If I were to turn into a psychotic, cold-blooded, serial murderer, while I am being carried off by the police, let them say of me –
“He was wronged. When the only thing good about his childhood was Sachin Tendulkar, they robbed him of it. Society has hardened his heart to a stone.”
So it has happened.
He has retired, and we have to move on with our lives.
I wanted to write a flowing tribute to the man. A tribute that would explain in detail how he peppered my life with its most beautiful moments. Of how he made my life in an otherwise shitty decade – memorable. Of how my childhood was Sachin Tendulkar.
I would be lying.
Because when Sachin was being Sachin, I was caught up at different places, doing everything but watching the match. It’s a long story, and to keep things short, please refer to the chart below.
|Stellar Sachin Moment
||What was happening
||What I was doing
|1991, Sydney century
||A young Sachin was belting fiery Australian bowlers in the fastest pitch in the world.
||Had just been admitted in my boarding school. Was five years old, so knew nothing about anything.
|1996 Wills World Cup
||The World Cup was happening in India. Day light matches, a terrific costume, and a plundering of Pakistan in the quarter final. Sachin had begun opening the innings in One Days.
||4th standard. Our class teacher would come tell us if India won the match. She also added some details of her own. At other times, she told us stories of her childhood, and how she would bathe in a tub full of bubbles in her childhood.
|1999 Chepauk century
||India is chasing down Pakistan’s score in the second innings. While wickets fall left, right, and centre, Sachin keep butchering the bowling, going on to score 136. India lose by 12 runs. Sachin has tears in his eyes, and the legend of ‘When Sachin scores a century…’ is born.
||Since we weren’t shown any cricket, the only option was to read the newspaper from the staff room – in the fifteen minute gap we had after lunch.
The punishment for eating slowly was to be made to sit on the Girls’ side. I never rushed through my lunch.
|1998 Coca-Cola Tournament, Sharjah
||After robbing Shane Warne of any respect he had for himself in a test series, India beat Australia in the semi final and final, and Sachin scored blazing centuries in both the matches.
||My family had decided that cricket was an unwanted evil. The TV was packed up, and I had to crouch my head against an old Philips radio till I felt like the hunchback of Bhubaneswar. Couldn’t listen to the climax of both the matches.
Now, let us have a look at some of the matches that I’ve watched.
|Stellar Sachin Moment
||What I was doing
||What was happening
|2003 World Cup
||Had watched the entire World Cup. On the day of the final, I had stayed back from school. In the PCO I was working in, there were at least 50 people huddled up to watch the match. I sat in front of the TV, right from the Toss, to the end of the match.
||Zaheer Khan sledged the Australian batsmen, and they launched into an assault that made the Indian bowlers seem like members of the Vaanar Sena.
In the chase, Sachin holed out after pulling McGrath for a boundary. Next day, there was school.
|2009 India vs Australia
||India were chasing 351, on a pitch that was providing swing and assistance to the bowlers. I was working as a copywriter, and since my boss hadn’t come to work, I had safely parked my ass in front of the television for the entire match.
||Sachin scored a blitzkrieg 175. He played the lofted straight drive – in the way only he can, and punched the bowlers in gaps. At 36, he was making a comeback. And everyone watched in silence.
India, however lost the match by 3 runs, thanks to Ravinder Jadeja, who had worn his helmet, but forgotten to carry his brain inside it.
|2011 World Cup
||I have moved into Hyderabad, and am studying again. I have no work to do, and have devoted myself to the World Cup in body, mind, and soul. It is the final at Wankhede, Sachin’s motherground.
||Sachin starts off with two boundaries, and edges Malinga to the keeper.
I am taken back to the feeling after the last world cup, a pall of gloom descends.
So there you have it. Everytime he did well, I wasn’t watching the match. And everytime I was watching, he didn’t do well. While he’s playing his last innings, I am in the villages of Ganjam, where electricity hasn’t returned to the houses after cyclone. I grow restless, wrapping up my work to watch him bat. He’s in the 70’s, I finally find a television, and settle down in front of it.
And he edges to First Slip.
I can’t really say with conviction that watching Tendulkar bat was one of the high points of my childhood. I didn’t see too many of his innings – at least not the great ones.
But that is not to say that I grew up without his presence in my life.
It was impossible to grow up without Tendulkar in the 90’s. He was India’s first brand – the first person who held sway over people across the country – something no politician, or film star can boast of. Amitabh Bachchan has no relevance down south, Rajini Kanth is more of a pop figure up north. Gandhi is irrelevant for most people these days. But Sachin Tendulkar.
I saw him on hoardings, on the covers of Pepsi bottles, in magazines, and in the stories that my friends told me about him. And I had read tons and tons of articles on him.
Since television was out of bounds, cricket came to me through a different source. From the pens of S. Dinakar and Bobilli Vijay Kumar of The Hindu. While I did not have the colourful, heart-wrenching action in front of my eyes, I had the lyrical fantasies that the two gentlemen wove out in the papers the next day. I read about the drives through the covers, and of lofted drives that flew into the stands.
I read about how Sachin miffed McGrath when he stopped him in his run up, to adjust the sight screen. I read about how a sandstorm forced the cricket to stop, but when it started, a bigger storm was to strike that night in Sharjah.
And I would recreate those scenes in my head. In my mind, Sachin was always a reticent mercenary. A hard-working gritty professional.
In the later years, I was a little embarrassed by the image that was made of Sachin.
Whenever a cricketer flew down to India, we would ask him whether he thought Sachin was the greatest. It was like there was a need for validation.
This deifying of Tendulkar, probably because of how Indian it is, always pissed me off.
I have always wondered what it would be like if Tendulkar was not this cherubic, soft-spoken youngster, but a muscular, brash person? What if he talked back to the bowlers, had affairs with actresses as was the norm back then?
Would Tendulkar still have been the hero that he is made to be? I doubt it.
While we talk about the glories on the field, and the 24 years on the ground, the real reason I think Tendulkar is what he is, is because he successfully managed his career without putting a foot wrong. Because he lived up to the pedestal that he was put on – of being a humble, hard working, son of the soil.
That’s how we like our Gods – clean.
While there will always be debates about the Bharat Ratna, I wish it wasn’t conferred on him immediately.
Before you order your gang of friends to find my address, kindly hear my reason out.
All his life, Sachin was scrutinised by the entire country. Every time he came out to bat, the commentator would begin talking about Sachin’s shoulders – ‘He carries a billion expectations on those shoulders of his.’
Or, ‘A billion hopes lie on the shoulders of one man…’
By elders, by contemporaries, by children – his every step, his every word, every move. A century every time he came out to bat, a word in appreciation of victims of earthquakes and floods. A political opinion from a political party, stooping down to the level of politicians who die everyday, for which there need not be a bandh.
The same moralistic nation that made him a God will now be watching every step of his.
Being conferred with the highest award of the country is a greater pressure. For Tendulkar, it is back to being 16 again. While one test has come to a close, another one begins.
I can imagine Arundhati Roy asking her secretary to buy a new file folder, marking it ‘Tendulkar’, rubbing her hands in joy, waiting for him to commit a mistake. And then, once he commits it, I can see her smile, lick her lips with joy, and begin…
“That day, when the madness of a billion people, the sentiments of a few, bent the country into offering him the highest award of the country. Not an award for his achievement in sports, mind you. But the greatest award that can be conferred on an individual.
And yet, as the din starts to die down, my mind searches frantically for the answer to the question – ‘How did the nation benefit?”
The same India that wiped tears of joy as he left, will bay for his blood if they see him doing anything that is against their morals. Just when the pressure seems to ease off, a more vicious pressure will now have its hands ready, to claw at his neck.
I hope we don’t make a Gandhi out of Sachin. An obsolete joke, a token of respect.
The other thing about deifying somebody is that it obliterates the awesome parts of their life – shrouding it with a grey shawl of godliness. An overarching blanket that covers good, just, kind, humble, and awesome. Making ‘Awesome’ only a small part of the entire package of larger goods.
But for most of us, Sachin was not a god. Those are titles that the media makes up, they look good on placards, and in tribute videos.
But we, the children of 90’s, didn’t really treat him as God.
What did we treat him as?
That was Tendulkar for us. Not a pagan god for the sport, but a player who could slay the greatest demons with his bat. He could go to any part of the world, on any type of pitches, face the fiercest bowlers, and yet the “Tok” sound that came when his bit hit the cherry, was sweet.
While he deserves every bit of the tribute he gets, for me and most of my friends, Sachin was not God. He was Fuck Awesome.
For all the criticism, when the time came, it did shake me. When I stood in front of the TV, watching him tell his coach that there were no more matches he would play, forcing a smile, and fighting back tears, I choked up too.
Sachin was the last connection to my childhood. A connection I had taken for granted.
Let’s hope he gets to chill out for a few months. And finds something else that he is just as awesome at.
That’s the average life expectancy of a citizen of India, give (Kerala, Punjab) or take (Assam, Madhya Pradesh) a few years.
68 years is a long time.
If we do reach that age, while our grandchildren make love to their friends over their smartphones, and we sit on a chair, ignored, and someone comes to us and smiles a warm smile, and asks us what we were thinking about, we will say ‘Nothing..’ and shake our heads and smile.
Our grandfathers spoke of the freedom movement. Our parents spoke of their struggles to raise us.
We will speak about a short man with curly hair.
It will be a long, lonely walk. But like someone once said…