C Jayaram’s most enduring memory from his trip to south America two years ago doesn’t involve panoramic shots near the towering Christ the Redeemer statue, but a commonly seen sight across Rio’s gleaming beaches. No, not the acres of skin on display, but the thrilling improvised football games played across volleyball nets by 45 year olds. “We spent a lot of time watching matches in Brazil’s stadia but the standout memory remains of these games. It was almost a religious experience for me,” says the joint managing director and executive director of Kotak Mahindra Bank.
Not surprising when you consider that the 58-year-old grew up in Kerala, which he calls the nursery for football in India. He remembers watching several key football tournaments in north Kerala. Like other boys his age, Jayaram too grew up playing for his school. “I have always participated in all kinds of sports, playing for my school and then Loyola College, and serving as sports secretary at IIM Calcutta. Though I played a lot more football and cricket when I was young, I switched to tennis and golf as I got older,” he says.
Growing up in a nuclear family in Trivandrum, there was no precedent for Jayaram to take up sports, but nearby Chennai’s status as an international test cricket venue helped him get his fix of matches. “My first live match was in school in 1969, when I remember watching India play Australia at Chepauk. I have vivid memories of the match, including GR Viswanath’s 97 (not out) inning.” Such obsession has taken him from watching the cricket World Cup live to partaking in strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. “Though I didn’t have time for Rio this year, I’m going to try my best to attend the next world cup,” adds Jayaram.
With his own tennis game getting competitive as the years progressed, Jayaram graduated to representing the Bandra Gymkhana in the prestigious inter-club Belani Shield Lawn Tennis Tournament. “Of course, the standard of the players is quite high, and we almost never made it past the initial rounds, but I enjoyed participating.” Especially since his partner was his own son. “I really enjoyed the father-son bonding that the games afforded us. It was interesting to watch our dynamics change as he kept getting better over time. You do feel proud about it and, of course, winning games doesn’t hurt either,” Jayaram laughs.
His comfort level with different sports also guarantees Jayaram popularity with the younger generation, from nephews at home to juniors at the workplace. “The nicest sports conversations I have had are with the young’uns. It helps that sports is a great teacher — the lesson that your unassuming teammates may in fact have great potential is a humbling one. You learn how to manage your strengths and weaknesses to serve the best interests of the team.”
Though Kotak has in the past sponsored several tennis and golf tournaments, Jayaram has been pursuing golf on his own as well, after a niggling back problem put a near stop to tennis. “In the initial days, I spent a fair amount of time looking stupid on the course. Golf is a great leveller — some days you play well, some days you don’t. It helps you interact with perfect strangers and keeps you mentally and physically occupied,” he adds. That might be most important in coming years, given that Jayaram will be retiring formally by the end of this year. “Though I will continue working with Kotak as an advisor, I now have a lot more time on my hands to watch live sports,” he smiles. That’s quite the recipe for the good life, indeed.