Monday, November 18, 2013

The swansong is done, the curtains are down

He's gone. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The man I would rush home from school for. The man who would cause me to peer outside my classroom window to glimpse his barely visible image on the TV screen. The man who had the power to drive me nuts, and to depression. The man, who stole our hearts in the midst of sandstorms and the Chennai summer. Gone.

I do not intend to pen down prose on his greatness. Many writers, bloggers and fans, far better than I, have done so. There are several that you must definitely read. For me, as I suppose is the case with most Indian cricket fans, Sachin was personal. So I write, about a man who probably inspired me to love sport as much as I do today.

I don't remember much of his early career, which is understandable, given that I was only born after his career had begun. People speak fondly of his first stint as opener vs. the Kiwis. I wish I could remember that, but no.

I grew up with a cricket-mad mom and aunt, along with their father who was an ardent sports fan like I am today. I took up a bat and ball at a very tender age. I was never particularly good, but how does that matter to a kid? My first memory of Sachin is begging my mom and aunt to take me along for the India Pakistan ODI in '97. The idea of taking a 7 year old along for an Indo-Pak match wasn't exactly the most safe one at the time, so I didn't get to go.

Come March '98 however, I struck gold, and was taken along for the Chennai Test vs. Australia. I still remember the stinging disappointment of seeing him out for 4. But two incredible things happened that I will never forget. Sachin delivered a stinging 155, making the Australian attack look like a bunch of schoolkids. The second, more personally special, was visiting Sachin in his hotel room. I don't remember how that happened, it had something to do with my aunt and some work, but I was 2 feet away from him. Apparently, I couldn't contain myself and was jumping around excitedly, but there he was. I remember Rajesh Chauhan walking in and out. I remember him patting me on the back encouraging me to be a good cricketer. Thinking back, the man he was with that speech of his on retirement, is exactly the man he was that day. Humble, sweet and passionate about the game.

Shortly after came the legendary pair of sandstorm innings. I still remember those games. There was a function of some sort, involving musical concerts at home, and happily, the TV was shunted into my bedroom, where me and my cousins were holed up. I remember the dance down the track. I remember the brutality. I remember the sight of Sachin single-handedly willing India into the final and then winning the final as well. I was 8 years old. I had a hero.

Over the years, Sachin has delivered some extraordinary performances. The 98 vs. Pakistan. His role in India's resurrection after the disastrous loss to Australia in the same world cup. The heart breaking loss to Pakistan in Chennai. The cover-drive-less double in Sydney. I'm certain, each of us associate one of the many brilliant knocks, as something special in our lives. Sachin touched us all. And that was his greatness.

I was talking to a friend the other day about Sachin. He said something very interesting about the "God" phenomenon. He said it hurt him, to hear him referred to as "God" because he felt it took away from Sachin. I was puzzled, but he went on. He said that the greatness of Sachin, wasn't in his genius, or his talent, but in his passion and his values. Sachin was what he was, because of the incredible amount of work and sacrifice and he inspired millions because of the man he was - simple and humble. To deem him immortal, he said, was to understate the greatness of the mortal man, who rose above us all to be a role model, not just for cricket fans, but a shining beacon for the country as a whole.

I found that whole conversation interesting, because I also realized how deeply personal his feelings toward Sachin were. I had always felt that he should have hung up his boots a little earlier, but to actually see him go, was heartbreaking. When I heard him speak about his family, his coach, his fans, I felt like I was losing a family member, or as someone put it perfectly, part of myself.

In a moment, that was beautiful beyond words, he said that the chants of "Sachin, Sachin" would ring on in his ears forever. Sachin was personal, so wonderfully personal. At some level, I guess he took his relationship with fans at various stadia personally too. He needn't worry though. As long as there is the game of cricket, and seats in Indian stadia for fans, I am certain those chants will make their appearances and over.

In an era of the Lance Armstrong, John Terry, Allen Iverson and Wayne Rooney, we were lucky beyond words to be surrounded by the heroes that were Sachin, Dravid, VVS, Ganguly and Kumble. We were lucky growing up, not just because the Indian team was filled with greats, but because we had them to look up to. Parents could tell their kids to be graceful and courteous like Dravid and Laxman. To be persistent, and to never say die like Kumble. To go into tough situations head on, full of self belief like Dada. And above all, no matter what, to be responsible, strong, yet humble, like Sachin.

Dear Sachin, I would like to thank you and your generation of great cricketers, were helping me grow into the person I am today. I will miss you sorely, and though you may not hear my voice out alone, you will always hear it as part of the chorus in your head, going "Sachiiin, Sachin!"

Thank you for the memories.