India Today - - COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE - Ku­nal Prad­han Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter@_ku­nal_prad­han

It was the win­ter of 1986. In Lucknow’s idyl­lic can­ton­ment, my un­cle Shyam Babu Sax­ena, a for­mer crick­eter in the Delhi Univer­sity cir­cuit and later a fre­quent vis­i­tor to the Mum­bai maid­ans, was giv­ing me throw-downs with a ten­nis ball on our ter­race. In the mid­dle of this prac­tice ses­sion, he con­spir­a­to­ri­ally said that he was go­ing to tell me some­thing that should write down, and never for­get. He said it was the name of a boy who would one day be the great­est In­dian bats­man the world had ever known. I fetched a pen­cil and pa­per, as any ea­ger eight-year-old would at the prospect of be­ing handed down a se­cret of such un­told value. Two decades later, I found that for­got­ten piece of pa­per nes­tled in­side a Class III text­book. It bore the faded, mis­spelt leg­end: “Sachin Ten­dolkar”.

Sachin was 13 at the time. Over in Mum­bai, young sports writer and later news­pa­per ed­i­tor, Su­nil War­rier, was in­ter­view­ing him for Mid Day af­ter his ex­ploits in school tour­na­ments. In his piece, a scanned copy of which sur­faced re­cently on Twit­ter, War­rier wrote, “Sachin does not like to plod on while bat­ting. He al­ways prefers to at­tack. His only am­bi­tion is to score cen­turies,” be­fore end­ing the piece with a dar­ing prophecy: “Seems to be another San­deep Patil in the mak­ing!” It’s re­mark­able that a jour­nal­ist had felt con­fi­dent enough to la­bel a boy barely in his teens as a fu­ture stal­wart. And ironic that what Sachin went on to be­come eclipsed Patil’s achieve­ments sev­eral times over.

So where do you be­gin to con­jure up the leg­end of Sachin, and where do you stop? He is dif­fer­ent from any other na­tional icon that we have known be­cause he hasn’t just de­fined a gen­er­a­tion, he has pro­pelled it for­ward. He is nei­ther the face of In­dia, nor the sound­track of In­dia. He is nei­ther the hope of suc­cess, nor the har­bin­ger of doom. He was here be­fore we un­der­stood th­ese things. Be­fore we were caught in the trap­pings of lux­ury or se­duced by the em­brace of tech­nol­ogy. He was here at a sim­pler time. He led us into a more com­pli­cated world, as the one con­stant when ev­ery­thing else was chang­ing. He kept us grounded while ask­ing us to reach for the stars.

No­body is per­fect, and nor could Sachin ever be. He has his fail­ings and his fol­lies—both on and off the field—as any other hu­man be­ing would. His lure for ma­te­rial ob­jects was ev­i­denced by his in­fa­mous, now sold, duty-free Fer­rari. His love for mile­stones, par­tic­u­larly cen­turies, was so all-con­sum­ing that he was ac­cused of putting it ahead of the team. Af­ter all, a sta­tis­ti­cal aside cre­ated by com­bin­ing two dif­fer­ent for­mats of cricket—the 100th in­ter­na­tional hun­dred— con­sumed his bat­ting for a year be­tween the springs of 2011 and 2012. Nor has he al­ways han­dled match pres­sure as ef­fort­lessly as his col­leagues VVS Lax­man, M.S. Dhoni and now Vi­rat Kohli. Un­like some om­nipo­tent God, which he is por­trayed as, Sachin of­ten suc­ceeded and some­times failed.

Igor Stravin­sky, the Rus­sianAmer­i­can com­poser, was once asked in a TV in­ter­view what his great­est mo­ment was. Was it when he com­pleted a sym­phony? Was it when he heard it played the first time by an orches­tra? Was it on open­ing night when it was her­alded as one of the great­est works of the 20th cen­tury? No, no, no, he replied. It was when he was sit­ting on the pi­ano, try­ing to look for the right note, and fi­nally, af­ter three or four hours, he found it. “That’s the mo­ment,” he said. “There is noth­ing like it.” There have been na­tional he­roes be­fore Sachin and there will be pan-In­dian su­per­stars af­ter him. But no one else, at least in our times, hit that note more of­ten than he did.

The sto­ries, the fac­toids, the anec­dotes and the im­pact are all side­bars that be­come fas­ci­nat­ing when the per­son they’re about is enthralling enough. In the end, it is Sachin’s cricket that makes him spe­cial, not what he sig­ni­fies or what he means to the coun­try. That is what we will re­mem­ber him for—the ‘Ten­dolkar’ mo­ments that just hap­pened to in­flu­ence, over­lap, or co­in­cide with our lives.

Sachin is nei­ther the hope of suc­cess, nor the har­bin­ger of doom. He was here be­fore we un­der­stood

th­ese things.

For pre­vi­ous cover sto­ries on Sachin Ten­dulkar, log on to­ers

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