May 5, 2013
How Tendulkar helped me retire, unhurt
I call my generation of Indians as the "Doordarshan generation", because of the shared monoculture embodied by the national broadcaster and the overwhelming nostalgia for the DDiot box. "Tendulkar generation" may be another good candidate: we came into sporting consciousness by surfing the after-wave of the '83 Cup victory and helped make cricket a single-minded national obsession.
In the centre was "Sachiiin, Sachin". He was the only child prodigy we could tolerate and not feel envious of. He became a solitary and tragic soap operatic figure - Fate, doubtlessly clad in rich georgettes and heavy makeup, constantly conspired to thwart his success and tried his sincerity and talent in every episode. Like our moms would with Tulsi and her ilk, we stood by him, knowing Sachineva Jayate. There were those who doubted him, and fought from the shoulders of Sourav or Rahul, but we knew we'd win in the end.
And look who is still padding up. The end has come and gone.
My relationship with sport has changed dramatically. It may be a dreaded sign of becoming a grown-up or an inevitable cooling off. The first signs came when I realised I had accumulated very few stories of watching sport from recent times. No more I-sat-up-and-watched or did-you-also-notice or I-still-can't-believe-it. The few stories that stuck featured Federer, Nadal, and Messi. Where at one point, I had shelves full of daring cricket stories, now I had the woodwork being gnawed away by the termites of apathy.
Like a Nick Hornby character, I could write an autobiographical account purely through the lens of Indian cricket and Tendulkar. The Abdul Qadir over: I was at a friend's place, watching my friend's father howling in delight over this little fella smacking the world's best leggie. Aamir Sohail's wicket to turn around the '92 WC match: at home, during exams, just after a immensely annoying but short power-cut. '93 Hero Cup Semi-Final: at cousin's place the day after father was admitted to hospital with malaria. The Pakistan Test at Chennai: on stage at a quiz final, getting score updates from the only person on stage with both a pager and a complete lack of interest in sport.
And so on and so forth through the nineties and the noughties and what-do-they-call-this-decades, proving wrong uncles who thought India couldn't chase big scores, proving friends right through big-match failures, collapsed in prayer and stuck in superstitious chairs, and choosing to stay away from debates of being "overrated". And a World Cup win, and a 4th innings chase, and some other tidbits. (But never a direct hit: he always sucked at throwing down the stumps to run someone out.)
We knew that one day it would happen: Sachin would retire. This wasn't a Superman comic or a Nancy Drew book or a myth about a Chiranjeev. Things came to an end. And then there was personal business. In these enlightened times where everyone sings solemn paeans to productivity, it was hard to ignore the time being spent in watching your team lose. Or win. It was hard to tell the difference any more. So I knew I would have to move on too. Perhaps, somewhat like with friends from fifth standard, I could promise to 'keep in touch'. But the channel doesn't show Sportscenter anymore and the subcription to Sportstar lapsed two years ago.
So how would I feel? What would I miss? What would I do, post-retirement? These questions circled around me, setting up me up for a soft dismissal that I would weep over.
The Master Blaster to the rescue. I don't know how, but I've been led to a point where I just couldn't care. The fan-muscles had atrophied, but with overuse. No debate would goad me into a response; no allegation would rile me; no snigger would evoke an instinctive reaction. Yes, Tendulkar is still around, far beyond what anyone would have expected a decade ago. He's overseen my transition from naive and rabid supporter to oxymoronic objective fan looking for beauty in sport to a devil-may-care-but-I-don't bystander. This is mostly true of cricket; since my involvement with other sports was relatively skin-deep, they have escaped this fierce U-turn.
100 hundreds, or 24 years not out, or 30k+ runs - the numbers are so big that they are insignificant. Somewhat like the length of the orbit of Jupiter. It makes utterly no difference to my life - and if he hadn't been around for so long, I would not have realised that.
This makes my cricket retirement utterly bearable, and I have, like with many things in life, Sachin Tendulkar to thank for it.
* Some of my old Tendulkar posts
* A truly illuminating article by Jonathan Wilson on the value of sport to our lives.