Searching for his path
By Tariq Engineer, |
It was a new life,” says former cricketer Vinod Kambli. “I became even closer to God.” Kambli was describing his reaction to surviving a heart attack in 2013 while driving from Navi Mumbai to Bandra. He was in Chembur when the chest pains started and they were so severe that he was forced to pull over to the side of the road. Luckily, a police constable spotted him in distress and rushed him to Lilavati Hospital. “After the angioplasty, the doctor came out and told my wife Andrea that it was a miracle I was saved. Thankfully, I reached on time. I am very grateful to the police for helping me,” Kambli says, his voice low and slow.
The 45-year-old had been baptised and become a born-again Christian in 2010, but this felt different. He began to ask his wife and his priests why God had saved him. Their answer: he was saved to do God’s work. “Till now I am wondering what that is. When I ask the father, he says, ‘wait and have patience. It will come,’” Kambli says.
Some things have already changed, though. Kambli claims he has mellowed and has become choosy about where he goes, whom he spends his time with and what he does. Mostly, he says, he hangs out with his wife and two children, Jesus Christiano, who is seven, and Johanna Christiana, who is three. Fatherhood has had a big impact on Kambli (“I always wanted to be a father”) and last year he tattooed his children’s names on his forearms, along with their dates of birth. Their names also reflect his faith. “When my son was born, my wife and I were discussing what to name him. I said, ‘I have so much faith in Jesus Christ, I am so close to Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, let me pay respect in my way’. So I named him Jesus Christiano.”
We met Kambli at his home in Bandra earlier this week. He was dressed casually in a dark blue t-shirt, blue jeans and fluffy white bedroom slippers, and sported a white, neatly trimmed extended goatee. He looked fit enough to walk out to bat — the result of a strict exercise routine he adopted a year ago. Signs of his faith are prominently displayed in his home. By the door, as you enter, is a large, stained glass piece of Jesus as the good shepherd while the living room has a portrait of Jesus and Mother Mary hanging on the wall.
He is not shy about his faith outside his home either. His Twitter timeline (he has almost 14,000 followers) is full of passages from the Bible, religious images and inspirational or motivational quotes, most of them retweeted, along with tweets about cricket and current events mixed in. For example, on September 4, Kambli retweeted the following message from a handle called God’s Grace: “Pray, forgive yourself, appreciate others, do things you enjoy, and remind yourself that you are loved.”
“It is not only Christianity,” Kambli says. “If I like a message, say Krishna’s message, I will share it. If it is interesting and religious, I retweet it. I share my feelings also. If something happens on the street, I express that. If something happens in cricket or politics, I express that. I give my opinion. I am not shy.”
Among the 248 accounts that Kambli follows, is of course, the Pope. “I want the Pope to follow me as well,” he says. He also reveals that he is hoping to travel to the Vatican and meet the Pope and is in touch with a priest there who is “an Indian and a big fan of mine,” but he hasn’t planned a trip yet. “You don’t make a plan. Like a Hindu pilgrimage or Muslim Haj, when the call comes, you go. So the Vatican also, when God wants me there, I will definitely go.”
Like all celebrities, Kambli sees social media as a way to stay in touch with his fans as well. Although he last played for India in 2000, he still receives regular messages on social media. A few days ago, a fan tweeted: “good morning sir have a good day god bless you stay blessed love you sir (sic).” As for trolls, Kambli knows how to disarm them. “If I react to them, things will go haywire. So I just coolly write, ‘God bless you’. They understand there’s no use of provoking this guy,” he says with a laugh.
While Kambli was born into a Hindu family and spent the early part of his childhood in Bhendi Bazaar before shifting to Kanjurmarg in 1985 when he got serious about cricket, he explained that Christianity had always been part of his life as his parents used to follow multiple religions. “We used to have the Muslim chaddar, the cloth from the Dargah, kept in the house and then we had the cross as well. My parents used to go to Siddhivinayak [temple], to Haji Ali Dargah and then come to Mount Mary for the novenas.”
He followed in their footsteps until he met Andrea. It was with her that he started attending mass regularly, began learning the prayers and reading the Bible. “I really liked it and got so attached to it and that’s when I was born again. It brought a sudden change,” Kambli says. He admits he was initially worried that his conversion might raise questions, but says it was his personal choice and that he was not hurting anybody’s sentiments by choosing Christianity. As it happened, his choice was accepted by everyone. “My father didn’t say anything. Fans also accepted. They like the human first. Doesn’t matter which caste or religion a person is. Humanity comes first.”
Since retiring from first-class cricket in 2011, Kambli has been associated with a cricket academy, done some cricket commentary, been a cricket expert on TV, appeared in a reality show and done some singing and dancing. Entertainment is something he says he loves and reveals he will soon be releasing a song titled Asa me .. Me Asa (I am what I am). “It is a bold song,” he says. “I rapped and danced as well. If [Dwayne] Bravo can do it, I can do it. When people hear my song, they will forget about Bravo.”
He remains open to singing, dancing or acting offers but cricket is where his heart remains. He watches as many of India’s matches as he can and what he wants to do most of all is coach. Specifically, he is hoping to get a coaching assignment in the IPL but he would also “love” to coach Mumbai, his hometown team, in the Ranji Trophy. “It is payback time,” he says. “Whatever my coach Achrekar has taught us, and taught me especially, I want to give back to the young generation. I think it is high time I take it very seriously.”
Of course, when cricket comes up, the mention of Sachin Tendulkar can’t be far away. Kambli’s and Tendulkar’s names will always be entwined, even though they ended up having dramatically different international careers. The pair had a falling out years ago and while the reasons for it have remained private, it is clear Kambli misses his old school friend when he says he wishes he had batted with Tendulkar in the IPL.
“I can still play the Masters,” Kambli says with a grin. “If you tell me to hit a six first ball, I can. You could still see me and Sachin playing together in the Masters.”
It is not only Christianity. If I like a mesage, say Krishna’s message, I will share it. If it is interesting and religious, I retweet it. If something happens in cricket or politics, I express that. I am not shy
(Source: Pune Mirror)