Reliving Sachin mania

For many Indians across North America, the three-match All-Star series has turned into a chance for a pilgrimage - partly to watch legendary cricketers playing but mostly to see one man

The feeling is mutual between Sachin Tendulkar and his adoring fans at Citi Field, Sachin's Blasters v Warne's Warriors, Cricket All-Stars Series, 1st T20, New York, November 7, 2015 © Rob Tringali/ESPN

The one man to rule them all: Sachin took over New York City  •  Rob Tringali/ESPN

For Rahul Shrivatsav, a 38-year-old catering director in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the events of February 28 and March 1, 2003, are etched in his head. He was holidaying in Florida, celebrating his first wedding anniversary, but his mind was fixated on spending the night in a local Pakistani restaurant, to watch India play Pakistan in the World Cup.
"I tried everything I could to convince my wife that I had to watch Sachin play that game," he says, "but she said, 'No, our anniversary is more important.'"
Twelve-and-a-half years later Shrivatsav's wife, Sarah, surprised him by booking a ticket for the first All-Star game in Citi Field in New York - an event that required him to take a one-and-a-half hour flight one way.
"You have been feeling bad about 2003 for all these years," she told him. "If you don't go now, you will feel bad forever."
When Shrivatsav arrived at Citi Field on Saturday and caught a glimpse of Tendulkar gearing up - the first time he had seen Tendulkar in the flesh since 2001 - he broke down.
"I didn't even realise I was crying initially," he says. "But then I thought, it would actually be a shock if I didn't cry."
Shrivatsav moved out of India in 1997, first to Australia then to the US. From the time he moved out, he is certain he has seen "almost every ball that Sachin faced in international cricket on TV or online" - mostly live but occasionally recorded "because sometimes one has to work also."
Over the last few years Shrivatsav has maintained a daily log on Facebook and Snapchat - "I want to document how I feel at different points of my day: when I run, when I cook, when I travel." There is an update every hour or so - "sometimes more sometimes less" - and when he revisits the log every few days he finds most of his updates have a reference to Tendulkar.
"If I ever write my memoir," he says, "it will actually be Sachin's memoir."
For many Indians across North America, the three-match All-Star series has turned into a chance for a pilgrimage - partly to watch legendary cricketers playing but mostly to see one man. A group of engineers from Toronto, another group of graduate students from State College in Pennsylvania, an IT consultant from Connecticut, an assistant professor from North Carolina: all undertaking journeys (in cars or flights) to be in Citi Field, for Sachin.
For some, who moved to the US in the 1990s, Tendulkar was first a gaping absence. The internet was at its infancy and unless you invested in a satellite dish of your own, it was close to impossible to watch international cricket live. Every trip to India was a chance to hoard VHS tapes (on which relatives had recorded international games, especially ones with Tendulkar's dazzling knocks) and, later, Video CDs. Graduate students ravaged college libraries for Indian newspapers and magazines; some caught scores on BBC's radio service; others called home during important games - with extra money they had saved up through the month - to find out if Tendulkar was still batting, how he was batting and why nobody was lending support.
If they were all not there applauding every little thing I did I would not have got even one-tenth the satisfaction and happiness that I have got in my life
Sachin Tendulkar on his fans
Sometime in the early 2000s the internet provided them a new lease of life. But not without its own challenges: connections were unreliable, streams were hard to find and a number of games weren't telecast live. For graduate students, their best bet was to make a trip to their computer labs (mostly late at night) and take in the action in low volume. College work took a backseat. Sleep patterns went for a toss. And often, after a three-match or five-match series, the body was jet-lagged for a few days. Social life? What's that?
All through these years - studying in small towns in the US, shivering through icy winters, acclimating oneself with the accent, the food and limited (and often nonexistent) public transport - there was one unchanging factor: they had watched Tendulkar batting when they had lived in India; they were watching Tendulkar batting when living in the US. They had gone nuts watching his cover drive when back home - holding the follow-through for that millisecond longer, as if posing for the cameras, then nodding his head. They were watching the same cover drive - same tock, same pose, same nod - when living abroad. Life was variable; Tendulkar was constant.
Rohan Shirwaiker, a 32-year-old assistant professor in North Carolina State University, drove ten hours to get to Citi Field on Saturday for his first sighting of Tendulkar in ten years. A few minutes before the game, he was "terribly nervous", still coming to terms with the fact that he is within touching distance of "him".
Over the last ten years Shirwaiker estimates that he has slept on fewer nights than he has not. "It's Sachin, man," he says with a blush. "You have to stay up. In the mornings, my students tell me, 'Sir, we fell asleep but we knew you would tell us about all that happened.'"
On March 30, 2011, Shirwaiker was scheduled to attend a job interview in Florida. "I requested them if I could postpone it because India were playing Pakistan in the World Cup semi-final in Mohali on the same day. They said no. So I cancelled my flight and booked another one a few hours later, so that I could see as much of the game as possible. I couldn't see the whole match but Sachin's innings, I saw."
Does he think he played a small part in India's win by delaying his flight? He blushes again but quickly adds, "One of my wife's relatives once took a restroom break when Tendulkar reached a hundred. So from then on, every time Sachin was in the 90s we used to request that relative to take a restroom break."
Shirwaiker was at the game with his friend, Amit Goda, a 32-year-old chemical engineer based in New Jersey. They are part of a Whatsapp group that discusses cricket "but before he retired, mostly Sachin". Goda has a friend whose friend apparently taught Tendulkar to tie a tie. This may sound like a useless bit of information but in the Tendulkar universe this is an essential tidbit: everybody has a friend (or a friend's friend or a friend's friend's friend) who has a connection with Tendulkar. Usually, the farther you get from the man, the more interesting is the yarn.
Tendulkar has friends who moved to the US in the 1990s. He kept in touch with some of them - "many of them have become big doctors and big businessmen now," he told ESPNcricinfo - and is aware of the lengths they have gone to watch him bat over the years. "My friends would invariably tell me, 'We sat in a big group and watched you bat.'" Some would fly to watch him live. Some others would send a kind word via email.
Tendulkar may be playing cricket in the US for the first time but he has always known that the expatriate population has been tracking him like a hawk. "Their support has given me the strength to go out there and perform," he says. "If they were all not there applauding every little thing I did I would not have got even one-tenth the satisfaction and happiness that I have got in my life. All the good moments have been multiplied many-fold thanks to them. The reason to come here is to get them to come to stadiums and to watch us play."
They had gone nuts watching his cover drive when back home. They were watching the same cover drive when living abroad. Life was variable; Tendulkar was constant.
And turn up they did. Mayank Jhaveri, a 23-year-old IT consultant, flew in from Connecticut. His cousin, Ankur Jhaveri, an engineer, drove from Toronto. Ankur's friend Ayush Gupta, another engineer, says he might have thought twice about coming if Tendulkar wasn't there but "there was no question once he was here. No question."
Back in 1997 Shrivatsav, the catering director from Ann Arbor, lost his mother. He also lost his passion for cricket and entered a downward spiral. He still watched Tendulkar batting but the rest of the time, he was "moping around, grieving, lost". Then came the World Cup in 1999, a time when Tendulkar had to fly back home owing to the death of his father.
"And then he came back and played that game against Kenya," says Shrivatsav, his eyes enlarged. "Now that was a huge turning point in my life. I told myself, 'Look at Sachin. He is moving on from his father's death by doing what he does best. Why can't I do the same? Why can't I too put my mother's death behind and make her proud."
The moment when Tendulkar looked up the skies in Bristol, after completing his century against Kenya, was a moment that Shrivatsav says he can never forget. "Every time I see that image or that match, I burst into tears. It was a great moment, I tell you. A great, great moment."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA