The grand piano has left the building

Everybody has a Tendulkar story. Everybody has a hole inside them now that he has gone
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan November 16, 2013

A one-man entertainment package © Getty Images

The show is over. The final episode has ended. The music has faded. The credits have rolled. Done with the presentation. Done with the speech to trump all farewell speeches. Now all we have are the memories. All we have are the stories.

It's a weird feeling, this. My mind goes back to the day in 1990, when Doordarshan aired the final episode of Mahabharat. For the previous two years, large parts of the country dutifully stopped functioning at 9am every Sunday. Those without television sets walked or cycled to the houses of friends and relatives. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, kids and dogs clustered in living rooms and, for 45 minutes, were rapt in attention. Everything else took a back seat.

Mahabharat is merely an example. Because those were the days when everyone in India watched the same shows. Everyone watched the same ads. Hum Log, Fauji, Vikram aur Betaal, "Washing Powder Nirma", "Vicco Turmeric (nahi cosmetic)", "I'm a Complan Boy"… You could sing the first line of an ad jingle and someone listening would complete it for you, word for word, expression for expression, note for note, tun-tun-ta-tuns included.

It's in this milieu that Tendulkar emerged, bursting into living rooms with that 18-ball 53 in Peshawar. Almost everyone I know remembers that innings but what's fascinating is that so many people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing that evening. The editor of this website remembers the brand of the black-and-white TV at his friend's house, the colour of the mat beside the TV, the flower vase alongside, the chair he was sitting on. A friend of mine remembers the t-shirt he was wearing that day, a t-shirt he has held on to for all these years.

The timing of Tendulkar's entry is crucial. It was an age when most of India had one TV channel, when most homes bought one newspaper, and when vast numbers watched Chitrahaar on Wednesday nights, because, honestly, there was little else to do. He forced his way into a pop-culture scene that was wallowing in Ram Lakhan, Chandni and Maine Pyar Kiya. Frankly, it was a time ripe for alternatives, a time for compelling diversions.

And what a terrific diversion he was: a one-man entertainment package, high art for the masses, technical perfection meshed with popcorn-bursting verve. He was blockbuster one day, avant garde the next. Here he was - still head, high elbow - grafting to save Test matches. And there he was - youthful and restless - charging down the pitch and launching the ball into the crowd. Everything about him - his precocious talent, his role in the team, the circumstances around his selection - everything seemed predestined.

"I wouldn't call it an accident," said CLR James of WG Grace's colossal effect on English cricket and society. "I don't think a thing like that is an accident. It is clear that he filled a certain need, and that a certain man fills a certain need… Would you call Shakespeare an accident? Or Balzac an accident? Or Michelangelo an accident? Something is required and they do it."

Inevitably he was a conversational centerpiece. Everyone has a Tendulkar story. I recently met a man who was convinced he had introduced Tendulkar to his favourite band, Dire Straits. The story ran thus: He had grown up in Mumbai and had gifted an audio cassette to one of Tendulkar's neighbours at Sahitya Sahwas housing colony, who in turn claimed to have lent a young Tendulkar the tape. There were no ifs and buts in this narration, only a dead-cert confidence.

Look into the blogosphere or social media (or simply trawl through the comments on stories on this website) and you will read many such tales. Some fans have written about the day they met him, or the day they could have met him, or the day they were too stunned to ask for his autograph, or the time they spotted him at a restaurant, or shared a flight with him. Some of these stories are borrowed from friends, or friends who knew friends who knew someone who… There is no stopping this anecdote avalanche. Even the great novelists might not have spent so much time mulling over their protagonists as much as many Indians have, over the last 24 years, chewed over Tendulkar.

Two anecdotes jump out of personal memory.

The first is from 2008. India were playing Australia in a Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Tendulkar was surgically taking the bowling apart. In the audience were Neil Harvey, Arthur Morris and Steve Waugh. So was the Australian prime minister. A nonagenarian, who said he had seen Bradman bat "at this very ground", had one question on his lips when he arrived: "Is he still there?" The adulation and cheers showered on Tendulkar that day were befitting an Australian hero.

My most vivid image from that game is of raucous schoolkids singing and chanting in the Monty Noble stand. Their exasperated teacher tried to hush them up. "Nobody chants when Sachin is on strike," she said, wanting to restore a semblance of order. The kids quieted for a few seconds. Then one of the boys began a chant: "No-body cha-aants when Sa-aachin strikes. No-body cha-aants when Sa-aachin strikes." The rest of the kids took it up. Soon large parts of the stand joined in. The teacher gave up. She stood no chance.

The second instance is from The Oval in 2006. A charity match between a Pakistan XI and an International XI. Returning from a shoulder injury, Tendulkar had blitzed a 26-ball 50 and added 72 golden runs with Brian Lara. After the match, journalists and fans milled around the dressing-room area. Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Chris Cairns walked out. All were hounded for quotes, autographs and photographs.

Then out walked Tendulkar, kitbag in one hand, a bat in another, and made his way down an aisle of stairs. Instantly everyone took a step back, as if to clear his path. Nobody even attempted to get close. The clamour turned into a hush. And Tendulkar calmly walked on.

I thought of that on Thursday, when the West Indian players and the two umpires provided a guard of honour as he walked in to bat. I thought of that on Friday, when he made his way back to the pavilion after his final Test innings, alone, unmolested, just him on a vast expanse of green. And then again on Saturday, at the end of the match, when his team-mates saluted him with a mobile guard of honour, all the way from the centre to the boundary rope, watching him wipe tears from his eyes. Everyone stepped aside. Everyone cleared his path. And Tendulkar moved on.

He leaves behind an immense emptiness. The great novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said that every time he completed a novel he felt like a house that was emptied of its grand piano. And so it is with Indian cricket. After 24 years of dedicated service, after an emotion-drenched Test in Mumbai, the grand piano has left the building.

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Posted by Dummy4 on (November 20, 2013, 6:37 GMT)

the best among all articles written on sachin! sidarth beautifully captures wat he meant 2 d people of india especially ppl who grew up in d 90s. 9am mahabharat, wednesday chitrahaars, flopshows,centerfresh & allout gums,trunk calls, telegrams & ofcourse sachin! as d writer says i remember were i was during sachins 18ball 53, watchin on our bpl tv his 1st test & odi hundreds, operation desertstorm for indians meant somethin diff. frm d rest of d world, his chepauk masterpieces 155*, 136,103* after d mumbai attacks! AS a person in my 30th yr., & millions like me r feelin a profound loss not just at sachin's retirement but a last visible link of our school & college days! on 16th november, along wid d grand piano our eternal feeling of our youth left us! now i know how dad felt when vishy & gavaskar left! ps:my alltime fav. indian test batsman is dravid!

Posted by neelakandan on (November 19, 2013, 1:07 GMT)

There is a scene in the movie "Ratatouille" when the food critic "Anton Ego" visits "Gusteau" and "Remy (the rat)" prepares Ratatouille for him. When food touches Anton's mouth, the screen zips back to the past when Anton's relished his mother's Ratatouille. Every time I watch you play the "TENDULKAR STRAIGHT DRIVE" (live/recorded accompanied by Tony Grieg and other stalwarts at the commentary), my life flashes in front of my eyes and mind zips back to "INDIA" and a strong current of proudness zips through my spine. When life catches up with me those rare few moments makes me feel that the only thing I would like to be is INDIAN. Thank you for bringing the "INDIAN-NESS" in all of us with 1 cricketing shot in 2 seconds.

Posted by Gopalakrishnan on (November 18, 2013, 8:08 GMT)

Tears... tears... tears... nothing more than that. May God Bless You and your family a life full and full of happiness only.

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 18, 2013, 7:09 GMT)

I remember it was late afternoon. I was 8 then, my father was watching the match on our new colour TV a Weston, and I was taking a nap. Dad yelled out to come and watch something special being done, and that a 16 year old was taking apart the great Abdul Qadir. I rushed to the living room and since that day I have never been caught napping while Sachin was batting.

Posted by Meet on (November 18, 2013, 0:25 GMT)

He who won our hearts with ease He who unconsciously put us to tears He who filled our souls with inspiration He who stands taller than his frame but remains grounded He who is robust amid rubble He is Sir Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar

Despite being born long after Sir Tendulkar's career, I have been able to watch Tendulkar play the game and live his life with such ease, undeterred by the heavy expectations imposed upon him. Through virtuous dedication, he continues to inspire us of how to play the game and live life ever so humbly. I have not been able to accomplish my dream of seeing you play from the stands, but I continue to miss you beautifully timing a ball off the back foot to send it gracefully to the cover boundary. I don't know where this will reach to, but there is no way to appreciate your achievements and the way you have inspired me and millions more, to play cricket and live life with such sacrifices. SACHIIIIIN-SACHIN #ThankYouSachin and have an exultant retired life!

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 18, 2013, 0:16 GMT)

The Little Master..The Next Don..The Art of Batting...The Great Sportsman....The Great Human Being...The God...Very Very Very Thank you for the 24 years of entertainment which made the nation and us so proud. Our childhood became more joyful and filled with full of cherished moments ONLY because of you. We miss you and still not able believe that the little master's bat is going to be rested. I am writing this comment with tears......SACHIN...SACHIN....

Posted by Ashok on (November 17, 2013, 17:09 GMT)

Spoken like a Trojan, Sid!. It reminds me of Mukesh's song in the Joker, Jeena Yahan, marna yahan---". Sachin's story is that of all humans be it a Cricketer, Doctor, Engineer or a NASA scientist/astronaut. Everybody retires one day & they achieve great things in life. There are always several people who bring out the best out of talented individuals. In addition to talent one needs discipline, hard work & personality to reach their Goal. Tendulkar did it his way & many others will do it their own way. But if they are lucky enough to tie all things in the right order they will hit the jack pot! Tendulkar did it in Cricket like Tensing/Hillary did in capturing Mount Everest or the several NASA scientists in developing space shuttle or landing Man on the Moon.The same applies to the achievements of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, Mr. Mandela in political fields. They all had comparable or more dramatic feelings when they reached their peaks & will have credited all those who helped it happen!


The man whom cricket loved back

Sambit Bal: Tendulkar was the biggest worshipper the game could ever find, and in that lay the foundation of his greatness

Tendulkar's perfect balance

Sharda Ugra: While the team, the country and the sport changed around him, Tendulkar remained constant

Why do we insist on seeing the 'real' Sachin?

Rahul Bose: You can ask as much as you want for a more "human", more "feelable, touchable" Sachin, but he'll probably not change - and that's a good thing

Zaltz Stats

The approximate number of people in India today who had not been born when Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut in 1989 (calculated from these figures). His batting has been so erotically outstanding that the global population has increased by almost 2 billion during his career, with the biggest increase, understandably, in India itself.

I have played cricket for 24 years, it has been only 24 hours since retirement, and I think I should get at least 24 days to relax before deciding these things.

Sachin Tendulkar doesn't want to think of what lies ahead just yet