Shall we play it straight


Wafers believed that her parents had given her the best of education.  They had sent her to the best of schools; later the best of colleges and now the best of accounting firms. She loved her parents; not that she ever told them that. Her dad: he held a top position, was instinctively honest and humble to a fault. The other day while she was on a train she met a stranger.  In the course of conversation she learnt that he had worked with her father.  “Oh you are his daughter?  A brilliant man:  simple, straightforward and honest”.  She couldn’t help her eyes moisten. Would someone one day talk of her in those terms she thought.

Many summers ago when she was a tiny tot she would fight with Debbie for the top rank in her class.  One day she had the opportunity to peek into the next  test’s question paper.  That night her dad told her the story of an incredible Englishman who let pass the opportunity to win Wimbledon.  At match point, in the semifinals, the Englishman served what the umpire thought was an ace.  “Game, Set and Match to Roger Taylor.” As an excited English crowd stood up to applaud Taylor, Taylor walked up to the umpire and said that his serve was out.  The point was replayed.  15 minutes later his opponent walked out of Center Court beaming: he had won in 5 sets.

At the press conference a journalist asked Taylor, “Hey, how could you have been so stupid?  Why did you overrule the umpire?”  And Taylor remarked. “If I had done what you are now suggesting, then for the rest of my life whenever I see the Wimbledon trophy adorn the drawing space in my house I would be reminded not of my victory but of my innate dishonesty”.   It was a story that had made a deep impression in Wafers mind.  In later years when she chatted this up with Rinku, her journalist friend, he wasn’t impressed.  He simply felt that Taylor was a sissy.

As Wafers grew up she learnt a few more things. She had always wondered, “If those who do wrong things don’t get caught, then why have the law?” In moments such as these the story that her cousin narrated used to come to her mind. It was the 1986 World Cup soccer final.  The reigning God, Diego Maradona, punched (yes punched) the ball into the net to give Argentina the goal and the World cup.  Nobody protested. No one brought the house down.  After all Diego was an icon. When quizzed about it Diego had said, “No it wasn’t a hand ball.  It was the hand of god.”  And mark it that phrase was what made media headlines.  “Look”, remarked Rinku, “the world always admires a winner.  In life winning is not just the right thing.  It is the only thing.”

When she was young, Wafers’ mother, a soft-spoken extra ordinary lady who personified humility, told her the story of Ben Johnson. The athlete had run the 100 meters dash at the 1988 Olympics in record time, 9 odd seconds, and had dedicated the victory to his mom.  A few hours later, the world learnt that the Afro-American had tested positive for anabolic steroid (a banned substance) and he was banned for life. He had shamed himself, his mom, his countrymen and the spirit of the game as well.    The press pilloried him.  “From hero to zero in 9 seconds” is what they called him. When she told this to Rinku he was at his adamant best. “Johnson was stupid to get caught.  By doing so he proved he was  a loser. The world loves a winner.”

Often during audits Wafers wondered as to what was it that mattered.  Was it the letter of the law?  Or was it the spirit of the law?  In moments of such self-doubt this story invariably crossed her mind.  She was in her diapers when it happened.  It was the 1987 Reliance World Cup.  Pakistan was chasing a West Indian target and the last pair was in the middle.  Abdul Qadir, the burly Pakistani was at the non-striker’s end and would constantly go for a run even before the ball was delivered. Unfair.  On one occasion he was so stranded out of the crease that the bowler Courtney Walsh could have easily run him out. (“Mankaded him” is the cricketing phrase).  Walsh didn’t.  He stopped near the stumps, didn’t rip off the bails and simply waited for Qadir to come back!  West Indies went on to lose the match and with it the chance of bagging the World Cup.

As Wafers’ dad pointed out, “People have since forgotten who won that cup and by what margin but everyone remembers what Walsh did”. He would have been within the letter of the law in running Qadir out.  But he knew that the spirit mattered. Whenever Wafers reminded Rinku of this story the journalist pooh-poohed her saying Walsh, like Taylor, was a goody-good type.  “They make good copy but they aren’t the stuff winners are made of”.

Today as Wafers sees a rash of Australian cricketers “walk” even when the umpire has ruled them not out, it doesn’t create a lump in her throat. She realizes that they aren’t doing anything extraordinary.  They are just doing the right thing. And in the process setting an example for the youth to emulate. If we all play the game fair, the world would be a better place to live.  Rinku wasn’t willing to agree. Okay, he knew that the Aussies weren’t sissies.  But he felt that they were playing a mind game of a different kind!   In a different context Wafers’ professor had remarked, “Honesty may be the best policy but he who follows that policy is not necessarily honest.”

“Roger Taylor.  Courtney Walsh.  Diego Maradona.   Ben Johnson. Whom would you like to take home and introduce to your people as your friend?” Wafers  asked.  Who creates positive energy and who creates the negative? Rinku conceded, “Okay, this might be fine in a game; it cannot be fine in business.” Chuin, Wafers’ eight-year old kid brother, overhearing the last few words namely “game”, “not business” chipped in “hey, a sport is also business.  They make so much money.”  Wisdom from the mouth of babes? May be Wafers’ professor was right.  He had once said, “Companies that have traveled the distance from good to great have always walked the path of honor.”  How true.



About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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