V Pattabhi Ram and A V Vedpuriswar
It had happened seven years ago. The year: 1998. It was an April night that Wafers would not forget in a hurry. India’s one-man army of many years, Sachin Tendulkar, had done the impossible. At Sharjah, he had lifted India from a morass to upstage the world beating Aussies. Watching Sachin bat like a genius and seeing Mark Mascaranhas physically lift the Bombay bomber in elation, Wafer had tears of joy in her eyes. That night she told herself that one day she would become as great as her hero in whatever activity she chose to do.
Today, watching Sachin fighting injury and hearing loose cannons from sundry experts about whether or not the little master should hang his bat she wondered why he had let this happen to him. Should he not have walked into the sunset at a time when people asked “Why” and not when they were asking “Why not”? Even today if he were to give it all up he would find himself a place amongst the pantheons of greats she told herself. Shouldn’t he do it? Hadn’t he already earned enough to last a few generations she wondered aloud? Or was his passion for the game so over powering?
But then, Wafers realized, that history was replete with examples of how men and women, used to the constant media glare, had found it difficult to quietly call it quits. Wafers had read of the greatest boxer of them all Mohammed Ali (of the fly- like-a-butterfly-and-sting-like-a-bee fame) who kept coming back again and again from retirement so that he could quit as the reigning champion. Of course that didn’t happen and he had to give up in disgrace. In more recent times there was Mike Tyson returning to the ring only to be hounded out by a rank outsider.
Surely Wafers would like to remember Sachin as the fighting cricketer of Sharjah than the man fighting injuries to keep a place in the team. But for every Sachin, every Ali and every Tyson there was a Martina Navratilova who had proved them all wrong she told herself.
For over two decades, beginning 1975, the grandma of world tennis had ruled the game like a colossus. When she gave it up circa 1995 she had the world at her feet. Then, some eight years later, in 2003, at age 47 she came out of retirement to compete at the professional circuit. Not surprisingly she had to eat crow losing in the early rounds making people wonder why the she was making an exhibition of herself. In the end it was she who had the last laugh. Teaming up with our very own Leander Paes she won the Australian Open. In a game where girls, half her age, retire. Wow.
Wafers’ mind wandered to politics. She had always looked upon the BJP as a party of rabble-rousers. But of Atal Vajpayee she had the highest regard. In many ways one of India’s finest prime ministers, Vajpayee, she believed, had made the cardinal sin of leading the BJP in the 2004 hustings. For an octogenarian that would mean he would be prime minister till 86. By any stretch of imagination that was a fairly advanced age to be in power. When the Congress surprisingly won the national elections and his party bayed for Sonia Gandhi’s blood (saying she should not become prime minister) he kept his own counsel letting the aura around him diminish. And when the Italian born who has made India her home gave up the chance to become prime minister it showed up our politicians as ageing men eager to have another dash at power. How nice it would have been if he had retired after his innings as prime minister thought Wafers. Oh would it not have enhanced his position as a statesman?
Of-course, Wafers thought, it is not easy to give things up. After all, there is so much of money and so much of power at stake. If you have been in the midst of public glare, it is hard to walk into the sunset. And sometimes like in the case of Navratilova it pays to come back! What a dilemma. What a dilemma.
She thought of another Navratilova, this time from the world of movies, the Big B. A brand in his own right, he gets all hearts, from the seven year-old’s to the septuagenarian’s, skip a beat. The 60 plus former angry young man has now launched into a classic second innings. Coming out of the brink of bankruptcy he had magically rebuilt his career, in a field where you are considered an oldie at forty. But for every Amitabh, Wafers remembered there were several actors and actresses with a glorious past who came out of retirement only to be consigned into the dustbins of history.
From sports, politics and movies Wafers’ mind wandered to the corporate world. There is nothing wrong in being ambitious but an attempt at an over arching reach can be killing. She thought of Jack Welch the famous CEO of GE who set out project “Next Guy” to find his successor. To her it looked like the succession would take some time in the coming. What if the legendary Welch were to slip up somewhere, thought Wafers. Should he not quit at a time when people ask “Why” and not when they start asking “Why not”, asked Wafers to no one in particular?
In stark contrast stood India’s most famous corporate czar, N R Narayana Murthy. He had handed over the baton to his chosen heir Nandan Nilekani to become Mentor and has now said that he would quit completely when he turns 60. So it is possible to quit. That is if you make up your mind.
But should you quit or not? Should you quietly walk into the sunset or not? Wafers thought she would draw up a two by two matrix, “Quits” on one axis and “Success” on the other. It would throw up four quadrants. Men who refused to quit and who bit the dust. Men who refused to quit and who hit the jackpot. Men who made successful comebacks. And men who came back only to make a fool of themselves. Ha, she realized succession planning was a tough call to take. She was still searching for answers when she realized that it was time to go to office.