The question I always get is, "Have you seen him?" They'll ask, then wait for me to recount a host of sightings in juicy detail. They never quite believe my answer: Once.
Standing on the road waiting for my daughter's school bus, I saw his red car turn into the lane - aside: there's a "No Entry" sign there, sir! - and drive towards us, him at the wheel. For just an instant, our eyes met. This is where you might expect something significant about that instant. Sorry, nothing. He immediately looked away, to his left, to his gate that's just there. He turned in. The gate closed.
And that's a full accounting of all my sightings of Sachin Tendulkar, since he moved in opposite me over two years ago.
Many others hope for more, though. Waiting for the school bus again one day, a small three-wheeler delivering a glass plate stopped and its driver asked for another building on our street. As I directed him, a taxi disgorged a man in a dhoti and a younger woman; they walked smartly up to the narrow window in Tendulkar's wall and spoke to the guard inside. The bus arrived seconds later, so I lost track for a few minutes of what was happening. But after collecting my daughter, I found the three-wheeler man, glass delivery forgotten, standing inches behind the father and daughter, eavesdropping and neck-craning to see what he could, Inside.
Inside, you know? That place where, with any luck, this fine glass plate would have been headed? Instead of that other whatsit building?
Conversation done, the guard opened the door and stood there stiffly. The woman posed beside him as her father retreated across the street, camera in hand. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall years from now, when he's showing his grandkids snapshots: "And this one … oh, that's your Anagha-mavshi with Sachin Tendulkar's security guard!"
So yeah, it's amusing, the grab-bag of antics I've grown accustomed to from Tendulkar followers who frequent our lane. Gives me reason to reckon myself foolishly superior, too: oh, I'd never do those things, I think as I peer at his plate-glass windows from my upper-floor balcony.
But the antics also stand for a small sadness that I wonder if Tendulkar ever feels.
A friend of my wife's was, like we are today, Tendulkar's neighbour in one of his earlier homes. He remembers frequent games of what's loosely called "gully cricket", played with a tennis ball, in which one enthusiastic participant was Tendulkar himself. He was already a superstar, if not quite the god of cricket that is now his usual appellation.
My wife's friend tells of a game in which he actually got Tendulkar out, caught. My wife's friend promptly stopped playing. Because it's a small club that can claim, like him, that their last wicket in cricket was Tendulkar's.
Glorying in famous last wickets apart, gully cricket like that happens in our neighborhood too. Most Sundays and holidays, you'll find one in progress at a broad bend in our street, maybe 50 yards from Tendulkar's home. In another age, in a less cricket-obsessed place, you can imagine him walking over and playing, swatting the ball about and haring those 22 yards from one makeshift wicket to the other.
But today? No way. He takes one step on the road, you know there'll be a stampede. With gods, that happens. If I really want to see him haring 22 yards, I'll have to find a ticket to the Wankhede.
The man has scaled remarkable professional peaks in concrete cauldrons like that one, sure. But does he long for a gully game? Will we ever let him play one?
(Dilip D'Souza writes for his supper, and to keep his cats fed, in Bombay. He has published four books and has won several awards for his writing.)