Why Sachin Tendulkar remains the happy connect between childhood memories and adult milestones.
The almaari door swayed,gently clinking the metal keys hanging from the keyhole. More importantly,the safe was unattended,a rare moment of negligence by the napping grandmother. The safe was a treasure trove for a nine-year-old boy growing up in suburban Bombay,holding everything from Ravalgaon mints to match boxes for incense sticks,old photographs to sepia newspaper cuttings,a brutally disfigured He-Man action figure that was often confiscated,to a few glass marbles.
It also held some money.
On this day,the first of a long and lazy summer holiday in 1995,peppermints and action figures could wait. The co-conspirator (an 11-year-old boy from the buildings second floor),the BEST (90 ltd) from Chembur to Churchgate and Sachin Tendulkar at the Wankhede Stadium couldnt.
While the grandmother snoozed on this simmering afternoon,it was lunch on the second day of the Ranji Trophy final,played between Bombay and Punjab. And Tendulkar,informed the restless friend,had already reached his 50. If we were to get there in time by tea,he added,a 10-rupee note must be stolen. Now!
It was and the journey was made (Rs 2 one-way per minor) along with a transistor,the one lifted from the friends flat. The match was attended (free of charge) and translucent packets of flavoured ice (known simply as Pepsi,50p for the large packet) were bought. All these delicate firsts,the thrill of flicking,travelling alone in post-riot Bombay and entering a real cricket stadium,would give my buddy and me plenty to boast about to the other kids in the colony. But what really immortalised us in their eyes were none of the above.
It was the fact that we had seen Sachin. In the flesh.
Tu tela live bhagitleska? To kasaa distho? Ani kasaa khelto? they would ask us in Marathi for the remainder of the summer. You saw him live? What does he look like? What does he play like? Better than on TV,we would reply nonchalantly,well aware of our feat and the respect it commanded by now.
Tendulkar scored a hundred that day. One hundred and forty,caught by Ashish Kapoor at long-on while eyeing another six just before close of play. It didnt matter,for he had scored 40 runs more than anyone had cared to watch at the Wankhede that day.
What did matter was that it happened to be Tendulkar who was walking us first-timers into a real cricket match by hand. Now,all those statistics that we had mugged to impress the older boys in school made sense. Now,all those strokes that our mamas and chachas and neighbours appreciated were coming to life.
Did you see that on-the-rise cover drive? we said in rhetoric,seated as close to the action as we could,just beyond the boundary. Just like when he drove Angus Fraser in Manchester to get his first ever Test century,no? Then Tendulkar,standing high on his toes,cut a hapless Punjab fast bowler and again we pointed out the obvious. Look how he did that! Merv Hughes must have felt just like that in Perth,no? Much better than on TV.
It truly was. And continues to be. Several years have now passed and memories of everything else from our childhood seems to have turned sepia like the newspaper cuttings in my grandmothers cupboard. But Tendulkar remains one of the few,and surely the most reliable,constant between now and then. The link on which our thoughts wheel freely to and fro,from adulthood and childhood and back.
Remember that day you were first told that you were going to leave your parents and join a boarding school? I do. It was shortly after the Ranji final in April 95,the day when Sachin cracked an unbeaten 112 against Sri Lanka at the Asia Cup in Sharjah. India won easily. Remember that day when you were first thrown out of a classroom? I do. Tendulkar hit his first World Cup hundred in 1996,against Kenya. The lab attendant from a nearby village told me it was ferocious.
Do you remember when you first kissed a girl,got a job or married the love of your life? I do. The first of those happened on the day when Sachin scored 117 in Port of Spain (April 19,2002) and the last when Tendulkar hit 76 in Kolkata (December 5,2012). I cant,however,for the life of me,remember when I got a job. India must have been on a break.
I also distinctly remember the day I met Tendulkar for the first (and last) time. It was before the second one-dayer in Durban on India’s last tour of South Africa in 2010-11 and the members of the travelling press had decided to commemorate the man for having achieved his milestone 50th Test hundred earlier in that tour. There he was,at the foyer of a hotel,Elangeni,in North Beach,humbly shaking every hand on offer and forcing a smile each time a camera and an arm was thrust upon him. Watching this unfold,with Tendulkar standing barely a metre away,should have made me happy. Very happy.
But it didnt. For the first time in my life,one only slightly longer than his international career,Tendulkar was almost human. Far more so than on any of those Sportstar posters that adorned our hostel walls,posters we would kneel under before asking a girl out or writing our board exams. Far more human that when he is under that helmet and in stance,playing for country,team,self and you.
And thats how his fans wish to remember him. As the person who lets us live in our childhood. As the man who forces my old colony friends from Bombay to call and say: Arrey bastard,tell me about the 146 in Cape Town. How was it? His best knock so far,no?
Ive been fortunate to see a few of those,in my life as a cricket correspondent. Its a funny feeling to get paid to watch Tendulkar bat around the world. A feeling that often seems no different from stealing a treat from an unattended treasure trove.