All of us have a Sachin story. For a generation and perhaps even more, he is the thread that runs through so many of our memories. Of faces, people, blurry TV screens, sleepless eyes, cheers, gaalis, of sitting-at-one-place-and-not-moving-lest-we-jinx, clenched fists, pumped arms, spilled Pepsis, crumbs on shirts, smiles, tears, desperation, and elation. This is why all of us feel that we know him, and if time spent simply looking at someone and of being invested in his success is a measure of intimacy, then I suppose many of us would accept that we are closer to him than we are to quite a few cousins and uncles.
It’s strange really, this kind of personal relationship with an abstract entity, abstract in that we do not really know him. Kind of the relationship those of faith have with God. No wonder then that that word is used in association with him, so often. No wonder that his passing leaves many empty, as if the string has been yanked out and our memories are now bouncing free, like colorful beads on the floor, and we fear that some of them will roll underneath the bed, never to be found.
As for me, little old me, I don’ t think that will happen.
But for that, I need to tell you my Sachin story.
My Sachin story began even before he started playing Test cricket. Sportstar, which was our window to the world of cricket, (along with Sportsworld and Sportsweek and Indian Cricketer) brought tidings of this precocious talent, whom recently-retired Sunil Gavaskar had said was as good technically as him but with many more strokes, one boy by the name of Sachin Tendulkar. Why, I had thought, he is almost my age, just a few years older. The cricketing firmament was then dominated by uncle-types, the Vengsarkars, and the Maninder Singhs. For the first time, here was someone from our age-group making it into the team, and he played cricket just the way a schoolboy wants cricket to be played, not the walking-drive of Dilip Vengsarkar or the boring chapati shot of Shastri, but full-blooded, with lofted shots, hooks and pulls and booming drives. The older uncles, watching TV alongside, would periodically cry out, “He is a taroo” ( swashbuckler), “Does not have the technique of Gavaskar” and “Would he able to play that Chepauk pitch like Vishwanath?” and I rolled my eyes, like teenagers do, thinking to myself “What do they know?” The time was mine, the world was mine and Sachin was me, the projection of my aspirations on a scale I could scarcely comprehend, and every criticism of him was now personal, striking straight to the heart.
I wanted to believe. In myself. In Sachin. That as long as he is there, there is hope. That it doesnt matter what the rest did. That no one else mattered.
Then I got older. I became cynical. With everything. Gods were for kids.
Why doesn’t he win more matches for India? Why does he accumulate runs? Why has he cut out that swivel pull? Why does he fail in critical matches? What about that Ferrari? And when will he retire? In all this, I forgot the connect between him and me, and that what I saw in Sachin was myself reflected, calculating, without the carelessness of youth, intensely conscious of what is no longer possible, but persisting on.
And what I saw I did not like.
So I still cheered, perhaps out of force of habit, but I also sniggered. Wax statue. Hah. 199 Kgs of rose petals. Please.
Now that he is leaving (or gone, depending on when you are reading this), I am glad in a way. Because Sachin is now firmly in the past. And the great thing about the past, at least for me, is that I don’t question it in the way I do the present nor fear it the way I do the future. I do not care anymore, how effective Sachin was in chases, or whether he should have retired in 2011, or whether he was the greatest batsmen of the modern generation or not.
Because he is now in that happy place, the place where old loves and broken bicycles go.
Where you don’t remember the falls and the jolts, the heartbreaks and the longing.
Where no questions are asked.
Where everything is fuzzy and comforting and tastes of Chocobar.
And where it is always two wickets down and Sachin in.
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