Tendulkar, and life after the moon landing

Vivo IPL 2017 M28 - MI v RPS

A few weeks before he turned ex-president, Barack Obama sat down with television host Bill Maher for an interview. The first question posed to him was how he would spend the rest of his life, knowing that he would never have a job as exhilarating as the one he was leaving behind. 3 months into his post-presidency, Barack Obama made his first official public appearance yesterday, when he addressed students at the University of Chicago. Like most others who have traversed the road reserved for a chosen few , he is still trying to find an answer that some seem to have found, and which seems to have eluded many – where do you go after you go to the moon?

When astronauts who went to the moon returned to earth and normalcy, a few of them battled depression. For once you’ve gone to the moon, what else is there to aspire for? For the rest of us, our bucket lists are dotted with exotic locales, but the moon? If returning from a vacation is reason enough to go into a funk, imagine what it is like to return from the moon and go back to work.

Sachin Tendulkar’s moon landing lasted for 24 years. Through near career-ending injuries, self-doubt, heart-wrenching defeats, failed stints at captaincy, for 24 years, all the world was a stage for Tendulkar. No cricketer will ever be able to command the blind adulation that he has.

So how has life been for Tendulkar after his moon landing in November 2013?

Well, he turned 44 yesterday and he celebrated it at the Wankhede stadium with fans cheering him on. His team didn’t give him a victory as a birthday present, losing narrowly by 3 runs to the Rising Pune Super giants, who are staging a resurgence of sorts. He has been here and there, still trying to find an identity for himself, one that doesn’t involve him holding a bat and playing God so that an entire country can sleep better.

He has adopted a villages in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and according to reports, has helped change the lives of residents.

Of course, there have been missteps. Like this terrible effort at being a singer and ostensibly trying to reach out to a younger audience.

There have been murmurs of dissent over his no-shows at Parliament but at the same time, he has used most of the funds allocated to him as a part of MPLAD funds.

Even in retirement, he hasn’t spoken against the functioning of the BCCI, the Supreme Court’s intervention in how cricket is run in the country, the unceremonious manner in which the board was dismantled and the shamelessness of his one time boss N Srinivasan, who after being banned by the BCCI still sees himself as the President of the ICC. Actually, no ex-cricketer of stature has spoken about how cricket is being run in the country. At the same time, he has come out in support of other athletes like boxer Sarita Devi who was suspended by the boxing association for not accepting a medal. He has made it clear that politics is not his forte and has stayed away from administrative roles, lest his near-perfect image gets sullied. While Kapil Dev burnt his hands with a coaching stint, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have played it safe by toeing the BCCI’s line. Now, we can add VVS Laxman to the list. Rahul Dravid, whose diction and clarity of thought are tailor-made for a never-ending commentary stint has chosen to mold the future by actually nurturing the next generation through coaching and mentorship roles in various capacities. Anil Kumble is currently the head coach of the Indian team and Sourav Ganguly has set his sights high in cricket administration.

Actually, where do you go after you go to the moon, after you’ve played God and then come back to earth?

Diego Maradona nearly snorted and drank himself to death before he was saved by gastric bypass surgery. His personal life is in constant upheaval mode as this recent piece articulates.

Pete Sampras retreated into private life to regain his sense of normalcy.

Back home, Tendulkar has molded himself to the demands of the social media generation where every mundane event is broadcast to the world. A largely private person who lived his life with the cameras thrust at him at every step of the journey, is now letting his followers into his world via facebook and instagram. The current crop of cricket stars sport tattoos and weird hair cuts, date film stars and live for the moment. They prefer to burn out rather than to fade away and whether we will see careers that stretch beyond a decade is yet to be seen.

The biggest problem faced by sportspersons who retire as icons is how to protect their hard earned legacy. Politicians have no sense of shame and can make comebacks scandal after scandal but a sportsperson’s equity lies in the feats they perform and the memories they leave behind. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to witness your sporting heroes grow old, sport a paunch, grey at the sides and appear in commercials selling retirement plans? Creating a career worth idolising without losing one’s way is only half the battle. Securing with it with a dignified retirement is another. After living a tunnel vision life where sporting excellence is the sole pursuit, normal life possesses a smidgen of that heady rush.

To a generation of die-hard fans, Tendulkar isn’t 44, he is forever 14 with a flock of curly hair and an impish grin, the boy who became a man who became a legend who became a God, all under the harsh glare of the unforgiving spotlight. When he began his career, we had one channel and homes had one television, mostly black and white sets that were the only source of  news and entertainment. When his career ended amidst an outpouring of tributes and tears, the television was competing with social media and live streaming of matches on mobiles.

His image maybe a little too squeaky clean for our liking, his transgressions, however minor, unable to hold their own in the face of blind faith and worship. His utterances are mostly politically correct and his every move revolves around preserving an image that we have of him – that of a middle glass boy who is grounded and hasn’t lost his head or himself to fame.

If there is only wish, it is this – that we are slowly given a glimpse of not just Tendulkar the legend but also Tendulkar the man. He will never be able to lead a normal life in the country of his birth but maybe the second half of his life will have him still bringing a smile to people’s faces, sans cricket. Maybe he will let his guard down a bit, speak up more and not resort to singing songs to reach out to his fans.

For someone who was always asked for the moon when he had a bat in his hand, life after the moon landing has just begun.

 

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The god who made atheists believe

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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.