Ilie Nastase, it would appear, is convinced that machismo translates to crudeness and disrespect towards women. © Getty Images

Ilie Nastase, it would appear, is convinced that machismo translates to crudeness and disrespect towards women. © Getty Images

During his tempestuous playing career, he went by the moniker ‘Nasty’. It wasn’t merely because his surname threw up that possibility; Ilie Nastase was ‘Nasty’ in more ways than one. He was a nasty player on the tennis court – in a good way, if that makes any sense. Nasty for his opponent, nasty with his angles and court-craft. He was also nasty in a not-so-good way – nasty with his behaviour, nasty in his disrespect of authority and officialdom, and sometimes of his rival and the sport, too.

Nastase was an impressionable young man, a Romanian looking to make his mark on the tennis circuit. During a 16-year professional career, he won two Grand Slam singles titles, and was ranked No. 1 in the world for more than nine months between August 1973 and June 1974. In an era where touch and finesse were the bywords, he entertained and enthralled with his wonderfully silken play. And if the fans were willing to put up with his antics to a generous point, it was because when he turned on the style, he made you forget everything else.

During his peak, Nastase was in his late 20s, so without condoning any of his nastiness, one could at least understand why he behaved in the manner in which he did when he wasn’t commanding the little sphere to do his bidding. But now, when he is a couple of months shy of his 71stbirthday? Isn’t he supposed to be the senior statesman, the man whose stature must command attention for all the right reasons?

Apparently not. Nastase is still as nasty as ever. Perhaps, he is even nastier. Otherwise, how can you explain the worst filth that has escaped his mouth inside the last week?

His first target was Serena Williams, the women’s world No. 1 who accidentally let it slip that she was pregnant. “Let’s see what colour it has,” Nastase was quoted as saying by Romanian and British reporters, referring to Williams’s unborn child. “Chocolate with milk?” Hello, what world are you living in, Mr Nastase? Or should we just drop the ‘mister’ altogether?

Gambhir, like his former opening partner Virender Sehwag, is cut from a different cloth. Social media gives people a larger, wider platform from which to espouse views; unlike some others, Gambhir has used it judiciously, making strong and powerful statements that resonate with and touch a chord in several of us who have chosen to embrace political correctness at the expense of simply being human.

A little while later, as the foot-in-the-mouth syndrome took deeper root, the Romanian captain was booted out of his country’s Fed Cup tie against Britain after directing abusive language at Anne Keothavong, the British captain, and Johanna Konta, the British No. 1. Much of what he said was crass, condemnable and cringe-worthy; it makes several of us hang our heads in shame.

Like Nastase was in his prime, so has been Gautam Gambhir an excitable young man given to flashes of extraordinary temper. He has taken on men nearly twice his size on the cricket field, been banned for elbowing an opponent while running between the wickets, has seen the inside of a match referee’s room more often than any other contemporary Indian cricketer.

And yet, you would have to delve deep into the imaginative recesses of the mind, and not be able to associate ‘nasty’ in the Nastase sense with Gambhir. He is still given to the occasional outburst, he will still give you a rocket – as they say – if he thinks you aren’t pulling your weight effort-wise, but beneath that competitive exterior and the 10,000-words-a-minute monologue throbs a heart of compassion and empathy, of understanding and humaneness.

Nastase is unlikely to have heard of Gambhir, of course. And it is unlikely that, even if he is enlightened about the Delhi man’s initiatives, he will come away impressed. Nastase, it would appear, is convinced that machismo translates to crudeness and disrespect towards women.

Anyway, enough of Nastase. In the past in this column itself, we have already discussed Gambhir’s desire to do good by his fellow sportspersons who have fallen on bad times. One of the complaints about India’s superstar cricketers of the past is that they haven’t taken a stance on issues, that they chosen whatever they might have done in relative quiet and privacy.

Gambhir, like his former opening partner Virender Sehwag, is cut from a different cloth. Social media gives people a larger, wider platform from which to espouse views; unlike some others, Gambhir has used it judiciously, making strong and powerful statements that resonate with and touch a chord in several of us who have chosen to embrace political correctness at the expense of simply being human.

Gautam Gambhir has used social media to make strong and powerful statements that resonate with and touch a chord in several of us who have chosen to embrace political correctness at the expense of simply being human. © BCCI

Gautam Gambhir has used social media to make strong and powerful statements that resonate with and touch a chord in several of us who have chosen to embrace political correctness at the expense of simply being human. © BCCI

In the immediacy of the Maoist attack in Sukma earlier this week that claimed the lives of 25 CRPF jawans, Gambhir’s Kolkata Knight Riders sported black armbands during their IPL game against Rising Pune Supergiant as a gesture of respect to and appreciation of the courage of the bravehearts. Then, having seen photographs in newspapers of inconsolable young girls grieving the demise of their fathers in the reprehensible attack, Gambhir disclosed that his foundation would foot the education expenses of the children of all the 25 men who laid down their lives.

“I saw gut-wrenching pictures of the daughters of two CRPF men killed in the latest attacks,” Gambhir wrote in his column in a national daily. “One was saluting her martyred father while in the other picture, the howling young woman was being consoled by her relative.

“The Gautam Gambhir Foundation will take care of the entire education expenses of the children of these martyrs. My team has already started work on this and I shall soon share the progress we have made. The quantum of losing a dear one while serving the country can never ever be compared to losing a cricket match.”

Well done, Gautam. Strong words but even stronger sentiments that deserve the highest commendation. In a world dominated by greed and fear and death and one-upmanship, it is a refreshing and welcome change to see people looking out for each other, even for strangers. It’s times such as the ones that we live in now – unsafe, uncertain, on a powder keg — that should open our eyes and help us get our priorities right.

Cricket has welcomed back the likes of Mohammad Amir, whose indiscretions are more censurable than doping – if at all degrees exist in these cases. The other players need not lay out the red carpet for Sharapova, but they can at least not be nasty. A little respect goes a long way; grace needn’t necessarily be restricted to just the field of play.

Perhaps that’s a message for the ladies on the WTA Tour, too. Maria Sharapova returned to competition in Stuttgart a couple of days back, having served a 15-month ban after testing positive for the prohibited substance meldonium. The reactions to the former world No.1’s return – she was given a wild card at the Porsche Grand Prix – have smacked of outright disrespect.

Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist, has canned Sharapova, calling her a ‘cheater’. “To me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way,” the Canadian said. Sharapova has protested her innocence. Meldonium had then only recently been added to the list of banned substances, but been part of the medication the Russian had been taking for nearly a decade as a precaution against diabetes that runs in her family. But as per the system in place, she had transgressed, so she paid the penalty. Having served time, she has every right to return to her sport, like many other doping offenders have done in other disciplines, including tennis. If Bouchard feels so strongly about Sharapova’s return following due process, maybe she will be better off pursuing a different career herself, free of angst and heartburn.

Cricket has welcomed back the likes of Mohammad Amir, whose indiscretions are more censurable than doping – if at all degrees exist in these cases. The other players need not lay out the red carpet for Sharapova, but they can at least not be nasty. A little respect goes a long way; grace needn’t necessarily be restricted to just the field of play.