New Delhi, November 14, 2009
All around us today all of India is talking a language called 'Tendulkar'.
His twenty years has led to actors delivering lines, singers hitting notes, academics offering profundities, colleagues offering praises over partnership, coaches delivering theories, friends telling their tales.
Yet, most of his admirers remain unknown. They climb trees to look into a stadium, push the one ahead of them to grab a cheap seat, stand on the street shifting from one foot to another, duck down security barriers, run along the team bus to catch sight of him. When they see him, they become the single biggest sound in cricket.
Today, it is they who are smiling silently. If they are merely distant fringes of his life, flecks seen from behind his sunglasses, he is at the centre of theirs. Because every time Tendulkar sets off to the crease, he takes with him the only thing they own - their pride. And today, that is bursting. Twenty years on, the batsman of their dreams is still there - and he remains real.
In his twentieth year, Tendulkar has of course been turned into a monument, a deity. As India stretched itself through the 1990s and into the new millennium he went from Cherub-Face to Funky-Haircut, prodigy to big brand. He owns the Ferrari and a Mike Knopfler guitar hangs on a wall in his house. He is thought of as so valuable now they will cut trees to produce some 35kg piece of furniture about him and call it a book.
But Tendulkar is where he is because when it comes to what he does, he has hung onto the most ordinary of descriptions. He is truly precious because he has remained the working man. Sure, his work happens to be visible and public. Sure, it attracts and seduces India, sending a country's blood pumping. Yet to him, it has remained his craft, his trade, his soul and he has given it his complete absorbtion. It is the quality that has made him the batsman he is. Not his eye, his timing, not even his gleaming, polished talent. Skills and gift could take him a distance, but only his mind in cricket and his heart towards it, could have lasted twenty years.
When he bats, everyone watches. He reaches a demographic which the movie star and the politician would envy but will not ever possess. Male and female, young, middle-aged and old, business mogul and the man who polishes his shoes, students, teachers and drop outs, Indians in every corner of the country and the nooks and crannies of the world. When he had his tennis elbow injury, a room in his house piled up with medicines, oils, plasters, bandages, supports, sent by his fans from everywhere.
In the time Tendulkar wrote the story of his career, he has given us ours. Pradeep Ramarathnam, a multinational executive in Bangalore today, thinks that Tendulkar brought sons and mothers closer. And in a way, God as well. In the 1990s, Ramarathnam's mother who never followed cricket, watched Tendulkar with him, amazed by the young batsman's age and mastery. Whenever Tendulkar arrived at the crease, Ramarathnam was told to rush off and pray for him. It was his mother's way of teaching him the prayers, but the son believed it was his way of ensuring Tendulkar didn't get out early. Well, he hasn't.
Every fan has a personal Tendulkar story about the man's presence that has nothing to do with chance meetings.
The twenty-year anniversary has led to a wild outbreak of festivities in the media with Tendulkar probably sitting through more interviews in the space of a few weeks than he has done in two decades. It is his twentieth year, but actually his 21st season.
Think about it, it is in those seasons he has made his name, reputation and those towering records and he's already crossed twenty. The meticulous man would probably have noted 2008-09 as No. 20 passing by. That slipped out of the rest of our thinking and even statisticians didn't send out alerts. It didn't matter. Tendulkar turned up from South Africa and sent out his: 175 in Hyderabad that sent TV ratings and India's pulse racing.
So never mind talking Tendulkar. As season 21 continues after the celebrations of Year 20, all that must be felt is contentment. All that must be experienced is enjoyment, all that must be appreciated is presence. It is what Sachin Tendulkar has given us all.