Star-struck in Mumbai
As a kid, BEST bus No. 91 was my be all and end all. I would take the bus to Shivaji Park to attend Anna Vaidya's nets at the Bengal Cricket Club. Sachin Tendulkar was already being singled out as a future Test player, and one time both of us were on the same bus - Sachin had boarded at Vakola. My mom was with me that day and when we got off the bus, I remember telling her: "Aai, that fair guy's name is Tendulkar. They all say he is going to play for India one day."
There were a few others, like Mayur Kadrekar, Rupak Mule, Atul Ranade and Parag Jiwankar - all Shardashram English school products and famous for their batting. But Sachin stood out big time. I remember when I was in grade six or seven, my school, BPM, were playing against Shardhashram. I did not make it to the first XI, so our teacher, who doubled up as a coach, asked me to keep score. Sachin got 275 runs in a day. I scored every single run. My fingers might have ached but I enjoyed it.
When I went home I told my dad I wanted to change schools and move to Shardashram. It was solely because of a boy called Tendulkar, who had created such a big impression on my mind. The following year, 1987, I moved to Shardashram. That was the most important decision of my life and I would not be where I am today if not for the move.
The switch also taught me some hard lessons immediately. I was a bright student at BPM, but at Shardashram, cricket was the priority. In the monsoons one time, I skipped practice and Sachin asked me why I was not attending training. I wondered which practice and he said rubber-ball training. He was annoyed and sarcastically said I should carry on with my studies. When I next went to [coach] Ramakant Achrekar's sir's nets he whacked me first and then asked me why I was not coming for practice. I still remember that slap.
From there my journey in cricket started in earnest. I became more serious. Steadily I also realised how popular the 12-year-old Sachin was in school and club cricket. I remember people following him in places like Khao galli in south Mumbai. I realised that one could become famous because of cricket even at a young age. Nowadays it is a given that a talented youngster gets followed by the media, and gets wide coverage, but in those days Sachin was one of the few who got that attention.
Subconsciously I had also become one of his biggest fans. I remember I would visit Sachin at his place in Sahitya Sahwas in Bandra after he returned from every tour in the early part of his international career. I would ask him many questions about the kind of players, the kind of pitches, and the kind of bowling he faced. He would bring video cassettes and we would discuss matches in detail. It was a fun time.
In 1989, during the Sialkot Test, which was telecast on Doordarshan, I called my mom at her office from our neighbour's phone and told her Sachin was batting, so please could I bunk school. He scored a half-century in that match.
It was just natural that I would take Sachin-specific pullouts from Sportstar magazine and stick them on the inside of my cupboard doors in my bedroom. Once VVS Laxman stayed at our place and was shocked to see my fascination for Sachin. It was hard for me to make him understand how big a mark Sachin had made very early in my life, and how he was responsible for diverting my life towards cricket.
As told to Nagraj Gollapudi