Like Joseph Conrad's enigmatic yet heroic fictional character, Lord Jim, VVS Laxman too is "an inch, perhaps two under six feet, powerfully built and he advances straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward and a fixed from-under stare", except that he does not remind you of a "charging bull" but of a man who is a little apologetic about his intimidating physique.
The craft at which he excels, and that is his primary vocation, is of countering the speed and spin of a leather ball hurled at him by guiding it to various parts of a cricket field with no hint or trace of violence. As Rahul Bhattacharya in his delightfully descriptive book, "Pundits from Pakistan", writes, "There is no muscle in the art of VVS, no malice, no meanness. It is non-confrontational, innocent, lovely."
It is hard to find a batsman who combines in him the physical attributes of a "bull" and the silken smoothness of a floating cloud. It may be harder still to find a man who uses the hard broad wood, strong enough to bludgeon a man, like a delicate instrument to create strokes of exquisite beauty. In the year which is now behind us, he has shown that elegance has a fibre to it which can be harder than steel and tenderness has a resolve which can break mountains.
In the last year itself, he has, innings after innings, stroke after stroke, awed the cricketing world and conjured up many classics for us to acknowledge him as a rare legend, not to be compared with anyone else in the world. Not for him the brutishness of a Sehwag, the technical perfection of a Dravid or the ravenous hunger of the ruthless Tendulkar.
There is calmness, a stoic acceptance of "whatever will be, will be… The future is not for us to see," which probably makes him challenge the extremity of pressure with the ease of a monk who believes the world exists in the mind and not outside of it.
The foundations of India's ascent to the top of the cricketing ladder were laid by him in that epic innings at Kolkata's Eden in 2001. In the last decade, while we were snaking our way to reach the summit, there have been so many cementing influences that it may have made us forget how and where it all began.
And once there we could have been knocked off that perch many times over last year. Like his Kolkata innings, Laxman has walked in to bat when we had given up hope, so dead and buried we thought India were.
The beauty of his art lies in his reviving the patient not through cold, clinical methods but by providing that warm kiss of life which makes you embrace the world with renewed joy and vigour.
As we usher in the New Year and Laxman adds one more year to his life and draws nearer to a sportsman's "twilight zone", I am reminded of Robert Browning's magical lines: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be."
Happy New Year!