2013, Bombay, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

A Reward Unto Himself, A Reminder Unto Another

Mumbai, Nov 16: A thought may have travelled far across the globe from here and struck Roger Federer wherever he is: Time to go?

Could there be more to the reason why Federer became the first non-cricketing sportsman to tweet Sachin Tendulkar farewell than just that they have made a habit of meeting during the Championship at Wimbledon each summer? Could it also be the tennis star has sighted in the cricket icon the grey apparition impending closer upon him? Retirement?

Like Sachin, Federer has already moved into the lofty and lonesome manhattan of achievement. He has spared no trophy left to grab. His exploits have defied earthly gravity. His following is its own Christendom. His coffers must cough to suffocation. His mantel must groan with the burden of achievement. His body, like Sachin’s, has begun to reveal that unconquerable thing called age. He’s only 32 to Sachin’s 40, but if modern turns on a brutal treadmill, international tennis is rubber on an F1 lap. It burns you out.

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Federer’s down seeded sixth on the ATP charts, behind David Ferrer and Juan Del Potro. He’s lost bouts recurrently to the others who make up the top five: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovich, Andy Murray. He’s begun to snarl at play and gnash in defeat. He’s unrelenting yet to what his body might tell him. He will give up his serenity and turn to scrapping, if that’s what it’ll take hereon to bark the competition off court. He’s busy banishing approaching ghosts and said somewhere recently he is still planning, as always, 18 months ahead. Which means he’s already thinking Wimbledon 2015. Which may well mean, he’s also mulling what the arrangements of what transpired at the Wankhede this afternoon.

It came to pass that at high noon Sachin soaked up the shadows of a matchless journey under his hat and said goodbye.  A tear fell, or several, Sachin will best be able to tell, and became an ellipse of full stops. Game’s end.

A cruelly truncated end, for he may have rightfully bargained on ten last days out on the park and four last outings with the bat. The West Indies were keener on a triumphal sendoff than Sachin probably cared for. They lasted two and three quarter days at Eden and fewer here on Sachin’s home ground. Their woeful deficits made a moth-eaten series of it and ended up robbing Sachin an entire game’s playtime. It was a 2-0 defeat conceded, improbably, in the time it takes to conclude one Test.

This morning, the Best Men of Sachin’s farewell party put some of their calypso abandon on display, but none of the fearsome authority that was as much part of the West Indian credo. They extended lunch, but showed no stomach for a fight. They made a meal of themselves, bowled out for far fewer than Clive Lloyd alone hit up (242) at Wankhede’s inaugural game in January 1975. Lloyd isn’t the size that’s easily concealed, but through the course of this match, the Big Cat may have been looking for a suitable place in the Wankhede pavilion to shake off the blushes.

Came another crown a little later in the day that may have waited on the glow of Sachin’s final tryst with cricket to abate. Intimation with grace is not an undue demand to make on the highest honour this nation bestows on its citizens, a divined moment, a well-lit place, a standout assignation. The Bharat Ratna hurtled off the government’s cooling rooms to join the end of a scrummy beeline extended before Sachin: a commemorative stamp, a BCCI cap, a STAR India trophy, an MCA trophy, a Mumbai Police album, a Sri Lankan government medal, then Bharat Ratna.

The crown Sachin has signed off wearing is mostly the aggregate of his own singular labours; the Bharat Ratna could have displayed lesser haste than to lunge and want itself pinned on it rightaway.

Today, Sachin could have been afforded just his own radiance, just his own easy eloquence which few knew existed until he began to speak, just the gathered rewards of his own realm — a cuddled family, an engaged coach, a praying mother, a father somewhere in the radiance overhead, a fondness of mates past and present, a reclusive mentor-brother somewhere in the shadows, a lachrymose constituency rooted round the stands interminably long after Mohammed Shami had castled Shannon Gabriel and coaxed a Peter Pan cackle of joy from the 40-year-old at square leg. He’d only just retired and was clapping his own curtains down.

PS: If Sachin Tendulkar is synomous with Indian cricket, it remains, hearteningly, on good shoulders: his last lap of honour Sachin concluded borne by two men named Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli.  Roger Federer will have to trek off court solo, whenever he calls it quits, and with his own shoulder to carry the kitbag on.

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2013, Bombay, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song

 

Mumbai, Nov 15: In his redolent memoir of a life fully lived, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda recounted a childhood fragment of hunting swans — big unwieldy birds, clumsy of flight, easy to strike down. As a boy, Neruda once tended a battered swan as big as himself for several weeks, until one day its neck twisted and the swan keeled. “It was then that I learned,” Neruda wrote, as only he could, “that swans don’t sing when they die.”

Should some quirk of magic-realism have brought the laureate to the Wankhede for Sachin’s swansong this morning, he may have considered revising his evocation of how swans die.

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This one danced all the way to sudden death, laying back, stepping down, swinging, twisting, flicking, flickering on like a flame nobody save eleven West Indians on the park wanted put out. He brought the spectators tiers to sing and swing along. He was on a waltz that held the swell and ebb of a million pumping hearts, temporarily the sole conductor of diastoles and systoles.

Continue reading “Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song”

Bombay, Mumbai, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Sachin Tendulkar: Where No Man Has Been Before

Mumbai, Nov 14: History is unbeaten on 38 and has taken an overnight break. The future resumes in a while. A little past nine in the morning, millions of hearts will leap back into mouths and begin to palpitate like prayer.

Sachin Tendulkar’s last stand on the cricket field has interrupted this long and cheerless season of cynicism, drowned out unseemly political blame and claim, smothered the clamour on many embattled barricades and brought a whole nation to exult in unison: “Saachin! Saachin!!”

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Despondency and dissonance can await restoration on prime time; at 33 minutes past three this afternoon, Sachin began to cause a happy disruption, however temporary, with a kilo and a half of willow at the Wankhede.

He brought it sheathed in India colours, and wielded it like a wand of undiminished magic. He made it seem an outrageous travesty he is hanging his cap on it after this one and taking it home forever, signing off at a chosen peak because he can see none else left to climb.

Every moment he has spent on the playing park in recent years, every single run he has scored, has become a new space no man has ever been before. No one has played as many Tests, no one has scored as many runs; maybe he is bored on this solo run, weary of pushing the boundaries so far his company has fallen out of sight.

He pushed a little further on today for cricket and country, and progressed farther afield, a little more solitary in that zone. Six missives to the ropes in his unfinished essay — four exquisite taunts to gaps on the off boundaries, a delectable paddle to fine leg, and the last, a signature posting of authority to long on. Fourteen singles, squeezed about and caressed, 51 other offerings patiently seen through, as if he were determined to make his last fling more than just a one-night stand. He was correct as a textbook throughout; only, the Windies, who have given a torrid description of themselves thus far, couldn’t read him.

Darren Sammy’s men stood Sachin a gracious guard of honour as he walked in, then immediately laid an elaborate snare — slip, close in, short point, forward short leg, a fine leg so short he could pick Sachin’s back-pocket, and wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin breathing down his bootlaces. Shane Shillingford, the lone Caribbean shark on tour, had the blood of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay fresh on his fingers; he was finning in for another kill. Sachin dabbed and padded and then twirled one to square leg and called ‘run’, oblivious that Cheteshwar Pujara couldn’t possibly have heard him at the other end. The roar lifting off the Wankhede was such, it was pushing the risen tides of the Arabian Sea on the close by shore. “Saachin! Saachin!!”

For the better part today, the Wankhede centrestage was actually the fringe — deep fine leg, or third man, or long off, where Sachin stood as the West Indians crumbled yet again around the pole of a promising start. For all the merry wreckage Pragyan Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin & Co were causing mid-field, the arena’s attentions roved and settled where Sachin went. It was a crowd unwilling to concede cricket is an eleven-a-side game; it was there just for that one diminutive giant minding the fence in a floppy hat.

To behold Sachin unmindfully tapping grass and enacting that trademark pre-stance crouch in the face of such imploring adulation was to be in the vicinity of a transcendent presence. How may a man contain the reverberation of a million jangling nerves, let alone his own?  How may a man remain calm in the eddy of high-decibel arousal and expectation he has come to cause? Sachin looked so removed and disengaged under his helmet from the reverence rippling around, it almost seemed a rude thing to do.

But then, he may have been otherwise occupied. He may have been paying final obeisance to the craft that has made Sachin Tendulkar what he is — beyond adjective or ascription, Sachin Tendulkar himself. The Chief Editor of my newspaper is possessed of quirky inventiveness with metaphors. He discontinued describing the few things he reckoned world-class as world-class a while back; he began to call them Tendulkar-class.

The world saw Sachin salute the Wankhede turf before he took guard today; what he may have kept to himself was a bow to mother Rajini whose first match-day out at the stadium would be her son’s last. And to guru Ramakant Achrekar, who arrived on the viewing deck in a wheel-chair to watch his ward play one final time.

Sachin’s elders may have to make that effort one more time tomorrow. History is still in the scripting. And when Sachin enters the Wankhede bowl tomorrow, he might well render the future for his cricketing peers a little more unattainable. Breathe easy, this man has nothing more to prove than the undying expectations of his following.