You have been a full and final emotion for us, Indians. Whether we understand the nuances of cricket or not, even when the words “square cut” (or any other cricket language actually) goes above our head, irrespective of the difference between an “umpire” and a “referee” that may or may not make sense, we have cheered from our heart the moment you have held the bat and entered the field. You active on the pitch meant some cricket-hours fantastically spent, a match beautifully won, Ganguly or Sehwag or Dravid or Laxman well supported, samosas and jalebis on the living room table, enthusiasts discussing/debating/learning from your strokes and non-enthusiasts happily providing cups after cups of tea to everyone in front of television!
This day, which is exactly two years since you retired, I remember many such moments which you created for lesser mortals like me and my family. Those were personal and very specific to the culture of a middle class Bengali from ‘90’s Bengal; but I am sure every cricket fan will relate to these and claim that the same happened to them! That’s how you had united the nation with that one religion: Sachin Tendulkar.
When you started off initially, people in our “moholla” started discussing about this “bachcha” who was a powerhouse of talent. As much as they fell for you right from the first match you played for India, they discussed your moves with the affection and strictness of a guardian. I’m sure by now you know the pros and perils of that “Bangali” brand of dissecting and trisecting cricketory movements.
It didn’t take them much time though, to realise that the “bachcha” they were being a guardian to, was the “baap” of everyone! Debates hence naturally shifted from “let me give you an advice” mode to “we celebrate the genius mode”!After every match heated exchange of opinions would follow on the match strategy. I of course don’t understand how people still remember which match it was, against whom, that you scored x runs and y wickets or dropped a crucial catch of dismissing Mr.Z! I know of school mates who memorised all these information about all kinds of cricketers, but flunked in History in school. God knows how they didn’t remember the dates for the Battles of Panipat, between whom they were fought, and all such information when they organically and chronologically remembered how many times you sneezed in between a match. Had History books were about you and cricket, instead of the boring Mauryas and Mughals, the most notorious boys in school would have scored great.
Home? Well. I lost my father, brothers, uncles and later husband to the television, every time you were on strike. Anniversaries, birthdays, Diwali, Rakhi, everything went for a toss. Terms and phrases like magician, superman, game-changer, icon, inspiration, opener, last-hope, etc. were heard in abundance depending upon the complications of the score-board. If you got out when a particular aunty entered the room, she would face mass boycott and families would actually conspire to confine her till the next few seasons of cricket! I think you owe an apology to some of my masi’s and mami’s; will compile a list separately for your convenience.
Personally though, a century from you meant if I am not studying for that evening, it would go unnoticed and I would be spared of mom’s red eyes because dad would be in exceptionally good mood and stand in defence. I was going for my joint entrance examinations, which I had no intentions to get though. Sitting in a public bus full of would-be doctors and engineers madly browsing through fats books at the last moment while hanging from the over-head rod, I tried to concentrate rather on the loud gathering of some strangers who were way disconnected from the ambitious, depressing lot, discussing you!
While those studying protested to their loud exchanges with frowns and “tchch” sounds, even they understood the emotion which made you more important at that moment than their impending careers. The experts spoke about the angle at which you held the bat, the speed at which you ran between the wickets, the roughness of the ball, the moisture and grass on the ground, etc. none of which I had ever considered important. And then the stokes that went for sixes and fours. I particularly remember one “kaku”(uncle) among them, who was supposed to get down at an opportune stop; he was standing on the steps of the bus, requesting “ayk minite (one minute)” to the conductor with his fingers, didn’t allow the bus to drop him and start for its next destination, and kept shouting back to those seated inside the bus all his precious comments on your innings the evening before! No one complained; neither did the bus move; only the conductor tried to meekly request “dada cholun na” (please move on, bro) and got completely ignored.
At my house, loyalty of the family was divided between Ganguly and you! The younger lot swore by you; the elders were more dipped in Bengali culture and had their bias in favour of anything that their favorite “Shourobh” ever did. That apart, every time you came to Bengal and visited Ganguly’s house, tabloids would report an elaborate lunch menu which included shorshe ilish bhapey, parshe maachch er jhaal, etc., recipes of each being largely about dipping mustard oil and rich spices. I recently happened to read your book, Playing It My Way, which suggested a completely different diet that you followed!
It didn’t take too long for us to develop a habit called Sachin Tendulkar. As your performance kept us roaring for more, we were forced to sustain the habit and prolong it to the extent that it refuses to die down even now that you have retired! You were our return strategy against the political differences we have had with Pakistan; you were the leader who lead without being the captain; your brand of sports taught honesty and commitment; your sportsmanship suggested nothing or no one is more important than the upcoming match; and your simplicity, a virtue that hardly any achiever will display ever again.And that’s why, your farewell speech made everyone shed tears. It was difficult to believe that the religion that bound us so strongly, the discipline which was a part of our being, the presence that we were superstitious about, the face that gave us a renewed recognition on the world canvas, the personality that remained strong when times were not so kind and the inspiration that lasts for a lifetime would represent us no more on the 22 yards.
It has been two years since your retirement. Your speech still reverberates within our senses. For people like me, who have been less involved with the game of cricket, have still felt drawn to the spirit of cricket, the credit of which can go to none other but you.
Come back to the ground Tendulkar, with some role or the other, soon. Trust me, we still haven’t exhausted our energies and our soul wants to shout “Sachiiiin Sachiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnn” again, on top of our voices.
First Published: November 16, 2015, 12:00 PM IST