Tendulkar mania grips Kolkata
"There is no Diwali festival. This is Sachin festival," says Biswarup Dey, the Cricket Association of Bengal treasurer. "This is officially 'Salute Sachin'." That, of course, is the name CAB has given to a week-long celebration of Sachin Tendulkar.
Nobody does the dramatic better than Kolkata. Next to Dey stands a man with a huge bouquet of flowers with "199" written on it. Dey himself holds a basket full of roses. He is waiting for Tendulkar to arrive in Kolkata, where he will start his final Test series, and his 199th Test. Soon the word spreads - about a 1000 people gather outside Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport to await Tendulkar's arrival. About a 100 of them must be the media.
Inside, across the glass partition, Dey and other officials wait as the flight has been delayed. Across the glass partition there is another concrete wall. From behind the wall, Tendulkar sees the crowd, knows the commotion his exit there will cause, and starts moving towards the other gate. A surreal scene ensues: Tendulkar is moving behind the wall, but the 1000-odd gathered run along with the invisible Tendulkar. After a huge chaos, Tendulkar finally - and safely - manages to get into his car to join his other team-mates who played the ODIs against Australia and have arrived from Bangalore.
This welcome, right here in Kolkata, is the official start of Tendulkar's farewell series. Wonder what Tendulkar makes of it. If he takes time out and explores the city, he is likely to find cut-outs of himself, big hoardings with different people's quotes on him - the one where Don Bradman says he saw a bit of himself in Tendulkar is the most common - and finally bigger cut-outs when he reaches Eden Gardens for practice on Monday.
Now all this might not come to pass - there is a Test match against West Indies to be played - but the plans in place are ambitious and elaborate. Today, the CAB president and the state sports minister launched a music album by Piloo Bhattacharya, which contains seven Bengali and four Hindi songs about Tendulkar. They will be played the moment Tendulkar enters Eden Gardens for practice. Waiting to greet him outside the team's dressing room is his life-size wax replica, crafted by a Bengali artist-cum-fan.
On Monday, a photo exhibition of 100 Tendulkar photos will be unveiled. The CAB had invited former Test captains Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly to inaugurate this at Bhawanipore Club, but both are in Colombo on a charity walk. It hasn't deterred the plans. On match eve, the CAB plans to get BCCI president N Srinivasan to unveil the coin for the toss in the Test, with Tendulkar on one side, and Eden Gardens on the other. Wonder what heads and tails will be. The CAB is hoping Tendulkar will attend, and personally receive a silver banyan tree with gold leaves from the CAB. The groundsmen will gift him a replica of Eden Gardens.
Tendulkar's face has already been printed on the match tickets. "Never ever have we seen anybody's face on an Eden Test ticket," says Dey. There is something or the other planned for all five days of the Test. With the first day's ticket comes a souvenir - a book. More ambitiously, 70,000 Tendulkar masks are reportedly going to be handed out to the spectators. If the CAB can pull this off, it will be quite a sight.
On day two, every seat is expected to have a placard, and when all the placards are held up together it is set to form a huge Tendulkar face. Day three is likely to feature a release of 199 balloons with Tendulkar's face on them. Day four could bring the West Bengal chief minister to felicitate Tendulkar. This was supposed to be a mega event after the fifth day's play - with Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, who will be here for the Kolkata film festival, supposed to join the West Bengal chief minister - but the government is not so sure the match will last the five days. Advancing the event into the fourth day needs the ICC's clearance. On the fifth day, an aircraft is scheduled to hover over Eden Gardens and shower 199 kilos of rose petals.
It is going to be an interesting week to see how much of this actually materialises, and if it does how Tendulkar handles it all. He must already have enough on his mind with this being his last series.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo