Friday, October 11, 2013

A Religion Without A God

Sometime, in the week of November 14th 2013, I will lose my job. When the little man with a giant shadow takes a final bow in whites for the last time and trudges back to the pavilion to a rapturous applause and a standing ovation, one of my vocations as a Sachin Tendulkar fan will come to an end. When I started my blog in 2004, this was what I had put in the About Me section "... and will probably stop watching cricket when Tendulkar retires." In 2004, I never felt I would have had to make that choice:(. Tendulkar was always timeless. The man was God, not mortal. He would never retire, the straight drives would keep flowing, and I would keep practicing my religion of cricket. But that is not the case anymore. His heart has told him it is time to go. Tendulkar is retiring and now we are left with a religion without a God.

Reams have been written about Tendulkar’s effect on India, his effect on the game, his standing among the greats. But the real question to ask is: what has Tendulkar’s career meant to you? Was it a nagging constant as a cricket widow, consigned to watching your husbands and son stuck to the television as they wondered how he does it again and again or were you inexorably drawn to watch him cream a cover drive? Were you as a student always seeking to figure out ways in which to bypass the authoritarian pressures of attendance and education so that you could watch him murder the Aussie attack on a sunny Chepauk afternoon? Were you glued to a computer monitor in a faraway land praying for the pirated sports feed to stay honest while he batted, knowing fully well that he has been known to crash servers which never could handle the scale of his fans? Are you a father who gave his son his first bat and told him two things: this is a great game and Tendulkar is the best batsman of all time?

From 1989 to 2013, the lives of a billion Indians have been punctuated with this man’s presence. For Tendulkar fans, events in life correspond with another one of Sachin’s innings. If that isn’t consistency, I don’t know what is. You can strike up a conversation with someone else on one of Sachin’s great knocks and know fully well that the other person will recall exactly where they were and what they were doing at that time. Tendulkar’s dotted career is replete with lines that folks use to connect to one another. It, as I stated before, is all about what it meant to you. So deep was I steeped in his career that at a Mastermind event, I chose ‘Test centuries of Sachin Tendulkar’ as a topic. There are so many incidents that I can recall where a Tendulkar knock added subtext to a life event for me.

Like the time when we played Sri Lanka in the semi-final of the 1996 World Cup. It was the day that the results of our first semester of engineering were announced. Rumor was that the mark sheet was going to be put up in the college sometime in the evening. I got the call when the second innings had started. The prospect of seeing my marks was exciting and nervous, but nothing would drag me away from the screen till Tendulkar was there. He got out and I got out of the house. The disappointment of the low scores I got was nothing compared to the fact that the man and the nation were denied.

What about the other heartbreak of 1999? I was giving my NCST (National center for software technology) entrance exams the day Tendulkar was setting Chepauk alive with a near impossible single-handed chase against the Pakistanis. His back was hurting, he had no support from the other side, but he kept going on like the last action hero. His 136 was worth its weight in gold, but the rest of them could not get the remaining 17 runs. I remember calling home after every paper (there were six of them) to find out what the score was. A bunch of were walking down to the railway station with a radio between us having its volume turned to maximum. The funereal atmosphere was penetrated with the news of the tailenders giving up one by one.

Or the time I was busy watching him do one more chase at Chepauk. This was a fourth innings chase of a target set by the England team. Sehwag had laid the foundation the previous day and Tendulkar was crafting a masterful chase of the remainder. He was on 53 not out when I was put into another situation where I had to abandon my chase of the chase. Our first baby decided that it was time to come out and see the match as well and it involved a sudden rush to the hospital. Among my first questions after the madness of close to thirty-six hours had settled: how much did Sachin score?

I am sure most people have similar stories to tell. How you abandoned another pursuit, stopped your life for a few moments, met with friends to make it a communal experience, deserted sleep to wake up and watch a game in a different time zone – all because Tendulkar had taken guard. In the age of disunity and disharmony, our lives synchronized for a little while.

It was not just his innings, but a little moment in time of a knock that would stay with you. I often dream of a shot he played against Michael Kasprowicz in the Desert Storm innings. The ball was pitched on a good length between middle and off. It swung slightly in the air and was shaping to move away. He was in position in an instant and you could see him have enough time to adjust his shot, bring his bat down, and in a perfect arc, hit it straight down the ground. It was perfection and it stayed with you. How often have you watched the videos of his upper cut against Shoaib or his bullet drives in Australia against Lee? How many such moments of genius have you accumulated in your mind?

As the dust settles down and we reconcile ourselves to a new reality where there will be a different number four playing for India in whites, the presence (or absence) of Tendulkar would be understood. The batting records are beyond challenge, but to measure him on account of his batting records is like looking at the maximum speed a Ferrari can reach. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. The whole in this case, is a true gentleman who has shown the way for how genius combines with hard work, ego can be subjugated in pursuit of excellence, a man dedicated to his art sometimes surpasses it.

Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my God. Atheism awaits me now.

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