What makes a god? Or better still, what is god to a non-believer? A history lesson? Fanaticism? Desperation? Hope? Or is god best relegated to the believers? Then where does it leave those who close their eyes and fold their hands, a force of habit from a time when they believed? Does it still make them non-believers?
The journey to atheism is a long and arduous one. Faith is tried, tested, challenged and finally, is irreversibly broken.
The journey to belief is the polar opposite. It occurs in a flash, with a sleight of hand, a word, a vision, or in a momentary lapse of reason.
Maybe that’s why I recall precisely when I became a believer – 27th March, 1994.
Opening the batting was supposed to be measured and erudite, not a crash course in reckless abandonment. All of 9 years, I sat in a drawing room and watched a man, all of 5 feet 6 inches, plunder 82 runs off a measly 49 balls and lay siege to the self-worth of an entire nation. Though it was still early days of the liberalized economy, India was held to ransom every time a cherubic lad with a plop of curly hair strode on to the pitch. A land with more gods than it can count, found in its heart space for another god.
Did a young Sachin Tendulkar, like young Nachiketa in the Katha Upanishad, seek immortality before he set foot on a cricket field? After his final innings, should a chariot descend from the heavens and escort him, will we look at each other and say ‘I told you so’? He, whose walk to the crease is reminiscent of Moses parting the red sea, the crowd on both sides in the stands inching closer to him but parting the moment he walks past. He, who converts stadiums into coliseums, the crowd’s deafening roars steadily increasing as if some invisible force was turning the volume knob up as their favorite gladiator readies for battle. He, who like Jesus, is expected to turn water to wine and deliver us to the promised land every time he takes strike. He, who like Hanuman, performed feats that mocked the left brain and carried on his shoulders a burden that only got heavier with time. Won’t he be a strong contender to play the protagonist in Rudyard Kipling’s masterpiece ‘IF’? http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_if.htm
Is god a crutch you can’t get rid of even if you tried? The only thing that keeps you alive in the winters that never end and the invisible force that hoists you up in the morning when you’ve thrown in the towel. Does belief have a number, a statistical measure, or is just a habit?
His journey transcends generations, centuries and world orders. Who never walks alone for we all walk with him, the treasurer of our dreams and hopes. Who causes shops to shut, roads to clear, marriages to be postponed and unlocks a wellspring of childlike joy in the billionaire and daily wage earner alike. Who causes the elderly to reclaim their youth, even if just for a little while and causes children to abhor homework more than they already do. Because in a land where celluloid stars have temples accorded to them and political discourse is blotted by the stains of bigotry, where does one seek salvation?
Do you remember watching wide eyed as he struck like lightning at Wellington in 1994? Did you share his tears of abject dismay in 1999 when we lost to Pakistan and 13 runs was all that separated euphoria from despair? Weren’t you prancing in the living room like a keyed up toy on red bull on those two crazy nights in Sharjah that were most definitely not of this world? Did you wish your home had a trampoline so that you could just go on jumping in exultation? Didn’t your face resemble Shane Warne’s after he was smashed for a six over his head? Were you too ashamed to let anyone see you cry after he scored a century against Kenya in the ‘99 world cup – days after he cremated his father? Did you give Shoaib Akhtar the finger with both your hands when he was greeted by a six at the Centurion in the 2003 world cup? And just when you were recovering from that greeting, he gently nudged the next ball to the onside for a four and saved his best for last – a straight drive. The straight drive, the shot he made his own and every time he plays it, you wish the ball never stopped in its trajectory toward the boundary and went on forever and ever, amen.
Did you switch off the tv when he charged Mcgrath and was caught in the very first over of the 2003 world cup final? Did his 241 in Sydney, where he willed himself not to play a single drive on the offside, earn your admiration or your exasperation? Did you pretend to hoist him after he scored the first double century in ODIs? Did you make his tears your own, not just his tears of joy, but also those of despair and sadness? Did you ever wonder how much electricity was saved every time he got out?
Even Gods have their demons. While they slay them, they also have to battle their own. Because without demons, there will be no need for gods.
Did you prod him to speak up in Indian cricket’s darkest hour when it was discovered that there were Judases in the team who sold their souls for a few bars of gold? What of the ball tampering incident that he never came clean about? Is silence always golden, even for the the prodigal son? No, he wasn’t perfect. Far from it. In Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath he found a cast of warriors and gentleman. No longer was he the sole custodian of greatness. But he was the crutch everyone leaned on, a habit we couldn’t wean ourselves from.
If you were handed a magic wand, would you rewrite the last two years of his career. And change the script so that the last you saw him in colours was in the world cup final and not of him tottering to his 100th ton against Bangladesh? And in your revised version, would he have secured his ton of tons at Lord’s, or at the MCG?
Is god allowed to fail? If your prayers aren’t answered, would you still be steadfast in your faith?
How many 40 year old disillusioned potbellied men wished they were in his shoes – untold riches, immortality and retirement? It’s like the lottery that every 40 year old wishes for but doesn’t receive. Now that his duty and dharma have been fulfilled, will he, like Yudhishthira in the Mahabharata, find peace in an afterlife, away from his 22 yard temple? For all the times we crucified him, will we be able to forgive ourselves for we didn’t know what we were doing? If indeed reincarnation is for real, will he come back in the same form to grace this earth again? Should he take a cue from Lord Rama and go on a self imposed exile to relearn what a normal life is, however impossible that maybe?
In the twilight of his career, how did he do battle with his own cricketing mortality ? For someone who could count atheists, agnostics and skeptics as a part of his flock, did he seek counsel from those closest to him or did he wake up one day and decide he didn’t want to play god anymore? Have we, a nation starved of heroes, made peace for life without Tendulkar? Has he made peace with himself?
For all that is being made of his farewell series and all the swords that are being drawn on the lavishness and overblown celebrations, we must remember that it was us who put him on a pedestal.
All he wanted to do was play cricket.
And it was in those fleeting hours, minutes and seconds that we were all ordained as believers.