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I've often wondered what the Sachin Tendulkar experience was? Was it visual? A shotmaking feast of such delicious complexity, that one could often taste it in layers? Was it vicarious? The lower middle-class, living its most vivid world-beating fantasies through an aberration within their ilk. Was it a lesson in values and a personal work-ethic? The need to remain rooted to your nature, and never allowing your desire and focus to dip. Was it, dare I say, an advertisement for the pedants? Strike-rate falling as the hundred neared, the obsession with the weight of the bat, the irritation with the slightest movement of the sight-screen.
The Sachin Tendulkar experience may not be of a singular nature, but it does exist as a collective summation, having a nature completely of its own in the Indian cricket lover's consciousness. Breathing collectively when he walked out, squealing at the straight drive, laughing at his commercials, using his innings as milestones and checkpoints in life (Where were you when Desert Storm happened?), and clinging on to hope when he was batting.
This is, the quintessential, wholesome Tendulkar experience. I wasn't satisfied with it, however. Call it the unsatisfactory feeling of being part of a crowd, or the refusal to accept that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts.
A huge reason as to why I'm demanding a unique Sachin experience for myself, is because I grew up a stone's throw away from the MIG cricket club and Sahitya Sahawas, the colony in Bandra East that housed among other poets and authors, Ramesh Tendulkar. If I may be permitted to be foolish enough to cite proximity as a valid reason to count my Sachin experience as unique, I shall proceed.
As a kid, I used to play cricket at MIG, and in and around Bandra East for almost the whole of the year, except during the monsoons. As a seven-year-old, I once noticed amidst the Chetaks and Vespas that were parked in one of the building compounds, a black BMW. I stupidly asked who it belonged to, and with a thwack on my head, I was told that it was 'Sachin ka, aur kiska' (It is Sachin's, who else?).
Trips to that side of MIG colony became more and more fascinating, because we hoped we'd get to see a silhouette in the window, or get an impromptu batting lesson, who knows? Especially when the Opel Astra from Desert Storm showed up, and we tried to observe from a distance all the dents and bumps from the jumping cricketers in Sharjah. Trying our best to figure out who dented what.
A while later, it was all over the papers that he had bought a Ferrari, but it wasn't parked in Sahitya Sahawas. Reet, whose father worked in customs, claimed to know of its whereabouts, and boasted that Sachin had even taken him for a drive. It became sort of an urban legend in Bombay after that, Sachin's Red Ferrari, and I would pester my father for late-night rides on Marine Drive in the hope of catching a glimpse.
It was then that I nurtured my first wish of actually meeting the man in flesh and blood, and not just in a flash of red. It was ironic, therefore, that when my wish was actually granted, he was in red racing overalls, tearing up a go-karting track. It was 2003, and we had moved to Chennai. MRF was hosting a go-karting competition, and had called in Sachin, Steve Waugh and Brian Lara to kick it off.
My father was good friends with TA Sekhar, who oversees the MRF Pace Foundation, and got us tickets for the event. At the end of it all, we were taken to the back of the room where the press conference was being held. Steve Waugh came out first, and dismissed us with a "Fast, guys" as the photographer fumbled with the camera. Lara was next. He kept staring at a photograph of Sachin and himself that I had given him to sign. He was taller than I thought he'd be.
Then he entered. I noticed the face first. We get so used to seeing the cheery or poker-faced Tendulkar behind shades, that we don't often factor in the fatigue he experiences. It was written all over his cheekbones. The collective demands of the nation had manifested themselves as mere hollows in his cheeks. That impressed me thoroughly.
Later, we moved to Hyderabad. I was in university in America, when Sachin launched into the Australian attack at Uppal, and my brother was triumphantly texting me from the stadium. It was then that I felt the entire weight of the Sachin Tendulkar experience. There was the breathtaking batting, the overdependence on it, and the eventual collapse after his wicket.
But above all, there was the jealousy towards the sibling. Jealousy because he was witnessing something that I wasn't, and something that I would appreciate in far greater measure. The same jealousy that I felt in Chennai, when the sibling's cheeks were patted and pulled, and mine were ignored, although I had seen the world in Sachin's cheeks. The same jealousy that I felt when the sibling was bought Castle Grayskull in a jiffy, because he was younger, whereas I had to beg and plead for a single He-Man toy.
Then there was the hunting for the fake MRF sticker to stick on the bat, and the reliving of Chennai, Sharjah, Nottingham and Cape Town in the colony parking decks, and then remembering these names for the Geography exam. There were the family ice cream night-outs to Marine Drive, where eager eyes would look out for a red Ferrari, but would wander towards a bus stand with an Aladdin poster that was there for the longest time, replaying the entire movie with all the songs in my head, while the ice-cream melted insignificantly.
My Sachin Tendulkar experience, I then realised, was the experience of my childhood. It is therefore, naturally different from the others, immensely special and the parts themselves, forget their sum, are certainly greater than the whole. It's no fault of mine that I straddle between my life and his career. They are, but contiguous entities.
Sachin himself has straddled between the image of the cherubic sixteen-year-old, and that of the elder statesman. It's no fault of mine that I hold on dearly to my childhood. It was, but the happiest time of my life. It is, perhaps, no fault of mine that I see his retirement, (or at least the partial announcement of it) as the complete emergence of the elder statesman. I could be wrong here, and I hope to God that I am, but I think it's time to finally grow up.
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