Consider the curious case of Sourav Ganguly. Once one of the most successful captains of the Indian cricket team, these days he is reduced to warming the bench at IPL games featuring the Pune Warriors while newspapers report snidely about how he scored 27 runs off 24 balls at the nets, but managed to get caught twice and bowled out once in the process.
How did it come to this? I know this won’t make me very popular in the bylanes of Kolkata, but I blame Sourav himself. He was a great cricketer, a wonderful captain, and a fierce competitor. But despite being a great strategic thinker when it came to the game, he failed to gauge when he should declare his innings in real life.
Surely Sourav should have seen the writing on the wall in the last season of the IPL when he didn’t contribute a great deal to his team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. But despite every indication that the franchise had lost interest in him, Sourav still put himself up for auction – only to be humiliated when no one bothered to bid for him.
Even then it was not too late. Sourav could have made a gracious statement about how he had decided to quit the game forever (even though, technically, it was the game that had quit on him). And indeed, for a time it looked as if he had made his peace with reality, finding solace in the commentary box instead.
But just when you thought that he was out, Sourav – much like that monster in horror movies who refuses to stay down for the count – was back again. This time, as a replacement player for Ashish Nehra (oh, how the mighty have fallen!) in the Pune Warriors team. No, not as their secret weapon who would be fielded to slay the opposition, but as a bench-warmer who watched his first games from the safety of the team dug-out.
I don’t know about you, but all of this just makes me sad. Why subject yourself to this needless humiliation when you can go out with grace and dignity? I mean, look at Shane Warne. The man retired from Test and one-day cricket when he was at his peak. And now, even though he is the lynchpin of his team, the Rajasthan Royals, Warnie has announced that this will be his last season as a player in the IPL.
Warne has understood something that Sourav plainly hasn’t. Leave the stage while they are still asking, "Why?" Don’t leave it until they are demanding, "Why not?"
But then, why blame Sourav alone? This is a disease that seems to be endemic in India. Nobody in this country ever seems inclined to call it a day, clinging on with their fingernails for dear life. And even when they are forcibly ejected, they tend to go out kicking and screaming.
By any reckoning, both Manmohan Singh and LK Advani should have retired years ago, leaving the field clear for a younger lot of leaders to take over. But despite having heart surgery in his first term, Singh still put himself forward as a candidate for the Prime Minister’s job in UPA’s second term in office. And LK Advani, who failed in his bid to become Prime Minister, continues to play a pivotal role in BJP politics instead of taking a backseat.
Manmohan Singh is now 78 years old. LK Advani is 83. And yet, neither of them seems to think it at all politic to contemplate retirement from public life. Contrast this with such Western democracies as Britain and the USA. The American President, Barack Obama, is still a few months short of 50 while the British Prime Minister David Cameron is a sprightly 44. And their predecessors, George W Bush and Tony Blair retired at the ages of 61 and 54 respectively, making a clean break from domestic politics.
Our bureaucrats are no better. Rare is the secretary of the Indian government who hangs up his red tape once he has reached retirement age. Instead, our babus vie with one another to find plum post-retirement government sinecures so that they can stay on in their plush bungalows (and drive around in their white Ambassadors) for just a little while longer. The lucky ones get the Governorships that haven’t been gobbled up by ageing politicians; the rest make do with chairmanships of state corporations and the like. Retirement at 60 is strictly for losers.
Not that other professions are any different. The movie world is littered with examples of people who defy the laws of logic to still remain in the business. Govinda continues to make execrable comedies that plumb the depths of bad taste. Rekha continues to be pulled out of the moth-balls (or should that be aspic?) for a cameo turn every now and then. And Dev Anand – God bless his evergreen heart – continues to churn out movies that nobody ever watches.
I guess the soul is not the only thing that is eternal in these parts. But, of course, it could be a lot worse.
Take a quick look across the border at Pakistan and count your blessings. While their politicians may have a rather short shelf life unlike ours, their Generals never seem to retire – they just become terror masterminds instead.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
- From HT Brunch, May 15
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