Sandeep Dwivedi,Shamik Chakrabarty & Mihir Vasavda record their impressions of a nations adulation as Sachin Tendulkars cricketing journey,spanning a quarter century,makes its final three stops
It’s 48 hours to go for Sachin Tendulkars last domestic game. Even before he could meet him,Tendulkars minder has lost him. The designated shadow: Dr Gaurav Virman,one-time Haryana U-19 batsman,who now two-times as a cricket official in Lahli and businessman in Faridabad. To be fair to the doctor,he did follow the good old Escorting Tendulkar from Airport drill. Well,almost. He was on time at the arrival lounge,had a bouquet in hand and a luxury car in tow. But he still missed his Man. Hearsay has it that these days Tendulkar is contractually bound to only travel in the car he endorses. So a BMW waits for him everywhere.
Virmani,finally,catches up with Tendulkar at the hotel. Its a poignant journey to interior India,once home to crickets insignificant many,but now well represented in Team India. Its where the unheard and unseen majority pursue the nations shared passion to make this a country of a billion cricket experts. Before the well-marketed and corporate farewell by city slickers at Eden and Wankhede; it was time for the warm hug of the heartland.
Haryanas rural folk are charmingly rude. Almost by instinct,they choose coarse over courteous. Ask for direction to Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium and a young boy,possibly still in school,takes pains to draw a detailed road map. Though overtly helpful,his tone is strikingly harsh. Na samajh aave tere ko,tu aage pooch le, says the slight teenager. Shock turns to smile upon reaching the highway parting lush fields. Its a bit of farm-wall graffiti that catches the eye. Bhuppi tere raaj mein,fasal gayee vyaaj mein. When a political heavyweight,Bhupinder Singh Hooda,66,is referred to as Bhuppi; you dont stand a chance.
For Tendulkar,though,they seem to have made an exception. Rohtak Bhaskars front page shouts: Cricket ke bhagwan ki suraksha ke liye top secret plan. It shares space with news about a constable getting kidnapped from a police station and a violent end to a cricket game at Jat College that left two critically injured. Suddenly you agree,Bhagwan does need security and thank God the plan is a secret.
The usual Diwali encroachers those hawking bright plastic flowers,wall hangings and sweets eaten at makeshift kiosks and a few Tendulkar cut-outs eat into the already over-burdened main road. The chaos escalates when the Tendulkar entourage moves through the city. It borders on bedlam when young daredevils on bikes attempt to snake around his car. Team Tendulkar says the big man is worried about the safety of the street hawks. Cops try to shoo them away but they continue their fan pursuit. Soon it becomes a ritual. Tendulkar and Rohtak get used to each other.
Its D-day. Thousands move towards the stadium. Sharp entrepreneurs from adjoining villages,scenting a whiff of business opportunity,open temporary branches amidst the trees. Pushing a handcart,a man shouts,chowmein,chowmein. Inadvertently his sales pitch sends out a significant message: Only cricket can match chowmeins pan-India reach. Beyond the stadium gate,the spread is very local.
Tendulkar,after fielding for about two sessions,walks to the middle. Within minutes,he is back in the hut. From the stands it is tough to understand how Mohit Sharmas delivery squeezed past Tendulkars seemingly tight defence. Pacer Ashish Hooda is fielding on the fence. On a dare,a friend asks Hooda how Tendulkar got out. Between balls he turns to the stands and play-acts the dismissal. Elbow pe lag ke stump pe gaya, says Hooda,matter-of-factly. This casual exchange between fielder and spectator reminds you that its only a domestic game,and perhaps too amateurish for the run master.
Meet Joginder Singh,a burly no-nonsense man who has been assigned the task of muscling Tendulkar through crowds. With the game on,Sachins PCO is taking it easy. Working for a private security firm,Joginder isnt cowed by any challenging assignment or celebrity proximity. I was with Mr. Kalmadi during Commonwealth Games, he says. A disinterested nod gets him to throw a far more impressive calling card. I was with the Jat regiment,fought the Kargil war with Captain Kalia. Saab ka body lene gaye the Amristsar, he says. See him in new light in the evening when he clears the autograph hunters with one firm shout.
October 29 & 30
Its another day at office for Sudhir Gautam,Tendulkars famous body-painted fan. Distanced from family,detached from the world,he is waving his trademark sari-size flag,blowing his conch,giving interviews to tired reporters and throwing names at security men who make half an attempt to ask for his ticket. A set of blank eyes watch Sudhir with fascination. They belong to Kumar Yogesh,a wanderer wearing saffron,who also happens to be a yogi,astrologer and,in his own words,a man searching for his soul.
For now Yogesh is searching for a ticket to get in. An orphan who likes meeting his sisters once in a while,he travels to villages spreading the good word and his knowledge about aasans. Its Sachins aura that has brought him to Lahli,he says with an expressionless stare. The minimalist who lives off largesse soon manages a free ticket.
Meet him again inside the stadium. He is trying to pass Tendulkar a book with the cosmos on the cover,through the fence. At the end of the day,he is seen walking on the highway behind Sudhir. The slow drag of the silhouette of two figures,one in saffron and other in tri-colour,is an apt final frame of village crickets tribute to the games best ever professional.
The city is still in Diwali mood when two overzealous Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) officials receive Sachin Tendulkar at the airport. At the other end,lensmen and TV crews are playing a cat-and-mouse game with the cops. The CAB officials match the media folk in hero worship,which surprises even Tendulkar. But the welcome gifts he receives from them bowl him over. Tendulkar is given flowers used in the worship of goddess Kali at the famous Dakhineshwar temple and a saree which has been offered to the deity. Send them to my hotel and ensure that the flowers dont break, says the legend.
Theyve installed a machine at the Eden Gardens Club House gate,filled with paper streamers. But they forget to activate the silencer. The result rattles Tendulkar on his arrival with the Indian team for the training session. Two days ahead of his 199th Test,the confetti blast sounds like a firecracker. Little wonder then that Tendulkar momentarily loses his composure and makes his displeasure known to the Indian teams local manager. He reminds him that he was here to play cricket.
MS Dhoni spills the beans and the CAB is left red-faced. Above the main scoreboard at the Eden Gardens,a Sachin banner is spelt Sachine. Pehle ye toh batao,Sachin ki name ka spelling kisne likhi (Tell me who misspelt Sachins name)? CAB issues a show-cause notice to the culprit but by then the matter has gone viral. Once bitten,the CAB is not twice shy. The very next day,when Sachins wife Anjali arrives at Eden Gardens with their son Arjun,the official scoreboard greets them with a message: Welcome Mr. Anjali Tendulkar and Master Arjun Tendulkar…
November 6 & 7
On the day of the first Test,a private production house hired by the BCCI seems pretty excited by the beginning of the last lap of Tendulkars journey. They check in at the team hotel and constantly keep knocking on heavens door. But God refuses to budge. Nothing outside cricket till the series is over, is the terse message they receive from the man.
The CAB had promised to shower 199 kilos of rose petals from the sky to give Tendulkar a memorable send-off. But the aircraft never arrive. CAB joint-secretary Subir Ganguly blames it on the early finish to the Test match. We had permission from air traffic control for Day Four and Day Five,but the Test finished in just three days. What can we do?
Who would have thought that the chants of Dhoni hai,hai would echo at a venue where he lifted the World Cup trophy just two years ago? But then,the India skipper didnt stick to the script. He wins the toss and chooses to bowl first. I know the fans don’t want this, Dhoni says,apologetically,but the ticket-buyers arent amused. The crowds are here for just one person and the match is just incidental to them. As word spreads,those waiting in the long queue outside decide to take the train back home and return the next day to watch their hero bat. Those inside cannot conceal their frustration and,understandably,the skipper is the target of the crowds ire.
Not long after Tendulkar takes the field,straight from 10 Downing Street arrives a framed photograph from his first century,scored at Old Trafford 23 years ago. Sent across by David Cameron,no less,who was in India on his way to the Commonwealth summit. “From the first of 100 centuries to your 200th and final Test. Congratulations on a career that will inspire millions for generations to come.” Requests to meet the legend come from other high places Rahul Gandhi,wanting to meet him,needed to go through Anti-Corruption officer NS Virk and follow due procedure before he could meet the retiring legend.
With a seating capacity of 30-odd thousand,the Wankhede is no Colosseum. However,the noise that greets Tendulkar when he walks in to bat wouldve perhaps even made the most fearless gladiators sweat. But spare a thought for Murali Vijay,who is shown the way back to the dressing room by his home fans. Has any Indian batsmans dismissal ever been greeted so gleefully at home?
Todays the big day. A day when Sachin Tendulkar is going to start with 38 runs already behind him. A day when he is expected to score at least another 62 and get that elusive century in the first go,considering he and India are expected to bat just once following West Indies’s 184 all out. Naturally,the stands are full. Unexpectedly,Tendulkar’s son Arjun watches the action as a ballboy.
From discussing shoe sizes to his father’s retirement,Arjun’s conversations with friends at the boundary line aren’t restricted to cricket alone. On Day One,upon noticing that many of his friends were performing ballboy duty below his Grandstand seat,Arjun had decided to join them. However,the 14-year-old looks uncomfortable each time he is shown on the screen. He is even asked if he is feeling sad. “Yeah,I am. I told him to continue playing. But hes retiring” he says. His father doesn’t play much longer,dismissed one last time for 74.
On a day when the West Indies are expected to lose by an innings,the Wankhede Stadium is packed by 9.20. Some believe they will make India bat again. Others are far more realistic,chanting for Tendulkar to bowl. At 11.20,he does. The stadium erupts. So too does Tendulkar,not long after,with words with an emotional,half hour speech. The chants of ‘Sachin,Sachin’ will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing, he says.
For many,the feeling finally sinks in. They will never watch Sachin bat again. Outside the stadium,a life-size poster is brought down. The Tendulkar tamasha,as some called it,is finally over.
After wrapping up his television duties,Sourav Ganguly who couldn’t meet Tendulkar after the match hopes to meet him. However,the team bus is already on its way to the hotel. Dada doesnt give up and charges towards the gate. Anjali Tendulkar spots him. The bus stops. Indias greatest ODI opening pair hug. Tendulkar leaves the Wankhede,one last time.