KERSI GANDHI Class of '59
I was introduced to Vasant Shinde, in November, 1990.
His Bungalow stood at the very inception of Benson Town, in Bangalore, and was named, Royal Touch, in tribute to the very first horse he rode to victory. I sincerely hope I have got the name of his house correctly.
My temporary abode was The Parsi Dharamshala, in Benson Town. It was something to behold. The ambience of the Dharamshala, was Heavenly. The garden had the old world benches, and there was an abundance of shade, as the foliage of trees formed a canopy to refrain the harsh sunlight, from entering. It gave me immense pleasure to consume my tray of tea, al fresco, whilst reading the race book of the following day.
Alas, the lure of the lucre, has forced the Powers That Be, from selling that piece of Heaven on Earth, to some builder, to create a monstrous high rise, in its place. So very sad, but so very true. I guess that is what we call, Progress.
Once I got to know Vasant Shinde, quite well, as we took an instant shine for each other, most of my spare time was spent, at his residence. I would sit on the floor next to him and he would constantly play with my thick mop of hair. He could not pronounce my name correctly, as Kersi, and would address me as, 'Kassi Uncle.' Many a time was spent by us wrestling on the floor, where I would just pin him down and laugh out loud at his frustration. He was extremely wiry and strong for his diminutive size. His forearms were like tempered steel, as if he had labored all his life, at The Village Blacksmith's Forge.
In those days, his contemporaries were, Pesi Shroff, Aslam Kader, Satish Narredu, Robin Corner, et al.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Aslam Kader and Satish Narredu, at his residence. One incident stands out so clearly in my mind. Aslam, Satish, Vasant and myself, along with some others, were playing a game of Three Card Brag, or Flush, as it is commonly addressed out here. I ended up losing Rupees Thirty Thousand to Aslam Kader. I asked for his address to send the money to him, and he very politely declined to accept what I had lost. My insistence was completely useless. Then I remembered that he had just been blessed with a child. I then took out a sealed pack of pure gold, manufactured by Credit Suisse, and insisted that he take it as a gift for his newborn child. I am glad to say that he did, and all accounts were written off. I wonder if he still has my gift with him, in safekeeping.
Being a Gambler at heart, I would ask Vasant for his advice, as to what to wager on. And as was the norm, then, his horses would mostly be short priced, most of the time. I would egg him on to give me a horse, to wager on, at over Ten to One.
In those days Pesi Shroff was the retained Jockey, for Vijay Mallya. But even then, a couple of crates of McDowell. No. 1, would be sent to Vasant's Residence, by someone in the Mallya Camp, as a present, as Vasant only drank that particular blend of Whiskey.
One Saturday night, when I was leaving for my abode, Vasant asked me come and visit him the next morning, at 11 am. I complied with his request and made his acquaintance at the appointed time. Whilst I was consuming the cup that cheers, prepared to perfection, by his lovely Wife, this is what he had to say.
' Kassi Uncle, today I am riding a horse, in a three horse, and I am positive that I will be victorious. I will be over Fifteen to One, as Pesi's horse is at twenty paise. You who have always screwed my mind, as to when I will give you a horse to wager on at over Ten to One, well today is the day. Now let me see, if you have the balls in you, to wager at this price, on my telling you.' He ended by telling me to come over to his residence, after the last race had ended.
I departed on my trusty Scooter, for the Race Course. I made a slight detour for our Agiary, to make my Peace with God, although I am a Heathen, at heart. But no chances could be taken, and my offering of Sandalwood and the traditional Divas, was adduced, a plenty. I requested and pleaded of The Lord, to let Vasant be victorious, that afternoon. Whilst offering my gifts, to The Almighty, realization dawned upon me as to why he had not imparted the information on to me on Saturday night. It was because I would imagine him to be drunk, and not take proper heed of his information, seriously.
I then left by the means of Cunningham Road, for the Race Course.
I sat on one place at the Race Course till it was time for me to go and place my wager. The entire race going public was scrambling to play, Pesi's horse, and there was pandemonium in the Bookie's Ring. I then went and laid my wager of Ten Thousand, at fifteen to one. It was then I noticed that another Bookie was offering Twenty to one. I then pointed out the odds to my Bookie and asked of him as to whether he would accept a further Ten Thousand at the revised odds of Twenty to One. He complied with my request, right away.
I now went and sat on my seat to watch the running of the race.
'And they are off'.
Pesi's horse brings the three horse field into the straight. Vasant is still content to trail the field. The crowd is shouting itself hoarse, for Pesi to win. Three Hundred Metres from home, Vasant times his move. Vasant's horse is transformed into a Lamborghini. The acceleration is something to behold. Vasant looks askance at Pesi, right into his eyes, and am sure he must have wished him a fond farewell. The Lamborghini passes the finish all out, and leaves Pesi behind, by a distance, trailing in the dust, to witness the rear of Vasant's mount.
I am spellbound at the prevalent silence existing on the race course. I have witnessed a True Horseman, at his finest. He was a natural and the very best of his era. He had confided in me that he had learnt to ride bare back, as a child in Matheran. The natural power of the grip between his knees, was stupendous.
HE WAS THE NUMERO UNO, OF HIS TIME. ALL THE REST WERE HAS BEENS, WHEN COMPARED TO HIM.
That evening I reach his house at the appointed time. He is sitting on his designated seat and I sit down beside him, on the floor. He plays with my hair and asks of me, if I had a good day. I reply in the affirmative and tell him that after CASSIUS CLAY, VASANT SHINDE, IS THE GREATEST. He questions me on the identity of Cassius Clay, and I wizen him by informing him that it was Mohamed Ali's original name. He has a hearty laugh. After he has had a drink or two, he asks me to translate a message in Hindi to English and inform Dicky, who was the Racing Manager for Vijay Mallya. I agree to do as per his request. I call up Dicky, who I had met as a kid in Bombay, and inform him that Vasant Shinde has a message for him, of which I am only the translator.
This is what Vasant has to say, and I translate verbatim. 'Dicky, tell Mr. Mallya, that I only drink his McDowell No. 1, which has enabled me to screw his horse, out of sight.'