Goodbye Channi Bhaaji, hero of Punjab and Services
Bishan Singh Bedi
FOR the last couple of days I have not been feeling a hundred percent. There was something amiss, and I could not pinpoint what it was. My daily WhatsApp contact with my dear old friend Major Harcharan Singh — ‘Channi Bhaaji’ to his friends — had in fact met with a dreadful dead end. The worst was confirmed by his two sons today morning. My intuitional restlessness wasn’t far off the mark — such is life that when a close friend or relative departs, nature comes in handy to ‘convey’ this via some unique mental or physical disturbance.
Much as we try to accept ‘death’ as the ultimate ‘winner’, when it takes away someone very close to one, the agitation within builds up inexplicably. Eventually ‘Ü¯ ÀêÜÇÔ Ã¯ ÇìéÃ þ’ (what and whoever is born must perish) is the only soothing maxim which resigns us still-alive to cope with whispering death.My first Ranji Trophy game was way back in 1961 for North Punjab vs South Punjab at Jalandhar and the only thing I remember of myself being thrown at the deep end was the majestic and elegant appearance of the tall, handsome and turbaned Harcharan Singh, whose penchant for the hook shot was already becoming a bit of folklore. I remember vividly there were quite a few Sardars playing in that game and they all were wearing turbans. But Channi was easily the handsomest of them all, and to prove that handsome is as handsome does, he played a fluent innings of close to a 100 runs to put us out of the contest.
That was my introduction to First-Class cricket — nothing much to rave about except having bowled to an outstanding batter, a bit like a net bowler! Channi moved from Punjab to Services more in search of a job than to improve upon his cricketing talents. Yes, those were the days when cricket could help one get a decent job, but the game itself was happily an amateur vocation. We used to read about Channi winning just about all his personal fights with good old Rajinderpal, whose love for the bouncer was as fluent as Channi’s reach for the hook. Ducking against the bouncer was not in the tall Channi’s dictionary. Honestly, I haven’t heard from any of his contemporaries about when he might have holed out off a bouncer. I’m talking of the times when not many of the top-notch Indian batsmen relished the short-pitched delivery.Channi was potentially India material, which got lost somewhere in the shift from Punjab to Services. In between Channi might have had a little whiff of the India cap when in the late 1960s he toured Pakistan with Indian Starlets, with the mercurial Lala Amarnath as the Captain/Manager/Chief Selector all rolled into one.
Sadly, destiny willed that Channi would not represent India. Many moons later when yours truly got an opportunity to look after Punjab cricket, I got to know Channi Bhaaji closely, and that’s what I treasure most. Till his last breath, Channi Bhaaji was a most trusted friend.
Channi contributed to the glory of Punjab cricket in whichever position he was deemed fit. For close to four decades, we had been in touch on a daily basis — even during his battle with nasal cancer. But I can’t recollect any moment when he might have indulged in self-pity for having missed the bus of international competition — no remorse, no complaints, just getting on with life as Guru ordained.
He was a committed family man, full of life and with plenty of good humour, which really connects cricket cultures amongst all ages.
RIP, Channi Bhaaji. You were simply the most wonderful Patialvi I had the good fortune to know.
Major Harcharan Singh
Maharaja of Patiala’s XI, Services, Southern Punjab
Mat Inns Runs HS Avg 100
50 82 2495 177 31.18 5
The writer is a former India captain