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HT Brunch Cover Story: Game night at the Gavaskars’

When four Gavaskars catch up for a game, you expect to hear the thwack of a bat against a ball, right? Wrong! Indian cricket’s first family bond over board and card games!

Updated: Feb 16, 2020 00:06 IST

By Jamal Shaikh, Hindustan Times

(Clockwise from extreme right) Cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar, son Rohan and grandkids Reya, 14 and Vivaan, 10 play a word game called Fletter at a Game Night organised by HT Brunch; Make-up and hair: Sai Sawant (Shivangi Kulkarni)

I was introduced to PubG a few months ago by a relative who was visiting me in Delhi. The cousin in question is a doctor in his early 30s, established and successful, and he de-stressed every evening with this South Korean battle game that he played on his phone in real time with his younger brother in Bengaluru, another cousin in the Middle East and my niece and her boyfriend in two different parts of Mumbai.

Totally disinterested in the game, but immensely intrigued by this new way of keeping in touch, I tried hard to work up some interest, and failed miserably.

At a special Games Night organised by HT Brunch, cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar (left) indulged in a day of playing board and card games with son Rohan and grandkids Vivaan and Reya. The family is seen here playing Cluedo. ( Shivangi Kulkarni )

I narrate these thoughts while seated at the Mumbai home of cricketer Rohan Gavaskar. We’re here for a special Game Night organised by HT Brunch for a family whose name is synonymous with Indian cricket. In attendance are the legend, Sunil Gavaskar, 70, his son Rohan, 43, and his two grandkids, Reya, 14 and Vivaan, 10.

The agenda: no online games at all; only card and board games tonight!

Love all

“This takes me back to my younger days, when there were no televisions at home or any other kind of entertainment; so on weekends, the elders played a game of Rummy and the younger people played the Maharashtrian game Teen Don Paanch (Three Two Five),” says Sunil Gavaskar. “Subsequently, when we went on cricket tours − and in those days we travelled by train − the seniors would play cards on the lower berths, while the younger ones would be on the upper berths listening to them because even when they played cards, they were still talking cricket!”

“I believe grandkids are your biggest stress-busters. just thinking about what they were talking about brought my BP down to normal!” –Sunil Gavaskar

Rohan has his own favourite games. “I played a lot of Ludo and Monopoly as a kid, and Trivial Pursuit too,” says Rohan, but is careful not to diss online games. “It’s evolution,” he says. “Look at the graphics that a FIFA game on PS4 puts out: so real and so amazing. There’s a thriving gaming community across the world and so many people are making a living off it. Of course it’s important to find a balance between screen time and actually playing a sport, or a board game that hones your mental skills.”

(Clockwise from far right) Sunil Gavaskar, son Rohan and grandkids Reya and Vivaan indulge in a word game called Fletter, which Reya prefers over the other one called Qwicket ( Shivangi Kulkarni )

The game being played today is a card game called Qwicket, meant for two players, each of whom must take turns at batting and bowling. Sunil explains, “I’d call Qwicket a battle between a spin bowler and a batsman. Now I’m not saying fast bowlers do not use strategy, but the general impression is they only use strength. Spinners, however, use strategy for every delivery, and that’s the battle here. Whichever side you’re on, you’re trying to think of what your opponent is going to come up with, and the counter you should have.”

“At 10, Vivaan has invented a board game of his own. If you reach a spot where you ‘fall in love’, you lose instantly! Hahaha!” –Rohan Gavaskar

While the senior most Gavaskar does a good job of explaining the game to us, after a few minutes of watching the family play, it’s apparent that the real champ is the junior most Gavaskar in the room. Vivaan Gavaskar, all of 10, holds the family record of winning Qwicket the most! And that’s not all: we learn that Vivaan has invented a board game of his own.

“It’s a great game,” says Rohan, every bit the proud father. “It’s a bit like Snakes and Ladders, and you take turns to get ahead, and must miss some turns as a setback. But there’s a spot where you “fall in love”, and you must miss six turns at one go, which pretty much means the game is over for you, and you’ve lost! Hahaha!”

“Kylian Mbappé is my favourite [footballer, even over Messi and Ronaldo]! The others are older, and once they’re gone, everyone will be talking about Mbappé!” –Vivaan Gavaskar

Rohan laughs at the beautiful mind only a 10-year-old can have, but we see a brilliant one at play here. In between the photographs being taken, Vivaan fiddles with a Rubik’s Cube, and solves it in 10 minutes or less. ‘Who’s your favourite footballer? Messi? Ronaldo?’ we ask the little football fan. “I like Kylian Mbappé the best,” he says. “The others are older, and once they’re gone, everyone’ll be talking about Mbappé!”

Reya is certainly more interested in Qwicket than most girls in their early teens would generally be. “But she also plays a lot of Fletter, which is a word game, and Whitewashers, which is a mystery game,” says Rohan. “You can see a clear difference in what the two kids want to play.”

Sharp as razor

One kind of game is for the mind. It urges you to think strategically. Other games are like Candy Crush, meant to kill time. What’s their take on these?

“I sometimes wish video games existed when I was growing up. There is hand-eye coordination involved even as you play on a screen, and as a batsman, that’s the skill you need to hone.”–Sunil Gavaskar

Rohan goes first and elects to be pragmatic. “There is space for both,” he says. “There are times when you want to use your intellect a bit and play Scrabble, but there are also times when you are sitting at an airport lounge and you want to play something like Candy Crush!”

Has Sunil indulged in these sometimes mindless online games at all?

Sunil Gavaskar, son Rohan and grandkids Vivaan and Reya pose for a fun family portrait ( Shivangi Kulkarni )

“No. I have sat with Vivaan and seen him play the FIFA game, though I haven’t played it myself,” says Sunil Gavaskar. “Watching them play did make me wish these games existed when I was growing up. There is hand-eye coordination involved even as you play on a screen, and as a batsman that’s exactly the skill you need to hone to better your game. I’m not saying it would have helped me become a better sportsperson, but even in these video games, there is the need for quick reflexes to respond to different situations while responding to the person you are playing with. As long as you don’t get addicted to these games, they could help keep your brain sharp and even develop a competitive instinct, which is never a bad thing in life.”

Joker of the pack

Games and games nights aside, what are the family traditions that keep the Gavaskars so closely knit?

“We all travel a fair bit, so we try to make the most of birthdays, anniversaries and festivals,” says Sunil. “Themed birthday parties are quite the thing: Reya had a very successful one where everyone had to dress like a fictional character whose name starts with R. Now Vivaan is thinking of doing the same, but I think V is going to be a little bit tough.”

“There are times when you want to use your intellect a bit and play Scrabble, but there are also times when you are sitting at an airport lounge and you want to play something like Candy Crush!” –Rohan Gavaskar

There’s also a Secret Santa tradition in the Gavaskar household, we learn. “We pick chits and must get gifts for the family member whose name we get,” explains Rohan, then laughs, “The craziest gift I got was last year from my brother-in-law, who basically recycled a gift not realising I was the one who had given it to him the year before.”

Rohan then reveals another Gavaskar family custom: Halloween!

“We love the festival. We dress up, scare each other and it’s such great fun,” says Rohan. “I think the idea of celebrating Halloween came from Dad. He has had an old joy of scaring people from as long as I can remember. He has been buying scary masks for the last 30 years! It doesn’t even need to be Halloween, he could pop out of nowhere with a mask and white blanket around him to scare someone. That’s just his nature!”

Father, dear father

Sunil Gavaskar smiles. He is guilty as charged. We turn the spotlight on him. How’s the joy of being a grandparent different from being a dad?

“I think the tradition of celebrating halloween in our family came from dad. He has been buying scary masks for the last 30 years ! ” –Rohan Gavaskar

“I believe grandkids are your biggest stressbusters, and I can tell you about an incident that can actually prove that,” he says. “I had gone to the doctor for my annual check up, and the doc found my blood pressure a bit high. ‘I need you to wait,’ he told me. ‘I need to come back and investigate this further.’ While I waited, I started thinking about what Reya and Vivaan had been talking about the last evening. The doctor came back 15 minutes or so later and checked my blood pressure again: it was completely normal! Even the doctor was surprised!”

Sunil Gavaskar signals Out while playing a new card game called Qwicket with son, Rohan ( Shivangi Kulkarni )

Being a father, he says, is different. “When Rohan was young, both [my wife] Marshneil and I were travelling around quite a bit, so the credit of bringing him up goes to my parents, my in-laws, my sister-in-law etc. I look at Rohan and Swati spending time with their kids and realise I didn’t spend a nano fraction of that time being a father. They are both such marvellous parents!”

Finally, what’s the piece of advice each of the two gents have imbibed from their dads?

Rohan begins: “Both mom and dad have always told me that dreams do come true. Whatever you want to achieve, whatever the magnitude of the dream, it does have the potential to come true, so never give up on it.”

Sunil Gavaskar continues, “My father passed onto me the belief that I must stand up for what I think is right. There were occasions in my cricketing career when I might have stepped over the line, and he told me about them privately. He’s say, ‘Look, you did it because at that particular point you thought you were right, you have also been big enough to express that you were wrong at that time. I’m happy for that.’ He showed me that being true to yourself and the career you choose is, at the end of the day, the most important thing!” 

Join the conversation using #FamilyGames

Follow @JamalShaikh on Twitter

From HT Brunch, February 16, 2020

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