Tendulkar: I hate him like I love him
"Yaaru pethha puallayo? Punyam panna vairu (Which fortunate mother gave birth to this boy? Her womb must be blessed)," my late granny remarked upon hearing about Tendulkar's debut and subsequent exploits. She looked at her sons (my uncles) and said: "Yenakkum vandhu porandhudhu paaru! (And look at the one I landed up giving birth to)" She was paying a glowing tribute to Sachin Tendulkar's mother and lamenting over her sons and their inability to get a job in the 'Gulf'.
For a generation that believed success in life was directly linked to an engineering-college berth (or a medical-school berth), Tendulkar was an antithesis. And by following his exploits, a generation of us continued to live our dreams by proxy. I hated Tendulkar for it.
One foggy February morning in 1992, in Chittoor (a small South Indian city), my friend Arun came running to my house and threw the Hindu newspaper at me. "Read the sports page," he said. The headline, if my memory serves me right, read 'Tendulkar's Brilliance Illuminates Perth'. India lost that match by a massive margin of 300 runs. But that innings, one of the greatest that I have ever seen, was some sort of a magical preamble.
In 1998, when he destroyed Australia in Sharjah, singlehandedly, we realised that he was not just a great batsman. We had had quite a few of them by then, including Sunil Gavaskar. But until then I had never seen an Indian batsman treat the Australians the way Australians treated everyone else. It was almost like Tendulkar was telling them: "Those days are over."
However, it is not his achievements and successes that I want to stress upon. It is how he was reborn after each one of his failures. In Sydney, 2004, he didn't drive on the offside. How can a man be so maniacally focused? I hated him for that.
I could never achieve 2% of that focus. Every time I became lazy, tempted to choose an easy way out, or just plain give up, it is people like Tendulkar that scream at you - from those special corners in your head, through memories etched for life - to not give up. I hated Tendulkar for that; for making me work harder that I wanted to.
A few afternoons ago, my three-year-old little girl paused while pedalling her tricycle, glanced at the TV and said: "Sachin!" I was shocked. I probably had mentioned him when I was pleading with her to switch to cricket from the cartoon show Chhota Bheem. From my granny to my daughter, four generations love him. How can a man redefine longevity like that? I hate him for that!
I'd watched him in the recent past. I'd suffered as he failed with the bat. "Maybe he should go now," I screamed. "Why can't he see? He is diluting his own greatness by suffering this!" I wept. I knew I could be wrong. I was being emotional and stupid. And then, he quit ODIs. The format that he made his very own. How could he? It will be, forever, poorer without him. I hate him for that.