I don’t particularly like cricket. I haven’t enjoyed the game for over ten years. I stopped watching cricket on TV when 11 Australians battered us in the finals of what would have been a fantastic memory in 2003. I was a child then. Children lose and gain interest in things around them faster than a setting sun in winter.
Every Indian has had their childhood shaped by cricket in some way or the other. For us, cricket is either the beautiful girl next door or the noisy neighbour who refuses to vacate the building. It’s hard imagining life without either of two. As much as I’d like the country to celebrate tennis, chess, football or any of the other sports that turn heads outside the subcontinent, I would never in my wildest dreams hope for a day where the roads aren’t empty on an India-Pakistan Sunday match.
I’ve travelled my fair share over the world. A distinctive Indian trait, truly exclusive to only our country is how we make living Gods out of mortals. We have the ability to raise a man to the skies when we feel we need him, and burn the very essence of the reason why we fell in love with him when his time is done. It’s something truly Indian. It’s beautiful, yet terrible.
I can think, of only two men who have bypassed this momentary hero worship, and lasted as public idols for a majority of their professional lives. The first is Amitabh Bachchan, who sits unequalled as an all time favourite Bollywood actor. The second, is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, who in my opinion will be remembered as one of the five greatest Indians ever for the rest of this millennium,
A human’s instinct, as I have noticed makes him want to root for the best performer around. I was born at a time when Tendulkar was at the peak of his dominance. The second question after ‘Did we win the match?’ was always an eager ‘Did Sachin hit a century?’ The second was asked irrespective of whether the first was answered with an affirmative or negative. It’s because by the time I had grown up to understand the rules of the game, I had taken one for granted…Tendulkar is the best- Period.
I have played enough sport in my life to know the difference between good, great and magical. On his day, wands could have been fashioned out of his bat. Having said that, I can’t really talk about Tendulkar’s game. I’m too unqualified to debate whether his average, allegedly selfish slow run rate and his poor performance as a skipper are strong points to knock his status as the GOAT of cricket. I can safely say without any hesitation that he will remain unequalled as a public sporting idol.
Sachin Tendulkar, in so many ways is India’s nomination for the lead of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. He immortalises everything penned by the poet. He appealed to the common man because he never had to ask for the love that everyone readily gave. It was uni-directional. It’s also because he’s one of the few super celebrities who looks absolutely average at first glance. His short frame, high pitched voice and simple way of speaking reassures someone watching him that while not everyone can be great, greatness can come from anywhere.
Tendulkar actually asked his coach for validation in his final speech. That’s plain scary. It’s like Daniel Day Lewis asking for validation after his third Oscar. It’s like Michaelangelo asking for validation after carving his David. Humility would feel embarrassed at such a thought.
Though I don’t care much for the sport anymore, the reason there are thousands exactly like me following his retirement this carefully because Tendulkar was the first superhero we grew to accept as a part of us. He was everyone’s. Every kid in India had a right to own him. We knew he was out there, somewhere shaping the game in some way or the other. It didn’t matter eventually whether he scored or not. What mattered was his presence. Almost like a, “We can’t lose. There’s Tendlya in our team!” He remained the hero who stayed with us even when we lost track of what he was doing. He brought back memories of sneaking in front of the TV during terminal exams to see how the future would change based on his next shot.
We grow up accepting some things as simple fact. I grew up thinking my father was the strongest person in the world. I grew up thinking that the Hindu religion would be the answer to all my prayers. I grew up hoping that Sachin Tendulkar would remain a superhuman force till time immortal. As the third and final fact dissolved with Tendulkar’s exit from Wankhede, I stand hopelessly lost, with the realisation that childhood is over.
It’s time to grow up.