In a world of sport ruled by giants, it would be easy to lose him in a crowd. His face is still adolescent, and his voice, despite having gained in strength, is neither domineering nor forceful. Chances are that if you met him, there would be no memory of it.
Yet, the same person has become such an integral part of Indian middle-class conscience that for the last 24 years he has dwarfed everything around him. On October 10, the day he announced the date of his retirement, life seemed to come to a standstill. Television channels had no news other than reconstructing his life and times.
The newspapers the next day devoted space reserved only for those who leave an indelible mark on the lives of its people. It is the kind of adulation a nation bestows upon its saints, the conscience keepers of its society. Not for someone who has indulged in an activity of a harmless nature, whose pursuit is neither epochal nor can change the way people lead their lives.
The phenomenon of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, his staggering popularity and his God-like status among his followers is beyond the scope of this article. I, being one among those millions, who despite abhorring the cult of hero-worshipping, have watched in awe and admiration the birth, growth and now the exit — if one may call it so a month in advance — of a sportsman who has few peers; in terms of statistical achievements, none except for Don Bradman’s superhuman averages.
Two-and-a-half decades ago cricket followers had heard of a boy who batted as if the angels had decided to hold a cricket bat. In the sleepy Himachal Pradesh hamlet of Una, I watched him score only 10 runs, but was so impressed by this 15-year-old kid that my match report only had praise for his skills. Others who watched him had reacted the same way. The unanimous verdict was that he was special, destined to become one of the true greats of the game.
An age has passed by. Lifestyles have changed, the nation has changed, and the world has changed. Back then we had to stand in long queues to buy kerosene for our stoves. Today life is measured in the number of luxury goods we own.
What did not change was Tendulkar’s prodigious talent and the forecast that one day this boy wonder would conquer the cricketing world. Rarely, if ever, has a person fulfilled each and every promise he showed as a child. If anything, Tendulkar has achieved more than what destiny’s fingers may have written for him. They certainly wouldn’t have predicted a nation going ‘bonkers’ the day he would say he wasn’t going to play for much longer.
The law of nature may have forced an anguished Tendulkar to give up his most-loved treasure, but when, why and how did a sporting genius turn into a “God” for his followers is something future generations will try their best to find out.