Subedar Kinshuk Das is running on fumes. Tapping the handle of his lathi on the ground,Das trains his sleep deprived eyes at the incorrigible flock of men gathered in front of him. Just minutes ago,he had dispersed them with a mock charge. But now they are back. Back to standing on the road outside the Cricket Association of Bengal office. Back to blocking up peak-hour traffic. And back to gazing,wide-eyed,at eight cardboard cut-outs of Sachin Tendulkar.
I have been on pandaal duty ever since Laxmi Puja. Then there was Kali Puja on Saturday and Diwali on Sunday. Today was supposed to be the first relaxed day in a long time. Then this Sachin Puja began, says Das with a sigh. Annoyed and tired of this nuisance he may be,but Das says he will not resort to force to clear them. They are after all devotees. They too havent seen their God in person,so they too make do with murthis. And Eden Gardens is their pandaal.
In fact,all of Kolkata is now a Tendulkar pandaal. You cant miss him,surely not on a three-storey high hoarding in the suburb of Maniktala. It is a picture of Tendulkar being garlanded by Mamata Banerjee,chief minister of West Bengal. Below it reads: Amar Sonar Bangla. Amar Sonar Sachin. Our golden Bengal. Our golden Sachin. True,Bengal sure does have a golden hue to it,what with Indian crickets golden child ushering in the beginning of his careers end in Kolkata. A city where he has literally caused riots in the past.
For better and for worse,Tendulkar has managed to evoke emotions in the hordes that pack Eden Gardens terraces like no one else. No where else in the world has Tendulkar the bowler received anywhere close to the reception as he did on that Hero Cup semifinal night in the November of 1993. South Africa were six runs away from making the final.
India needed a magical last over. Tendulkar was brought on for his first. Each step of his nervy seven step run-up was egged on by over 100,000 screaming voices. In the over,Tendulkar gave away just three runs. After the over,he was a mythical figure.
Three years later and in another tense semifinal,the same fans turned ugly. The burden of chasing Sri Lankas 251 for a place in the 1996 World Cup final was singularly Tendulkars. Half way through the 23rd over,India were 98/1. Tendulkar had scored two-thirds of those runs — 65. Then he was stumped and the Eden Gardens rained water bottles. A dozen overs,22 runs and six more Indian dismissals later,the match was abandoned. For Eden now was on fire. Anything that could be burned,burned. Seats,newspapers,tickets and food stalls.
Then it happened again,this time in what the Wisden Almanack describes as ‘the best attended Test in history’ with roughly 465,000 spectators watching the India-Pakistan match over five days in February 1999. On the fourth day,India were 143/2,chasing 279 to win the inaugural Test of the Asian Championships. Tendulkar was on seven.
The crowd prepared for a feast. Tendulkar fed them an appetizer with a deft flick off Wasim Akram towards the midwicket fence. When it was fielded by substitute Nadeem Khan,the batsman turned back for a third.
No riot this time
Shoaib Akhtar the man who yorked Tendulkar out for a golden duck in the first innings positioned himself by the stumps at the bowlers end to receive Khans throw.
Tendulkar collided into Akhtar and stopped short of the crease. And to make matters worse,the throw was a direct hit. Again Eden went up in smoke. But this time,the match stopped only long enough to evict 70,000 rioters from the ground. In protest,they set flames to their tickets just outside the stadium.
One thing if for sure. Even if Sachin gets out for a duck this time,no one will be burning tickets. It is a collector’s item, says Jagdip Roy,flaunting his India-West Indies Day One entry pass outside Gate 18 on Monday. The ticket for Tendulkar’s 199th Test bears a sketch of him on the left. And the portrait is framed by artist Jogen Chowdhury’s signature below and a print of Tendulkar’s famous autograph above. I still want him to sign on it, adds Roy. Each of the 70,000 tickets has that print. Only mine will have the real thing. That’s why I’m still waiting here.
Collector’s item alright. The new and refurbished Eden Gardens cannot hold the mythical 100,000 figure anymore,making the procurement of a ticket for this match so much more rewarding.
But to get this right to exclusivity,a ring-side view of a maestros final few bows,hasn’t been easy. Ask any of those 32,000 men,women and children who managed to witness Tendulkar’s last Ranji match in Lahli last week.
Ask any of the hundred or so men camping outside the Eden Gardens on Monday and the thousands who will do so outside the Wankhede Stadium next week. Ask Dr Indro Mukhopadhay,who travelled all the way from New Jalpaiguri to fulfill a lifelong dream. You see all these people on trucks taking Kali Mata for immersion? Mukhopadhay asks,pointing at the traffic.
They have never seen their God. But I will. On Wednesday.