“Give me three questions you would want to ask Sachin Tendulkar,” I ask a friend who was there in the stadium to cheer every time the master blaster added a milestone to his career.
My friend, like thousands of others in the country, remembers dates by mentally associating them with Sachin’s centuries. So, one would expect him to have millions of questions for his ultimate superhero. But he has none.
“I know everything about every match he has ever played, there is nothing new to ask!” he says. And he’s absolutely correct. After almost three decades in the media glare, and countless reams of newsprint later, there is little left to say about the god of cricket; the man who holds the record of the highest number of centuries in both Tests and ODIs.
We know exactly how many times he was dismissed between the score of 90 and 99 (18!) in ODIs, about his superstition of putting on the left pad first, that his bat weighed 3.2lbs, that he used to ape John McEnroe when he was a kid, and that apparently he was wearing wet trousers during his historic 664-run stand with Vinod Kambli as he was carrying only one pair, which refused to dry overnight!
But it is surprising how little we know about Sachin, the person. So, that’s what I thought I’ll do when I meet the cricketing legend: find the man behind him. Can I pull it off? Sachin is known to be a fiercely private person, and rarely talks about anything beyond his cricket. It doesn’t help that the interview is scheduled as part of the promotions of his biopic, Sachin: A Billion Dreams. At the venue throbbing with scribes and photographers, there is a clear division: the serious sports journalists looking for Sachin’s crucial comments on the IPL and India’s future in cricket, and the film journalists trying to brew a controversy by asking him to compare his biopic with that of Mahindra Singh Dhoni’s. And here I am, steering clear of both cricket and controversy. I am told that Sachin will not answer anything personal. But today is my day to try the impossible. And I have exactly 10 minutes on the clock.
Finally, I face the legend. He smiles warmly, but not with the same comfort he has on the field. In fact, he looks somewhat self-conscious, fielding questions rather than a cricket ball. So why did he agree to enter this mad world of films and promotions? Why a biopic if he is so fiercely protective about his personal life?
“Indeed I am a private person,” Sachin says with an almost unnerving calm. “But I also thought this was important. Today we are concentrating so much on the glamour of sports, that I think the real thing is taking a backseat. I want kids to think differently. Do it for the right reason. It is not about how much money you earn or how many endorsements you have. For me, cricket was and will always be about passion. I have always been very guarded about my life but I thought people, especially youngsters, should know what went behind what I am today. I travelled in public transport. I missed buses because I couldn’t get inside carrying my cricket kit. The journey to where I am now wasn’t an easy one, especially the beginning.”
“Maybe I was not as social as people would like me to be, but it was never about being an introvert. I did what I thought would add value to my game, because that is the only thing that mattered to me.”
The film will show him as he really was, says Sachin. “What I was going through during that point in time, the highs and lows I faced, what role my family played in it, nobody knows,” he says. “Apart from being a cricketer, I am also a family man, a friend...a regular person. I have given access to footage that only my family has seen.”
Still, that footage is limited. “I sat with my family and carefully picked the pieces of our lives we all are comfortable sharing,” he says. This is not because he’s an introvert, he adds. “I am happy in my space. I am comfortable with my people around me, my family, my friends. I have done everything and anything in my life only when I was comfortable doing so, if I was happy doing that,” Sachin explains. “Maybe I was not as social as people would like me to be, but it was never about being an introvert. I did what I thought would add value to my game, because that is the only thing that mattered to me. The rest was just paraphernalia, which I chose to avoid.
Value beyond price
This seems a bit strange in this age of social media, and Sachin acknowledges that there’s no harm in celebs sharing their real lives with their fans – if that’s what they really want.“But some don’t, and I think that should be okay too! Not all human beings can be the same,” he says.
Maybe it would have been different if Sachin was a part of the Instagram generation. Does he ever feel like swapping places with his two teenagers, Sara and Arjun? “It is a tricky situation really!” he laughs. “When you are a kid, you want to grow up as quickly as possible, and when you are a grown up you don’t want to grow old! It is part of life and it is fun.”
“Value whatever you have got. If you are complaining about things you don’t have, trust me, even at 80, you will be doing the same and life will pass you by. I tell Sara and Arjun this too.”
Having said that, Sachin explains his life’s most basic philosophy is to value what you have. “I have always stressed on the importance of appreciating what one has, rather than focusing on what one doesn’t,” he says. “I tell Sara and Arjun that too. Value whatever you have got. If you are complaining about things you don’t have, trust me, even at 80 you will be doing the same and life will pass you by. Each one has his own share. God fixes a quota of things for everyone. You can’t have everything always. It is important to make the most of what is allotted to you. I have enjoyed every stage of my life. I am happy where I am, and thankful to god for blessing me with so much.”
Indeed, he looks content. Who in his shoes wouldn’t? But while he was breaking and making records on field, did he miss being with his family, especially the kids? And how does it feel to finally have time for them at a stage when they are busy with their own lives?
“I still spend time with them. Today they are not home always, but that was also the case with me. I started playing professional cricket at the age of 17, and most of the time, I was away from my parents and my family. I missed them and they missed me. It will be the same with my kids. They have their lives to live, things to do, and will travel for that soon. It is nice to see the kids grow up to become their own people, and we ensure them the freedom they need.”
The sound of music
Sachin enjoys every day as it comes, but having retired from professional cricket in November 2013, he also misses his cricketing days. “The competitiveness, being at the practice sessions, my teammates, the dressing room, the dressing room jokes, I miss everything!” he says. But mostly, he misses his teammates. “The team was my family away from my home,” he says. “When you are travelling so much, and spending so much time together, you shop together, go out for meals, you do everything that you would do with another family member.”
“The competitiveness, being at the practice sessions, my teammates, the dressing room, the dressing room jokes, I miss everything!”
But he is enjoying his retirement as well and he can’t wait to get over with this promotion blitzkrieg. “I am really looking for a long break right now,” he says, looking exhausted. Once this is done, he’ll go back to one of his old loves: music.
“I listen to a lot of music. I really enjoy it and I am open to all kinds of it,” he says. “I think we Indians have always had a great tradition of music and we still have some interesting musicians. But I also listen to Western music, something I don’t really understand, but enjoy listening to nonetheless.”
And what about Justin Bieber?
He breaks into a hearty laugh. “Ah, that’s more for today’s generation. But I think I need to catch up on that!”
Maybe he should, given that the Internet can’t seem to get over with the alleged similarities between this generation’s teenage sensation and Sachin’s 17-year-old son!
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From HT Brunch, May 21, 2017
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