Giving up on a dream of 16 years, of playing cricket professionally, wouldn’t have been easy for Venkatesh. But, instead of a man full of regrets you meet someone who is content and passionate in life. Our interviewer, Arun, met Venkatesh at a city-based cafe to find out how sports made him, as he puts it, a better person.
Venkatesh Ravishanker, 28, City Lead for an NGO, Bangalore
Interviewed By Arun Maharajan
Why did you decide to give us an interview on sports?
You become a better person when there’s sports in your life. As a kid, I always wanted to make it big in cricket. And I was quite good at it too. Even the college that I chose to do my engineering from had a good sports program that would encourage students. Ninety-five percent of what I’ve learned in life is because of my structured cricket background. I feel sports is the most important thing for kids.
Why didn’t you pursue cricket professionally?
In my third year of college I got injured while playing cricket. I didn’t want to give up the 16 years I had devoted to cricket just like that. I was depressed and wanted to get back to the game. During those seven months of rehab I realized I was just 22 and there’s so much more to life. I decided to apply for my master’s degree abroad. I moved to the US for further studies. At that moment I realized nothing is permanent in life. When things are not working out, one should be flexible and move on.
You make it sound easy. Wasn’t it hard to abandon your passion?
In Tamil Nadu, a lot of people have ‘godfathers’ in cricket, and the people who don’t have any, have a need to put in extra efforts to overcome this disadvantage. After the injury, seeing all the internal politics and unfairness, I realized I had dealt with it for far too long. Life is too short for someone to have a say in how far I go.
Do you ever regret giving up on your dream of playing cricket for the country?
I’d be lying if I say I never looked back. I meet people I knew back then who are still playing cricket, and I feel I could’ve continued too. But it’s just a momentary feeling. I’m doing so much better now.
How did sports help you become a better person?
For 16 years, I woke up early, went for practice, came back and had breakfast – cricket introduced discipline in my life. Nobody sat and taught me that. Focus, hard work, and everything else is imbibed in you automatically. For instance, in a team sport like cricket, you learn to work in an environment where things might not always fall into place as per your wishes. The whole team is involved in every decision. Today, if there are issues at work, the colleagues have to unite and solve the problems together. Cricket taught me that it is the ‘we’ and not the ‘I’ that matters.
What would be your mantra of happiness?
Find and do what you really like, and everything will fall into place. I found it over a conversation with a friend and her husband. Maybe it was luck but I just love what I do.
The first day at work we went to seven low-income schools in Whitefield. As we entered the first school, I was amazed at the kind of welcome we got from the kids on knowing we were going to teach them football. These kids who did not have shoes on their feet, with torn shirts, who have no bias against anyone, validated my decision.
What about the people who live with conflicts in their mind or probably don’t have the faith or confidence to go for it?
There’s a Bollywood movie that left a huge impact on me. It’s called Tamasha. It captured perfectly the dilemma that most Indians face today. Which is, either to join the race without knowing what it’s about or follow your dreams. It’s very hard to take stock and go for something you love. But I would still suggest to fight for that one thing you want to do for the rest of your life.
The last question has nothing to do with the topic of the interview. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love is something that you should express to everyone in the world. We’re evolved in such a way that there are biases in the way we treat people. It may sound as a cliché but expressing love without any prejudice against anyone makes the world a better place. For instance, I was driving around Triplicane-Royapettah area in Chennai with two of my besties from the US. As we turned towards Triplicane, where there are mosques and temples and people going about their business without noticing how one looks, where one comes from or whether one is a Brahmin or a Muslim. And my friend said, “Why can’t everyone in the world be like this?”