Sooner or later, it was all going to come down to this.
This is the moment most Indian sports writers, bloggers and journalists have been dreading. Their job demands them to be the voice of reason, and to use their analytical skills to put across a point that won’t have them lynched, mobbed or killed.
But when have reason, logic and rationality gone hand in hand with their most recent subject, a familiar, yet strange topic that could have been avoided longer- about a man named Sachin Tendulkar?
Alarm bells are ringing, as they have been for the entire Test team, for more than a year. Names have been thrown, whispers acknowledged and heads called for- in a typically brisk Indian manner.
Amidst the ruins and chaos, amidst the record-shattering losses across the world, as always, a hero endured. This hero, a legend of near-mythical proportions in the Neo-Eastern World, has transcended time for well over five years now. The Champion-has-one-last-fightback argument has been rendered meaningless and flawed by this sportsman- for he is an athlete that has blurred the line between a second wind and a stretched comeback. He has been coming back for so long, that his adoring fans don’t remember when he was just a player at his prime. Maybe this is his prime, they reasoned, and his entire career was made up of small, space-defying comebacks at varied intervals.
But words like that couldn’t possibly do justice to what the man actually represented. He is far more than a man with a bat. He is more than a symbol of hope for a nation that romanticizes impossibilities and worships illusions of the supernatural. He is the face of a country that yearns for the anti-mediocre, a world that prides itself on being the underdog.
If there is no Sachin, what to do? If there is nobody to remind you of phenomenal longitivity, peerless dedication and breathless application over more than two decades, what to do? If he doesn’t stare back at you from those hoardings with a twinkle in his eye, reminding you that you were born just like him, what to do? If there is no hero, there will be no villain- there will be no Australia, there will be no critics, what to do?
If there is no good, there cannot be any bad. If there is no bat, there will never be a field. There will never be a past, that was centered around fragmented memories of a curly-haired boy with a bat- the time you took your first step, the time you had your first kiss in between two innings, the time you first got drunk with your mates wondering if your team could let you down further, the time you got into a good college and silently thanked Sachin for being there through this, even if you liked Lara more, the time you got married and talked about cricket to an ex-Ranji player who idolizes Sachin’s teammate…
Another time, slowly but surely, is coming. Given our sensational ability to write off a legend before he writes himself off, we will bay for the hero’s blood. Because, deep inside, even we hope that his blood could be different. Maybe it’s green, maybe it’s just not blood.
Whatever it is, he is one of us now.
HOW could he be one of us? We created him, over two painstaking decades? He is immortal. He is…Sachin. Sach is Life, no?
We will, atleast viscerally, get him to stoop at our feet, and ask him again and again: Why are you still here? Why aren’t you in bed? Have you NOT given us enough to hope for, to live for? Why are you doing so much for a nation that loves the fall as much as the rise? Why are you doing so much that we can’t ever pay you back?
And rightly so.
But is he merely a player in this team? Is he just a no. 4 batsman who happens to be one of the greatest cricketers of all time? Or is he just a human, with the right team and sidekicks around him, who has learned to endure much more than the rest, just to do what he wants to do. Just to be the Bat-man.
He will rise again, they say. Maybe he doesn’t need to. He does not owe us anything more. He’s done everything for the people, and for himself- and there is nothing more to give.
We can still hear him say, ‘Not everything. Not yet’, but there is nobody knocking down his door and testing him. 2011 was the year all his fears, the villains, the anti-heroes, the gremlins and the beasts came out to play. He won some, he lost some.
But he’s losing 2012, and the world is losing him.
What we don’t want to see now: The Bat-man fearing the Bat itself- a far cry from the boy who grew up amongst big bats, refusing to fear the ball even as he was thrown into the pit of no return.
But, as many of us know, fear can do funny things. Fear could make an ageing legend- a shadow of what he once was- jump across the crease and whip the ball to the boundary, without worrying about the rope that holds him back.
Do we all yearn for that last leap? Or do we just hope for it, because it still gives us hope, and still helps us conform to a world with a superhero?
It doesn’t matter.
Because now, as a great filmmaker has written, you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it, because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out.
You want to be fooled.