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Sachin Tendulkar at 45: A man of easier charm and stronger beliefs

Get an inside glimpse of how India’s best-known cricketer spent his special day on April 24

brunch Updated: Apr 30, 2018 07:30 IST
Boria Majumdar
Boria Majumdar
Hindustan Times
Sachin Tendulkar,Birthday celebrations,Bandra
Sachin Tendulkar’s birthday has been more about his fans than his family and friends.(Atul Kasbekar)

It’s been nearly five years since Sachin Tendulkar retired from cricket, yet the crowd outside his Bandra, Mumbai, home on April 24 is so thick that I am convinced there must have been a pile up of cars in the vicinity. It doesn’t take me long to find out, however, that these are just Sachin devotees waiting for a glimpse of their hero on his birthday, all bearing gifts or garlands for him.

We, the people of India

I was surprised, yet I shouldn’t have been. As Sachin himself told me on an earlier occasion, retirement or not, his fans need him to be involved in cricket. In February 2015, when India played Pakistan during the World Cup in Australia, Sachin was watching the match on television at his home in Mumbai when he heard people on the road screaming, “Sachinnn, Sachinnn”. “There were close to 500 people outside my house screaming my name,” Sachin told me. “Eventually Anjali (his wife) had to send them tea and biscuits because they were there for the entire duration of the match.”

“I feel blessed. People from all walks of life wish me well”

Back to today, though. In the ground floor drawing room, my favourite in Sachin’s house, I wait for the man of the moment in the tastefully done up room teeming with testimony to one of the most glorious careers in Indian sport, including the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and of course, the Bharat Ratna. Sachin comes down in a flurry of ring tones: everyone in the world, apparently, is calling or messaging to wish him a happy birthday.

“I feel blessed, you know,” he tells me. “People from all walks of life wish me well. They have so much affection for me and it makes me feel really fortunate.”

For Sachin, his most memorable birthday celebration was his 25th in 1998, a day on which he played one of the best innings ever against the Australian team led by Steve Waugh ( Atul Kasbekar )

I had seen this for myself as recently as the day before, when we’d left Sachin’s home for the launch of my book on this legend of world cricket. Just as Sachin’s car emerged from the garage, a young man of 17 sprinted across the road, paying no attention to the vehicles coming at him from both sides of the road. All he wanted, he told Sachin when the cricketing genius admonished him for his lack of care, was a picture of himself with Sachin on the eve of his birthday. The young man got his wish, but also a short lecture on safety and the rules of the road.

Boria Majumdar’s new book documents and explores India’s cricket team through pictures and anecdotes

Normal is as normal does

Ever since he became the Sachin Tendulkar lauded by the world, Sachin’s birthday has been more about his fans than his family and friends. “Every year for the past five years, the T-20 team Mumbai Indians play in the evening on my birthday, and I cut a cake at the ground to celebrate,” says Sachin. “This is something I enjoy, for there is nothing better than sharing your happiness with your fans. After all, they have been with me for the last 30 years of my life, in both good times and bad.”

So, aside from the customary puja and family time at home in the morning, April 24 for Sachin Tendulkar is largely spent at the Wankhede Stadium. For his 45th birthday this year, he also connects for the first time with his fans on social media, spending an hour chatting with fans and taking questions on Facebook. A cursory look at some of the questions asked in the course of the live session makes it evident what he means to the people of India. The word ‘God’ is used by every second person who logs on, and I am suddenly overwhelmed by an eerie feeling of what it must be like to be Sachin Tendulkar.

I consider myself lucky that we have such a passionate fan base for the sport in the country, says Sachin ( Atul Kasbekar )
“ I haven’t ever experienced normal... I have never been able to go to the cinema or visit a mall or even eat out”

“What you consider normal isn’t something I have ever experienced,” Sachin says when I tell him what I just felt. “I have never been able to go to a cinema or visit a mall or even eat out. These are small sacrifices I have had to make to chase the dream I wished to pursue. Instead, when I am not travelling, I love to spend time at home with my family.”

Sachin at home, it must be said, is a very normal person with a great sense of humour. And more important, he is a very gracious host. If you have lunch with him in the ground floor dining room, the meal will usually be simple but tasty home fare. He loves his dal, vegetables, prawns and mutton, roti and rice, and all of this is often followed by kulfi for dessert. It was during the course of one of these meals, which he insists on serving to his guests, that Sachin once told me how he had helped expand the taste buds of some of his India teammates. Himself a Japanese food connoisseur, Sachin is instrumental in encouraging many of his teammates to try various cuisines when on tour, his regular compatriot in tasting culinary delights being cricketer Zaheer Khan.

Sachin’s most memorable

Sachin’s most memorable birthday celebration, he says, was his 25th in 1998, a day on which he played one of the best innings ever, and in the process won the Coca Cola Cup for India against a really dominant Australian team led by Steve Waugh.

“Every year for the past five years, the Mumbai Indians play on my b’day, and I cut a cake at the ground. I enjoy it!”

“In 1998, my birthday celebrations lasted well beyond the 24th,” Sachin laughs. “Having won at Sharjah, I was greeted by a sea of humanity on our return to Mumbai and it was touching to see fans showering such warmth on me. The day after I returned, I was invited to a double wicket tournament at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana in Mumbai. Praveen Amre called me and said the organisers were keen that I go there for some time to encourage the players.

“Shivaji Park has always been special to me and I decided to take Anjali with me. A huge crowd had assembled to see me. My visit caused a law and order situation and it was difficult to get away from the chaos. We somehow managed to leave Shivaji Park Gymkhana for home and I felt humbled at the affection I had received. Fans asking for autographs and wishing me a happy birthday has always made me feel special, and I make it a point to oblige all of them whenever I can. It means I can make a number of my countrymen happy and that, more than anything, is deeply satisfying. These men and women who wait for hours to see me or get an autograph are the ones who make the game what it is in India and I consider myself lucky that we have such a passionate fan base for the sport in
the country.”

A snapshot of Sachin’s cake on his 45th birthday along with a few personalised messages from his well-wishers

For me, however, Sachin’s most memorable birthday was his 40th, which I had the pleasure of hosting in Kolkata
in 2013. Anjali had flown in that evening and at the stroke of midnight we smeared him with cake and sang
Happy Birthday.

All of India was also singing with us, even if the millions doing so weren’t physically present in Kolkata at that time. For this collective of sports fans, Sachin is indeed god, and this truth is driven home more forcefully than ever on his birthday every single year. His 45th, it must be said, is no different.

Happy birthday once again, Sachin.

Boria Majumdar is an Indian sports journalist, academician and author. He also co-authored Sachin’s autobiography Playing It My Way in 2014 along with the cricketer.

From HT Brunch, April 29, 2018

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First Published: Apr 28, 2018 22:07 IST