in 1955. Later, when Polly Umrigar refused to lead against West Indies and Ramchand failed, Nari was made India captain. A player who couldn’t fit in the Mumbai team was playing for India within a year.
The gods surely loved him. But little did anyone know that providence was going to take back all that it had given him. Hit by a delivery by Charlie Griffith on the 1961-62 tour to the West Indies, Nari almost died because of a skull fracture. He never played for India again.
But such was Nari that he was never bitter about it and blamed it on his own distraction. Instead, at times, he used his injury to spread laughter.
Once on our way to Delhi in 1990, he decided to play a prank on the airport security. While the guard frisked him, he purposely bowed so that the metal detector touched his head. The instrument beeped. The security guard was confused. He again touched his head with the detector. It beeped again.
A senior police officer was called. By that time suspicion and fear had mounted among the officers and even passengers in the queue. As many would know, a metal plate was inserted into his head during that life-saving operation and that is what was causing the beep.
Says Salim Durrani, who played under Nari: "He used to plan meticulously. Once when the new ball was due in the Test match at Calcutta, everyone in the team felt that it should be taken because Ted Dexter was batting well. Nari took the new ball and even gave it to Ramakant Desai who was measuring his run up. Suddenly, however, Nari took the new ball from Desai and gave the old one to me. And in the next hour, Borde and I ran through the side. I took 5 while Borde 4."
In 1960, he scored a hundred against Australia at the Brabourne stadium. That evening, we kids saw him walk briskly to his State Bank of India office at Fort. Surprised, we asked why he was going to work when he scored a century. He mumbled, "A century doesn’t run my house. It’s the work in office that does it."
Today, we talk about the importance of converting negatives into positives. Nari used his injury to spread smiles. He wasn’t from Gujarat; he wasn’t from Mumbai. He was just from Providence.