Ashish Nehra is a peep into our lives, what we were two decades back, what we became - as he faltered, as he rose again, as he fell, as he rose again, as he laughed, how we mocked, how we refused to forgive, how we forgot about him, how we laughed when he returned, how we were amazed when he bowled well.
We are all complicit. We all tweeted. Even before Twitter.
Ashish Nehra, much like a younger Anil Kumble, is the reason we rag in colleges. Why we react to a person's physical attributes. Call him names, much, much before an old, cool friend of his adds a "Ji" to his name. And the networks pick it up and parrot it. And we, we for a few days, nay, a few hours, forget about those memories, and forgive ourselves conveniently, and show him some respect.
But Ashish Nehra is a funny guy. He refuses to forgive himself. Or at least it would seem so. He hasn't become someone else. He has remained Nehra. He is still that AHSH-EEESH. That gawky, funny guy, who refused to fit in.
He's way cooler than us. He's way funnier than us. He refuses to be part of any club that will have him. He is, in a warped, funny way, a legend, without really being a cricket legend. He is a life legend. A survival kit. A guy you can almost expect to sing the parody, "Like a surgeon" to mock his 12 surgeries. Our own guy from the early Tim Burton films when they were funny, original, disrespectful and weird.
Nobody does weird better in Indian cricket than Ashish Nehra. Possibly because nobody who does weird survives - look what happened to Kambli and Sreesanth. Life mocked them, we mocked them, hell, they even mocked themselves. One was snubbed by life, the other slapped.
As for Ashish Nehra, he doesn't whine, so while his 12 surgeries and Jimmy Amarnath-like comebacks are part of folklore, they didn't define him. Unlike his more famous buddy, Sehwag, who was unable to choose his farewell from cricket, Nehra did.
He announced one fine day, that the Delhi T20 against New Zealand will be his last cricket match. No, not just international, but last match. No IPL for him, unlike so many greats before him. Did Nehra just kick a few million bucks in the ass? Who does that?
Ashish Nehra does. Nehra does what you cannot even fathom. Ask for the ball. Ask for the ball to bowl the last over in a chase that has sneaked up so close, Pakistan can taste the korma, and are dancing in aisles of Sharjah. Never mind that there may not have been any such chase in Sharjah, the Nehra story is nothing without embellishment.
We embellish it. He embellishes it. With sauces, words, hyperbole. And when it is cooked, hot to be served, we collectively draw our knives and carve both Nehra and his story out.
We start to laugh at his teeth. Oh, how we love to laugh at his teeth. And how he lost us that last match by screwing up the last over and went into hiding after that. We make cartoons of him, mocking him. I made a cartoon too. When I would draw. Draw knives at Nehra. Not remember him as the coolest thing that happened to India cricket, even if it was just for one night.
“Hehe... you got the wrong guy... I'm not this Nehra guy you keep calling me.”
My favourite Nehra memory for a long time was him ripping into a leg of chicken in the dressing room - the prying cameras caught him in the act. You will never see Sachin or Dravid eat, maybe sip water or walk on it, but never rip into a bone. Nehra, a long, long time back, was privileged to be caught in the act of food porn on television.
But either side of that leg of chicken, I was forever amazed that an Indian bowler could bowl that beautiful length - that perfect short-of-a-length length. That length that pitched where a ball must pitch, and pull the batsman up like a puppet, ball after ball.
And it was like a stick-figure was bowling it. There, I couldn't help myself, even in praise; I had to make a cartoonish comparison.
I haven't seen Ashish Nehra for a long time. I'm told he's been training where I train, in Siri Fort. But have I even seen him? With Nehra you never know. Your memories are either much more or much less than they really are. Your Nehra stories will soon become your own extractions. Whether he won or lost that match is entirely up to you.
On November 1, 2017, Ashish Nehra was a match winner, with both the ball and his mouth. While with ball, it was short of length, with the mouth, it was anything but that.
When wished a happy retirement by the much ridiculed Manjrekar, Nehra snapped, "I'm always happy".
For once, there were no Nehra-teeth jokes. The goalpost had long shifted to Sanjay Manjrekar.