Harsha Bhogle has changed the face and voice of Indian cricket since he first began commentating in 1992. With a career spanning over 25 years, not only has he secured his place in the commentary box, but also in the homes and hearts of millions of Indians and cricket connoisseurs across the globe. An alumnus from IIM Ahmedabad, Harsha defied societal norms at a time when just a handful of professions were considered conventional. And yet, he scaled unprecedented heights in commentary and showed India that taking a path less trodden can be worthwhile. While many of us already know him as Harsha Bhogle, the commentator, the author and the host, here, we introduce to you, Harsha Bhogle, the dad.
When I look back at my childhood, I don’t remember ever enduring any stress to achieve things; whether it was securing ranks, winning competitions, scoring runs or taking wickets. And there was a lot of time. I often wonder why twenty-four hours seem like so little now, when they once seemed like so much. So, as children, we had time to dream, to fool around, to read, and maybe without realising it, to fail and learn. My father pushed me to pursue specific activities; like studying French, speaking in the school assembly, learning how to type, learning how to deliver a commentary. I didn’t always like it, but thank God he did because I don’t think I would have pushed myself otherwise.
As a father of two twenty-something boys, I am far more informal in my approach than my own father was, but we are all creatures of our times. My father was influenced by his father who was, apparently, the strong silent type, because all fathers were meant to be like that. My father wasn’t exactly the same way; we laughed a fair bit, but we never jumped on him for example. My greatest regret is that I never hugged him and every time I went to Bengaluru, I would tell my wife that I would this time, but I never quite managed it.
When my boys were growing up, they used to be all over me and crack jokes about me. Once, I told them, “I never spoke to my father like this” and they replied, “Did your father creep up on you and jump on you?” Having said that, I think I pushed my elder son a lot more than I should have. To that extent, I was a bit like my dad. But I had seen a different world to the one my dad had experienced as a university teacher, and because I had seen so many different kinds of people, I suppose I felt the need to push my boys. I am now friends with my sons. I couldn’t have been a friend to my father. There was too much respect.
I am sure there are families where the father is still the my-way-or-the-highway kind; where he can’t be seen to be going wrong, and that is where I think so many men are stressed. I also think the role of a father changes as his children grow up. I couldn’t have even dreamt of telling my father what to do, whereas my children freely offer me advice (and often, very sound advice).
I wouldn’t say that I’ve juggled my career and parenthood particularly well. The truth is, I would be nowhere without my wife, Anita. A bit like my mother was with me, she was always there when the children needed her and she is an outstanding professional too. I would try and make up for my guilt by getting the boys gifts (as much as we could afford, at least in the early days) but, to be honest, I didn’t go overboard which is something fathers who are away too much must be careful about. Gifts can never make up for absence.
My sons tell me that I would have been a different kind of father, had I had a daughter. My older son, on whom I may have been a little too hard, certainly believes so. I think I would have been a lot more protective of a daughter, and perhaps that wouldn’t have gone down too well.
People sometimes ask me what advice I have for parents whose children want to take a path less trodden. I would say this. Be very careful to see that your children are good enough for the profession they pick. It is very fashionable to want to walk the path less travelled and those that have succeeded in doing so are aware of the pitfalls, and so they could actually end up becoming more conservative. They might become the do-as-I-say, rather than the do-as-I-did kind. There is a time beyond which it is difficult to take a chance with your career and that is why it is best to take that chance early in life. Remember that for every success story that you read, there are a thousand that didn’t work out and which you won’t hear about. So my advice would be to encourage, but to be very realistic about the skills your children possess. In middle-class families, the downside can be huge, which is one reason why education must be mandatory.
Remember too, that a lot of these fashionable ‘less-trodden’ careers look good but come with a sell-by date after which someone like you, but much younger, comes along. For example, what do you do when you are done with being an RJ? Or a model co-ordinator? Or a model? So, see that what you do is sustainable. And if you are the kind who gets bored with things, and seeks a new adventure all the time, then you might discover that there are days when you have to fight for scraps and you should have the stomach for it.
If you were to ask me about a specific instance that shaped me as a father, I’d only be able to think of one. When my sons were younger, I remember screaming at one of them in a fit of rage. My father, who was visiting us at the time, witnessed the little episode and took me aside. He advised me that I should never reach a situation where my children stop talking to me, where they stop sharing their experiences and insecurities and joys. I’ve always kept that conversation close to my heart, and today, my boys are not only my friends, but also my guides.