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HindustanTimes Sat,27 Dec 2014
Mumbai's favourite sons, Sachin Tendulkar and Bal Thackeray, poles apart
Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
November 14, 2013
First Published: 19:58 IST(14/11/2013)
Last Updated: 21:00 IST(14/11/2013)

In a quirky confluence of the calendar this week, Mumbai commemorates Sachin Tendulkar playing his 200th and last Test match of his staggeringly brilliant career at the Wankhede stadium beginning November 14, as well as the first death anniversary of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray three days later.

It seems odd to even place them together in a sentence. They represent two very different faces of the Maharashtrian in Mumbai.

They shared the sleepy Bandra east address; Tendulkar grew up and first played cricket in his building complex Sahitya Sahwas, barely 300 metres from where Thackeray lived in his Kalanagar bungalow. And they both evidently loved the game of cricket.

Thackeray had lived 47 years when Tendulkar was born in 1973. But it wasn't just age that separated them. Their work domains were, indeed, different and as far apart as they could be in theory; in practice, more lately, politics and cricket seemed to make ideal bed-fellows.

Above all, it was the idea of Mumbai which they enunciated – Tendulkar only once and succinctly, Thackeray regularly and vociferously – that marked them apart.

Thackeray lived by his now-infamous "sons of the soil" principle. Tendulkar, in 2009 while being felicitated for completing 20 successful years in international cricket, stated: "Mumbai belongs to India. And I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that but I am an Indian first", invalidating Thackeray's 'Marathi Manoos' ideology.

Here was Mumbai's own, a Maharashtrian, asserting his Indian identity over the local one. Thackeray derided Tendulkar for "the cheeky single" and judged him "run out on the pitch of Marathi psyche". But all was well later; Tendulkar visited Thackeray's family to pay his condolences last year.

Tendulkar's silence on issues of significance all these years, including the murky underbelly of the game, have irked many who believe he could have drawn on his cult status to make statements of significance.

In the 24 years that he played for India, Tendulkar, cricket and the city changed a lot. Tendulkar went from the archetypal middle-class Mumbaiite to the uber-rich, rubbing shoulders with some of those who are involved in the spatial and communal transformation of Mumbai.

Mumbai's cricket is now less about the Kanga League and Irani Trophy, and more identified with the Mumbai Indians team of the T20 League, controlled by some of those who are transforming Mumbai.

Tendulkar is a pivotal member of that multi-million dollar franchise, but perhaps he will do something to restore the city's glory as the nursery of national cricket.

Thackeray, it is said, was an ardent fan of the game but chose to make the game subservient to his politics. Despite his love, he encouraged his boys to ransack the BCCI office, to dig up the Wankhede pitch and pour oil, threatened Pakistani (before 26/11 attack had taken place) and Australian teams to prevent them from playing at the Wankhede.

Cricket chroniclers would be better placed to say if he cared as much for Mumbai's cricket nurseries or the hundreds of boys who faded out after the local league, but we know that his doors were always open for cricket stars, especially Maharashtrians among them.

Petty chauvinism pockmarked Thackeray's love for the game. Yet, the Mumbai Cricket Association is preparing to give his name to the press/commentary box in the Wankhede. What a tribute for his "contribution".

Tendulkar rose above chauvinism. From all accounts, he retains his Maharashtrian-ness - loves his "varan-bhaat" (dal-rice) and prefers to be addressed as "Baba" (father) by his children - but is no less an Indian.

It made us feel good about the man. Can he, after his dazzling career finishes, also rise above elitism?


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