The flight back to Bombay was packed and Sachin’s misery began even before the seat-belt signs were switched on. He sat on seat 38B (with Harbhajan, Nehra and Zaheer around him as a security shield) but efforts to put his head down and hide from others failed.
Had Buddha, the ultimate symbol of serenity and composure, seen Sachin’s performance on the flight, he would have been immensely impressed. The Lord may not have clapped but a minor nod of the head would have conveyed approval to Tendulkar’s monumental patience on the eight-hour flight from Jo’burg to Bombay.
The circumstances were exceedingly trying. Here he was, a day after the crushing defeat, surrounded by a planeload of hardcore cricket fans, all of whom had paid serious money to make the trip to South Africa. And each saw this as a golden opportunity to click a photo and get something signed.
For almost three hours, Sachin did precisely that — even through dinner. He would push some food into his mouth with his left hand, then drop the fork to sign, then calmly resume eating. Strangers patted him, put arms around him, grabbed his hand — they did everything except tear him to bits. But, not for a moment did he show the slightest hint of irritation. No autograph was refused and no request for a photo turned down. Sachin Tendulkar was a prize exhibit on display — for free. He had no escape and nowhere to go.
Stressed out after a draining tournament, he needed rest and anonymity but had to endure this. Yet, he greeted everybody politely and did what was asked of him with grace, humility and amazing poise.
With everyone moving towards Sachin (armed with bats/shirts to sign) normal activity on the aircraft went for a toss. Airhostesses had a tough time doing their work because they couldn’t take two steps without colliding with passengers who should have been sitting with seat-belts on.
But though this turbulence hassled the stewards, some did not mind.
Said one, who seemed to be enjoying the fun: Normal flights are boring, uneventful and routine. At least, today there is so much raunaq!
Once the in-flight movie ended, and airhostesses put away the trays, lights were dimmed for passengers to sleep but Tendulkar was still busy signing autographs.
Anil Kumble, seated two rows to his left, said: “Just imagine what would have happened had we won the Cup!”
When I complimented Sachin for his extraordinary patience, his reply floored me. Kya fayda. Patience wicket par honi chahiye thi.
On the flight, cricket, obviously, dominated conversation. VIPs talked about the mood in India and the overwhelming feeling of disappointment.
Sehwag slept, unmindful of the conversation around him. Mongia read cyclist Lance Armstrong’s epic on his battle against cancer. Sanjay Bangar and wife tried to calm their two-year-old son Aryan. Parthiv Patel wondered about his class XII exam in Ahmedabad the next day. ‘Are you prepared?’ I asked. Parthiv smiled and said: ‘I don’t even know kya paper hai.’