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.

images

 

 

 

 

 

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”

Advertisements
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!!”

images

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.

2013, Calcutta, News, Telegraph Calcutta

When Greg Comes To Gangulytown, Effigywallahs Haunt Him

Calcutta: He came despite the effigywallahs. There were enough of them at a time, especially in this city, for him to ponder cheeky profit — craft miniature effigies, trade them at a dollar a piece and die a rich man.

He came despite having had to wonder whether it had been worth trysting with India or Indian cricket, which can often begin to seem the same thing.

He came winging all the way from Melbourne for forty minutes on an arc-lit stage erected in another man’s honour.

Greg Chappell must desperately believe there are more pieces to his mind than got picked during his truncated tutorship of Team India. Any takers or none, he revealed some of the leftovers this evening in the course of a meditation on whether India can become the Brazil of cricket.

Continue reading “When Greg Comes To Gangulytown, Effigywallahs Haunt Him”

2013, Essay, Telegraph Calcutta

The Swan Whose Song The Aussies Won’t Miss

At Mohali in 2010,VVS Laxman revealed why for the last time 

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;

Bring me my Arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

–William Blake

They counted on that sore lower vertebra of his too much and forgot the man had a spine attached to it. In the first outing, pain had chained his reach and rasp. He came late and left early, half cocking a benign dipper into the slips: VVS Laxman, caught Michael Clarke bowled Nathan Hauritz for two.

This morning he put a bone to his back, like a warrior would put sword to scabbard, and strode into the field of slaughter, unbothered that it was already soaked in blood and more would leap from the spoils to stain his whites. For him this was a classic triple-relish moment. Laxman favours the second innings, he favours a fight to the finish even more. But ever more than any of that, he has a fondness for favouring the Aussies with silken dictatorship. It began as an adolescent fancy, punishing the men from Down Under, then flowered from hobby to habit to hallmark.

Continue reading “The Swan Whose Song The Aussies Won’t Miss”