He was 16 when he walked down to the middle, got hit on the mouth but continued to bat, in a blood-soaked shirt; and 19 when he scored a ton on the lightning fast pitch at the WACA – considered one of the best innings ever to have been played in Australia. He was 25 when the greatest any sport had ever known – Bradman himself – acknowledged his greatness. By then, the best bowler of the game admitted to having nightmares about him, the best team in the world acknowledged that he reigned supreme. And we all knew he’d be where he is today. It was such an eventuality that anything less would have been unacceptable.
Today, on October 17th, he holds the record for maximum runs and most number of hundreds in both forms of the game. Today, Sachin Tendulkar fulfilled the silent promise he made to each one of us as a curly-haired boy. Today, he has proved all of us right – all of us who believed in him and inched towards this great moment bit by bit. In his feat this afternoon, we all have a share. Ours is a time-tested relationship of endless affection – an affection that has survived ridiculous media campaigns and ‘expert advices’.
Yet, it needs to be mentioned that we stood by his side not because we found him vulnerable, but because we needed to invest in a potential Hero. Sachin was our generation’s best bet for a Hero we badly needed in an age of hubris and greed. When ‘marketable’ literature and cacophonous music of our times failed to inspire, and rationality, like always, needed spiritual support from faith, Sachin rose as someone who could inspire across religions, ethnicities or communities. For an entire generation, Sachin is an integral part of our folklore, of what we fought about, of what made or spoiled our childhood days and what we took in our tiffin-boxes to school.
He has broken all these records for us. He struggled through pain and injuries, grafted when he could have dashed, in the middle of mediocrity and dishonesty, ‘turned stones we threw at him into milestones’ as he puts it, not for himself. He did it for us. He knew that we needed him. And we needed not only his perfect technique and sublime class, also his runs, records and numbers to show that he was a ‘real hero’. To show that he wasn’t like a great film that never did any business on the box-office, nor a great poet who burnt and faded in his own small room. Sachin may be our Superman but he grafts to let us know that there is a Clark Kent side to him, to tell us that Heroes aren’t made in heaven, that they are those of us who dream and fight, those even have the ability to give up their armour fight a tense battle (like Sachin did at Sydney where he refused to score on the off-side). After all, you cannot make heroes out of humans without making your heroes human. And we need those numbers to defend him from below the burden of rationality – the greatest enemy of any Art.
But why must we defend him, you ask? We must defend him for a new generation is rising. It is a generation that does not know our hero. They are in a hurry to erase him, to send him back to the pages of history, to tell him that he is too old for the ‘young sport’. They have reasons. Oh God, they have reasons! How would reason know the pristine beauty of the music Sachin composed unflinchingly for nineteen tiring years! How would they see the beauty of a still head and a high elbow on a profit-and-loss sheet!
Yet, they don’t know his strength. He has all that it takes to be a Hero – Survival, Success and Humility. He hasn’t lost either innocence or devotion. His own idealism isn’t dead. His own heroes inspire him still, like a child. He may be God to many of us, but still remains the most devout worshiper of the sport. And that is why, it’ll take a while to erase him. This is a landmark day for us, not for Sachin. He wasn’t playing for this, ever. His is a different struggle: “To show how to be a man – and a good man – ‘despite’ being the best. How to go on loving despite being the most loved. How to keep yourself inspired despite being the most inspirational thing alive. How to be a Hero and remain a Hero, forever!”
(Thanks to Suresh Menon, Harsha Bhogale and Oscar Wilde)