A little before midnight, the chill in Shimla was broken by the persistent ringing of my phone. As I pulled the freezing receiver close to my ear in the quilt, I heard a "news source" whispering that the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, had just checked in to the luxurious hotel in town with his family. This was when Sachin was at the peak of his career.
I sprang up and rang up hotel officials, who confirmed the news. I broke the story about Sachin's arrival in the national daily I was working with at that time. The next day, there was a hue and cry with the entire media turning up at the hotel's gate for the day's story. The hotel staff was angry, with me the most. "Media people, please go away. Sachin wants to spend time alone. He does not want to be disturbed. This is his private sojourn," announced a hotel staff member.
But the journalists would not relent and the number only swelled as the sun rose up in the horizon amid the picturesque hills. I spoke to top officials asking if they could get Sachin to talk to us. I remember telling them that if he really wanted to live in peace, Sachin should appear before the media for a while, give us our story, and then spend private time without any disturbance. The hotel staff did not oblige. But an hour later, one of the top officials informed the media that they were trying to talk to Sachin on addressing the press.
By that time, pieces of information about Sachin taking a horse ride and chilling out with his family started trickling in. Next we knew what he had eaten for breakfast. The media's appetite kept growing and the hunt for exclusive information started gaining ground. Thankfully, better sense prevailed and a hotel employee approached us to say that Sachin had been humble enough to agree to a brief interaction with the media at the main hall. The only condition was that the media would not disturb him for the next three days in the cool climes of Shimla.
We were happy and agreed to the conditions immediately. We rushed to the hall and waited with bated breath. Sachin walked in humbly but with his head held high. He had apparently suffered an injury on the wrist, which was wrapped in a bandage. As he walked up to me, I stood up. He extended a hand and I shook it firmly, feeling obliged. He looked into my eyes and asked, "So where do you want me to talk to you? Here or out in the open?" I was awestruck and without giving much thought said, "Why not outside? It's sunny day." He kept holding my hand and we almost led the rest of the media outside.
The photographers were shooting frantically and I don't know what happened when Sachin decided against going outside. With a wave of his hand, he said, "No, let's go inside."
Frankly, I was not a great lover of cricket until then. But the ease and calm with which this man, who fans regard as the 'god of cricket', conducted himself left a lasting impact. I remember his clasp was firm yet warm. I could sense from the grip that it was one of a great cricketer. Now, that Sachin is heading for retirement, I feel obliged and would like to thank him for the lovely memories of that day and also for invoking an interest in the game my country so adores.