Frank Sinatra’s ‘My way’, the song Sinatra himself came to loathe, and is a lift of the French song ‘Comme d’habitude’, whose most popular YouTube video has the appeal, for some reason, ‘Sign against animal torture’, but is nevertheless the anthem of men who have taken a Harley down a highway, climbed a hill, smoked weed, hence imagine they have bitten off more they could chew, has often lent itself to the titles of male memoirs. Even so, it is odd that Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography should be called ‘My Way’. To be precise, the book, which will be released in a few days, is titled, Playing it My Way.
Tendulkar’s fortune was that life never gave him a reason to go astray, and the roads that he wished to take were the paths approved by the establishment. He adored and obeyed his parents, he wished to hold his cricket bat straight, he revered his coach, married the girl he loved, stayed in the marriage, and raised exactly two children. As a batsman he showed that style is in its core an action done absolutely right, exactly the way elders said it has to be done. He was what the norms had prophesied. And he made theory look good.
When he dealt with people he often chose the option of respect. Humility as a state of mind is a form of intelligence, but as a physical expression it is an inexpensive ruse to reassure the ordinary that their ordinariness is not pitiable. In him humility was both wisdom and a trick. He spoke his mind in private to his team, but not to the public, whom he never granted the right to information. He never entered public spats because he knew it was inelegant, an abstinence that was conceit misunderstood as decorum. He carries within him the fear that makes men good, the fear of being seen as bad. His autobiography should have been called, ‘Memoirs of a Decent Man’. As most honest titles would to memoirs, this one would have destroyed the prospects of the book.
About five years ago, when Raj Thackeray and his party were claiming that Mumbai belonged to Maharashtra first, whatever that meant, the sports journalist Akshay Sawai asked Tendulkar his opinion during a press conference. Tendulkar said, “Mumbai belongs to India. I’m a Maharashtrian. I’m extremely proud of being Maharashtrian.
But I’m an Indian.” In other words he said almost nothing, but he regretted saying even this and later conveyed that he was offended by the question. What could such a cautious public figure have written in his memoir? How honest can he be and would want to be? That too in an age and a nation where even those who claim they are writers are terrified to offend.
Nobody who is involved with the book is divulging much before the launch but there are indications that the book contains “sensational” material. In fact, there was a paragraph that made the publisher’s legal team nervous but Tendulkar insisted on retaining it and assured all that he had evidence to support his claim.
In his playing days he has, on occasion, reached out to the media to defend himself or to convey a specific opinion. But every time he did that he had an odd aversion to excessive attention. It was as though he merely wanted his thoughts to exist in a physical form, not transmitted widely. A few years ago, when I was a reporter with Outlook, he spoke to me, reluctantly, about the bookie-player nexus. Later, he called to insist, among other things, that I ensure the interview was not mentioned on the cover of Outlook. ‘Put it somewhere inside, something small’, was his request. But Tendulkar the autobiographer, who has committed his earnings from the book to malnourished children, appears to be a man who is ready to face attention and its inescapable ugliness.
There is considerable analysis of the game too in the book, people say. Many times, during his conversations with those who were helping him write the book, he would stand up and enact moments from his days on the field. But the reputation of the memoir will stand on the quality of private information he has shared. He harbours a dark history of a sport, spanning one quarter of a century.
But then why must he endure the inconvenience of revelation? Isn’t he after all a retired executive of a private club, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, affiliated to another private club registered in a tax haven, the International Cricket Council? But then humans, even Tendulkar, have an irresistible compulsion to talk, to share what they know, the very reason why journalism is possible. And it appears that Tendulkar is finally ready.
But what exactly might he reveal? Would he give details of a day on a tour of South Africa when he stormed into Mohammad Azharuddin’s hotel room, as a contemporary of Tendulkar told me he did, and confronted him for underperforming? Would he tell us all that he knows about the collusion between players, administrators and bookies?
Would he tell us what he thought of Bal Thackeray? Thackeray once publicly rebuked Tendulkar for using auctions to do charity instead of giving away a part of his enormous wealth. Strange that Thackeray must say this. He knew very little about charity or, for that matter, hard-earned money. It is unlikely that Tendulkar would touch upon these subjects.
But, he cannot escape talking about Sourav Ganguly, the agonised insecure captain. Would Tendulkar talk about the things Ganguly did to keep his place? Then, there is the problem of Rahul Dravid.
There was a distinction between the society’s love for Tendulkar and for Dravid. The distinction was based on class. Just as Tendulkar’s ruse was humility, Dravid’s was intelligent discourse derived from apparent reading. A segment of the urban society had a Nehruvian adoration for Dravid. Tendulkar knows enough to embarrass Dravid and the ill-fated coach Greg Chappell, and people tell me that he has spoken at length to the book’s collaborators, but it is possible that he has not retained everything.
Throughout his career, despite his powers as a preeminent public figure, Tendulkar did not create discreet channels into the media to disseminate news that was favourable to him or that would diminish others. It is not that he did not try but his heart was not in it. Also, he didn’t trust influential journalists enough. Now he has given himself the opportunity to say all that he wants. He has given himself the opportunity to roll in the mud.
(Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People)