It began when I started sneaking surreptitiously out of the strict confines of a Roman Catholic institution – to follow the exploits of a fellow schoolboy whose blazing trail had just been sparked off in neighbouring Pakistan.
More than a couple of decades later, the trail continues to blaze along pristine paths where no mortal has treaded before.
Now, as a supposedly responsible manager, I creep behind the forbiddingly workmanlike windows with a careful ALT+TAB, and peep at his continuing saga of success on the pages of the cricket web sites. While he sustains the insatiable appetite to score more and more, I retain the childish craving to break the rules and follow his awe-inspiring achievements. The ageless wonder has also managed to keep me mentally young.
The tale of Tendulkar has for long been intertwined with the story of the young Indian growing up in the eighties and nineties. His meteoric rise in the late eighties and early nineties was an unusually brilliant representative of the spark of genius which shone on painfully rare occasions in the field of Indian sports and games, rising from the shadows of despondence that defined the arena of a developing nation. But, even as a country battled with the remnants of bureaucracy, the adamant refusal to embrace computerisation and open economy, and chugged along with drastically dated information about the world, a teenager showed that change was around the corner. It was reflected in the audacity with which he stroked the ball, throwing caution and the baggage of the past to the winds, carving the revered Abdul Qadir for consecutive sixes, hitting the knighted Richard Hadlee inside out over the covers, taking on the might of the Aussie pace bowlers at the fast, furious Perth while established pillars of batting crumbled around him like bits of brittle bread. Impossibility was just about to be redefined, limits re-laid.
With the coming of globalisation, slowly but surely, India emerged as a force to reckon with on the global map. Along with the newfound confidence of being a player in the world in her own right, Team India too underwent a metamorphosis. The 27 for two specialist of the side no longer had the enormous responsibility of carrying the entire burden of batting on his shoulders. He was no more forced to ensure that India qualified for the finals at Sharjah before proceeding to loft those sixes off Kasprowicz and Fleming to try for an impossible win, bearing the brunt of the media if his single handed attempt at the impossible did not come off.
There matured a Wall to secure the innings, a very, very special artist to paint it in peerless patterns, a big brother to stand up against the bullies of the world and a nuke from Najafgarh to blast opposition attacks to smithereens. Sachin evolved from the one who specialised in fighting losing battles, the engineer of ephemeral dreams, to the quintessential torchbearer who could plant the flag of the nation on the highest pinnacles. In boom time India, Sachin was that extra yard, that final frontier, that elusive peak which the Indian woke up to realise was within his grasp. The country no longer followed the crumbs dropped along the way by the Hansel and Gretel of the West, it cut furrows where no other nation dared to venture. It was this boy who had by now grown into a man who taught the nation how to. Taught them to live in the way he went about scoring runs.
Through his straight drive, one was taught the art of persuasion, the ball coaxed to the fence with the minimum of forceful negotiations. In his paddle sweep was the schoolboy who continued to live, finding cheeky non-existent gaps in patrolled confines to sneak out of the restricting oval into the forbidden boundary. In his upper cuts one came across real innovation, the new Indian who knew to take risks that amounted to audacious calculations. And his pull spoke of colossal confidence in self that defined the emerging superpower.
And now, one less than100 centuries and 33000 runs later, he still goes on and on. Passage of time has probably rounded those rough edges of excitement that used to accompany every foray into the middle. The fractional fraying of the hand eye coordination has probably curbed the fearless arrogance of stroke-play, now passed on to the more than capable hands of Virender Sehwag. But, for each small diminution of the treasure-store of ability, there have been replenishing pearls and diamonds from the many splendored vaults of experience. Time's erosion has been replaced and secured with timeless foundation. Having shown the way to take on the world, he is now the wise general who knows the virtue of consolidation, of accumulation. He has never looked so invulnerable, so impregnable ever in his lustrous career.
He is now the Bhishma Pitamaha of Indian cricket, who cannot retire until the last sling and arrow of fortune is shot in the war that he had started waging decades earlier. Be it regaining the number one slot in Test Cricket, a series victory in Australia or whatever it is that seems to him eligible to be that final feather in his congested crown, he continues to battle on. The one who has perfected his batting to resemble the benchmark of the Don, has perhaps the last personal frontier to conquer.
While Sachin Tendulkar has without doubt been the crowning achievement of the sport of cricket and the rejuvenated nation of India, what follows in the wake of his gargantuan glory brings to light the ancient Upanishadic teaching – everything positive comes with its own inbuilt negative.
There are hordes of so called followers of cricket in our very nation who lift their hind quarters to pee their quaint peeves on the monumental achievements of the man. These consist of the self proclaimed defendants of the society who try to hide their irrational envy behind righteous indignation at a man making money for his phenomenal contributions; the zonal yellow journalists, with a flair for statistical ignorance, who try to cut down each and every exploit of the remarkable cricketer with reasons and ratios that redefine ridiculous; armchair metaphysical scholars who vociferously object at a mortal man being given the sobriquet of 'god' by his following. A most pathological bunch of losers if there ever was any. If the master symbolises the height of Indian achievements in the past couple of decades, these callous critics probably underline all that is wrong with the nation, bringing alive the celebrated history of colonial divide and rule, the propensity to wallow in the muck of one's own making, of being satisfied with glorified mediocrity.
However, the collective contamination of these social stinkers can do little to tarnish the halo that has been the result of two decades of resplendent brilliance, etched with one hundred glittering gemstones. Whatever is the final goal, I await it with an amalgam of hope and trepidation. While nothing would be dearer to me than this giant of a little man to conquer whatever peak he sets sights on, summits the less of ability can hardly make out with the naked eye, a part of me dreads the day when he will make his way to the pavilion for the last time.
I have not known adult life without Sachin Tendulkar at the crease. Without the little man walking out at two drop for India, a whole generation of Indians will start walking alone.