For a very long time, Ajinkya Rahane was just another cricketer for his now wife, Radhika Rahane. Their dates were few and limited to nondescript cafes in Mumbai’s Mulund suburb.
“The first time we went on a suitable date was in 2007,” says Radhika. Ajinkya remembers the date – the 29th – but not the month. “I had no interest in cricket; he was just a friend in the society we lived in,” says Radhika.
The 33-year-old drummer can’t remember the moment he realized he was in love with her, if there was even such a moment. “More than anything, it was its sheer simplicity that I turned to,” says Ajinkya. “The way she understood my family and my dreams. It was all I needed.
But for Radhika, the road to truly embracing the world of Ajinkya would be long, often arduous. “He had maintained that from the start – cricket comes first,” she said. “And I respected him for that. For me, my family and my mental and physical health are priorities.
The two had known each other since 2002 as they lived in the same building in Mulund. What they did on that first date in 2007 was clearly not memorable, as neither of them can bring it back. But both remember returning home with an unbridled sense of ease with each other.
“I was the happiest that day,” says Ajinkya. “We seemed to understand each other so well. It was comforting.
The year 2007 was not only that of their first appointment. It was also the year Ajinkya made his first class debut in the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season for Mumbai. He scored a century in his first game, an impressive 143.
From Radhika’s perspective, the geography of their love unfolded in other, more complex ways. While Ajinkya had to be away for weeks, literally kicking the ball out of the park, Radhika was at college surrounded by young couples making love, holding hands and going on long drives.
“I was definitely not prepared for this and of course there would be days when I wanted him right next to me,” she says. “But I told myself that this relationship was my choice. No one had forced me into it. It was my life and I was so happy to be in this relationship.
On September 26, 2014, the couple married in a traditional Maharashtrian wedding. Even though invitations were only sent out to 700 people, almost 1,500 people showed up, which perhaps speaks to how supportive everyone was then and still is.
For Radhika, however, marriage also meant tolerating Ajinkya’s casualness.
“He only wore a yellow T-shirt and jeans – to his own wedding,” she laughs. “I was so bored, but I kept it together. The first rituals were that he only wore this!
When they walk into Prabhat Shetty’s photography studio in Andheri on a balmy afternoon, it’s obvious that Ajinkya and Radhika mean to each other. There’s an ease to the way they navigate the spaces, despite this being their first joint shoot. And there aren’t any unnecessarily romantic gestures some celebrities might indulge in to prove a point.
“Our daughter, Aarya, is home,” Ajinkya tells me. “She naps for two hours in the afternoon starting at 2 p.m. and that’s when things kinda calm down for us.”
The mention of Aarya lights them both up. The two-year-old is clearly the bright core of their lives.
“She will be excited and happy for the smallest of things,” Radhika says. “You could give him a little candy and his day is done. She is equally excited to see her grandparents.
Ajinkya thinks that feeling of joy has always been part of the personality of children, across generations. He had been like that too, he said. “And then life happens and you tend to forget how to locate happiness in the humblest places,” he shrugs.
His own childhood, he says, was difficult. “We lived in a small house in Dombivali and my parents went out of their way so that I could afford a cricket kit,” he says.
Traveling from the suburb of Dombivali for almost two hours every day to train for hours at the legendary Azad Maidan, Ajinkya’s life has been a series of peaks and troughs. On days when he felt he was slacking off, he was overwhelmed with guilt. “I would have thought that since my parents made so many sacrifices for me, there was no room for complacency,” he says.
While his days were filled with cricket sessions, the evenings were reserved for karate lessons. “My dad wanted me out because somehow I always preferred to be indoors and was even stubborn about it,” he says, shaking his head.
It is precisely this courage and strength of character that Radhika has always loved and respected in Ajinkya. “Even to this day I can see that he is working hard on himself, both on and off the pitch,” she said.
His hard work showed. Ajinkya had captained Mumbai in the 2018-19 Vijay Hazare Trophy and led the Indian side to victory at the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in less than three years. In 2020, he was the first winner of Cricket Australia’s Mullagh Medal as player of the match, in the Boxing Day test match held annually at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
More than anything, Radhika wants her husband to celebrate his victories more often than he does. Even after marking his first century at Basin Reserve, Wellington, against New Zealand, Ajinkya hardly celebrated. He was later widely credited with being instrumental in India’s first Lords win after 28 years, scoring an impressive 103 runs in the opening innings.
“When he marks a century, from his expressions, it’s as if nothing had happened,” laughs Radhika. “I want him to go all out for his celebrations because nothing makes me happier than scoring a ton.”
Ajinkya’s rather introverted demeanor persists even when they are in the middle of an argument. He just keeps silent.
“And it pisses me off even more because I tell him if he’s mad he should say something!” Radhika said.
But their battles barely last a day. “Good old rule of not going to bed with an unresolved fight,” says Ajinkya.
A lot changed for both of them as parents when Ajinkya was able to spend seven months in a row with her daughter, thanks to the suspension of cricket matches when the pandemic first hit.
“I will always be grateful for these seven months,” he says. “I have always maintained that the game and the country come first. Not once did I even skip a workout for my family. But spending time with Aarya just made me a happier, more confident person.
Before Aarya was born, whenever Ajinkya was home, the couple would watch movies together and go to Marine Drive at midnight. Now their relationship has reached a stage where there are no overwhelming expectations for each other.
For Radhika, the memories of watching couples hang out when she was in college while he played cricket turned into polished iterations.
“At first, I got angry if he didn’t call me,” Radhika says. “But now I understand that while he might not be busy training, maybe he just needs his own space.”
For Radhika, holder of a master’s degree in communication who worked for a few years in a bank, the source of her happiness is in her family. His days with Aarya are punctuated by retro Bollywood hits and the solace that comes from celluloid.
As we wrap up the interview, I hope Ajinkya Rahane celebrates his next century with the enthusiasm it deserves, while Radhika cheers him on. Maybe it will even end up being some sort of metaphor for the bond they share – uninhibited, easy; all smiles and all hearts.
From HT Brunch, February 13, 2022
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