Weekends with the wall

When it comes to kicking back for the weekend, it’s all about understatement not extravagance for Rahul Dravid.

Nirmala Ravindran        Print Edition: Feb 8, 2009

For someone whose name throws up 9,79,000 hits in 0.12 seconds on Google, 35-year-old Rahul Dravid looks remarkably sanguine. He’s learned not to Google himself by now, which is no bad thing when your life is being dissected by everyone from cricket geeks obsessing over runs scored to young girls raving about your “cute butt”.

Rahul Dravid
Today, he’s relaxing in a suite at the Taj Hotel in Bangalore, casually attired in a maroon T-shirt and jeans, promoting the Mach 3 Turbo by Gillette, the brand for which he’s an ambassador. “It’s a great concept,” he says. “It’s about strategy and about being a winner, which ties in with everything that I believe in, too.” You’d never think he was talking about shaving, but such are the strategies of giant grooming brands these days. When I ask if he ever thought he’d have enough gyan to hold forth on shaving, he uncharacteristically bursts out laughing.

Uncharacteristic because he’s The Wall—unflappable, prone to an occasional smile at most. He’s the steady one. Even when it comes to his appearance. “I’ve always been cleanshaven,” he says. “Except for a few long Test matches when I let go.”

It’s hard to imagine Dravid “letting go”. He’s been the clean-shaven, boy-next-door his whole life. Little has changed over the past decade. The old Maruti 800, which he drove himself, has been replaced by a white Hyundai Tucson—“it’s about being comfortable, I never go looking for new cars or gizmos”. His peers may zip around in Ferraris and BMWs, but the prospect of speed, for Dravid, is horrifying. It’s the same with designer clothes. “I never wore branded jeans to college. I’m not even sure what brand I’m wearing now,” he says. He won’t check, either—as Anushka Rao, who studies brands and icons, says, “Cricketers are too smart to mention a brand unless they are endorsing it. Why do it for free when you can get paid?”

When it comes to cars, clothes and gadgets, Dravid is hardly a spender. His BlackBerry, he insists, is strictly a necessity. “My only extravagance is land,” he says. For years, he has lived with his parents in the posh locality of Indiranagar, and it’s only recently that Dravid has moved to a new house, close by. “We’re constructing a new place in Epsilion,” he adds. That’s as close as he gets to an indulgence—Epsilion is a coveted address, a gated community that houses the Who’s Who of Bangalore.

There was a time when Dravid couldn’t tell a weekend from a week day—every day was training and playing. Only now that he has a son does he appreciate the concept. His perfect weekend involves taking three-and-a-half-year-old Samit to the neighbourhood park, reading to him or taking him for a swim. “Vijeta and I sometimes catch a film at home while he sleeps,” he adds. For someone who swore by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart for years—“it’s still my all-time favourite film”—he’s currently into Bollywood flicks. He quite liked Life in a Metro.

On the small screen, he’s all about wildlife— swears by the National Geographic channel and Discovery. But music is his real passion, thanks to the car radio and his iPod. “I love radio, I used to listen to cricket commentary at first, now I listen to Hindi film songs while driving.” He once told me he could listen to Air Supply’s Unchained Melody endlessly.

Not that he’s much of a culture freak. For someone who grew up surrounded by art—his mother is an accomplished artist—Dravid isn’t interested and nor is his brother. “We were exposed to it all our lives, so we can appreciate it, but I’ve never bought a single painting in my life!” But he’s a reader—not popular fiction and thrillers so much as nonfiction, especially autobiographies. “The book that made a major impact in my younger days was Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. More recently I’ve been very impressed with The Power of Now.”

Come Saturday night, the Dravids often go out for a meal. “Karavalli for Coastal food, Sunny’s for Italian or to Little Italy, because it’s close to home. And, sometimes we go to the Taj West End for a meal by the poolside,” he says. He used to swear by the steaks at Shezan, a quaint restaurant housed in an ancient bungalow, which has since been transformed into a glass and concrete structure. But he’s not one to pig out at steakhouses. Dravid remains a fitness nut. “I work out every day, I run, do weights, stretches, basically everything to stay fit and prevent injuries. I start early and wind up by 10 a.m. Unless I plan extra practice at the nets.”

It’s a stern regime. He’s up at the crack of dawn even during rare holidays with family and friends. “Kabini, the wildlife resort, is a favourite,” he sighs. One remembers how during a tour to Pakistan he’d gone searching for museums that housed the relics of the Harappan Civilisation while his teammates partied. “I’m lucky because Vijeta has travelled quite a bit with me. It’s not a holiday in the real sense, but we’ve managed to catch a bit of the local flavour.” Soon, they’ll be travelling with another—Vijeta’s expecting in May this year.

Despite the changes in his career graph and the way his home town has changed, it is easy to see how Dravid has remained essentially unchanged. He even has the same hairstyle that he did at college. “I still go to the same little shop near my house for a haircut,” he admits.

He may not be in the best of form currently, but Rahul Dravid’s career has been full of dramatic comebacks. And thousands of fans wait patiently for him to rise from the ashes again, like the proverbial Phoenix. Until then, you’ll find him in Bangalore, living the quiet life. Still the boy next-door.

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