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The Confidence Man

From Samanth Subramanian's 2011 story on Lalit Modi for the Caravan.

Every spring for the past three years—for the first three seasons of the Indian Premier League—Lalit Kumar Modi’s life would swing into a pattern of perpetual motion, his days filled with the kind of incessant activity that he promised to deliver to his audiences on the cricket field each evening. In the morning, if he hadn’t already flown out the previous night, Modi would eat breakfast— spartan, like all his meals—on his personal plane, en route to the first of that day’s IPL venues. (“That plane had golden toilet fittings,” recalls a passenger who rode along once, at Modi’s invitation, from Jaipur to New Delhi. “It was like a bloody throne.”) Once at the ground, Modi would begin to intensively micromanage events, striding in his characteristic quick, purposeful gait around the stadium. On his BlackBerry, which seemed to be welded into the palm of his hand, he would deliver clipped instructions. “He’s very fast with SMS,” said Dilip Cherian, a prominent public relations consultant who has worked with Modi and with his family’s businesses in the past. “He has to think as fast as he types.”

Over the course of a game day, Modi would eat little. He would smoke ceaselessly, but he would begin a cigarette, drag on it a couple of times, and then toss it away, as if each cigarette was just another one of the tasks he needed to strike off his To-Do list for the day. As the cricket commenced, Modi would sit, either in his own box or in the box of the home team, and mug for the Modicam, the camera deputed to follow him around in each game. He would chant team slogans and sing team songs, the metal rims of his spectacles glinting in the spotlights, his forehead often speckled with drops of perspiration, the knot of his tie always loosened and askew just so. (“This indicates,” one image consulting website self-seriously concluded in an analysis of Modi’s look, “that he is ‘casual’ with a ‘care-a-damn’ attitude and that he doesn’t bother about what people talk about him.”) But through all these lusty exhibitions of fandom, Modi would be acutely alert to the demands of his positions as IPL commissioner and as vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), his eyes always cocked for something going wrong – for an unwanted guest in an exclusive box, or for a brand not getting quite as much play as it had paid for.

Even during the famed after-parties that followed every match of the 2010 edition of the IPL—and indeed, during any party he threw—Modi visibly waltzed to the strains of his personal agenda. He would drink a glass of wine, two at the most, and he would circulate with rare enthusiasm. “If you’re at one of his parties,” a friend of Modi’s told me, “you don’t have to worry about going up to him to say ‘Hello.’ If he wants to speak to you, he’ll come to you. Otherwise you should just have a good time and go home.”

[Photo Credit: The Hindu]

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