The definition of a stake out in the dictionary is 'to position a person so that someone or something can be observed or followed'. In the past few years sports journalists would be able to talk about multiple instances of 'stake outs'. A few that yours truly can remember are tracking Lalit Modi during those controversial days, following the Indian team after they won the 2011 ICC World Cup and most recently, following the Under-19 team after they won the World Cup. The focus on this last occasion was on the Captain Unmukt Chand. His arrival at his house in the Capital was marked by the usual fanfare a returning sporting hero gets these days.
Unmukt Chand was swiftly guided atop a chariot. Looking like a young prince, he signed a few autographs for some young girls. The blush was evident but vanished once confronted by the microphone of a television news channel. It seemed like the 19-year old was quite prepared for the celebrations and the media. Unmukt was calm, patient but clearly tired. What he did next though was an eye opener. As soon as the press conference was over, Unmukt sprinted up three floors to his house. Eager to run away from the mad rush of the media, family, friends, he shut himself in the solitude of his room.
Unfortunately, the media was far from satisfied. His family was welcoming to all and sundry (not a good idea) and the media stayed for the next 4 hours. Unmukt was apparently not well, (tired, I guessed) and so he turned down news channel after news channel who were trying to persuade him to come to their studio.
At around 5:00 PM, Unmukt and his friends went for a drive. But as I was later told, Unmukt was actually being taken for an interview with a radio channel without his knowledge. With the pressure mounting to get him to the NDTV studios, I had a word with his manager. Luckily, my argument that I was the first television journalist to do a story on Unmukt (well before he left for Australia and much before he became India's newest sweetheart) worked. Battling a persistent reporter from another channel, I tried to hustle Unmukt out.
Another hurdle in my quest to get Unmukt to our studios was traffic. It was 6:40 PM. We were in Noida. This was rush hour. Driving 30 plus km to the NDTV office in Greater Kailash by 7:00 PM was near impossible. With the help of a brilliant driver, we were able to hit the Noida-Delhi toll bridge in no time. Stuck behind more than 15 cars, and with time running out, I decided to resort to a little trickery and some great acting. I suggested that some of Unmukt's friends should act as if they had fainted. They sportingly did so (as did Unmukt!) I rushed forward to tell the security officials at the toll booth that this was an emergency. To their credit they signaled the other cars away. It wasn't just fun, it was the need of the hour. Unmukt understood and at the same time reveled in the excitement of the moment.
Soon, he was in his element and began to relax. As we approached the NDTV office, Unmukt asked for some Punjabi music to be played and leaning back said in flawless Punjabi - Now, I feel like I'm in Delhi'. The name Unmukt means 'freedom from any bondage.' I believe in this moment, he was just enjoying the freedom from all that chaos. We reached just as the sports show began and managed to have Unmukt on air just 2-3 minutes later than he was supposed to. It was a minor miracle.
Ranbir Kapoor in his relatively new advertisement says 'Yeh T20 Cricket hai, na tameez se khelajata hai, na tameez se dekha jaata hai.' In my book, Unmukt Chand not only plays T20 Cricket with a lot of tameez but more importantly he has shown how life as an upcoming cricket star in a cricket crazy nation can be lived with a lot of tameez too.
When controversy erupted over Delhi University preventing Unmukt from giving his exams, he stayed silent. It was only after I spoke to him and told him that his experience could perhaps help many other students who were also suffering, did he break his silence.
Kapil Dev questioned Unmukt Chand face to face in the middle of an event for leaving an India-A camp in Bangalore to attend a function in New Delhi. Unmukt was not provoked.
I don't know if the upcoming glitz and glamorous life of an international cricketer will change this boy. I hope it won't. Some might believe this generation is aggressive, brash and over-confident. But Unmukt Chand has shown that for the moment, it's different, it's Unmukt, free of any bondage (but with plenty of tameez.)