Like countless waves sweeping an idyllic beach, a number of images bob up in the mind at the mere mention of Sachin Tendulkar. The beaming smile that he breaks into upon taking a wicket or holding a catch. The push-drive past the bewildered bowler. A grateful look towards the sky on reaching a milestone with the bat.
And there is one of his being under-stated. There are some who believe that he has not expressed, let alone asserted, himself in cricket’s boardrooms. But perhaps he sees his role as having to just play cricket and not worry too much about the administrative aspects of the game. His role in the team may have been changing all the time and he has kept it simple all the time.
To be sure, he was an integral part of a bunch of players who campaigned quietly to bring about change in Indian cricket over the past decade. Along with Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, he convinced the mandarins of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to hire a coach and support staff from overseas so that the team could realise its potential.
He has remained glued in his middle-class roots and humility, the streak of arrogance (not the negative kind) surfacing only when dominating the opposition attack and getting the rival captain to scratch his head in wonderment. He has played his game with dignity and grace, taking the highs and the lows in his stride.
Yet, rising above all these, is the image of a fiercely proud Indian. And not just by wearing a tricolor on his batting helmet. He may have made just one foray in the risky business of making a political statement but it is important for him to be an Indian, first and foremost. And this even if he seemed to be taking on those who claimed Mumbai belonged only to Marathis.
“Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that. But I am an Indian first,” he said when even the questioner expected him to come up with a “No comments” response. He did not hesitate in expressing himself in lucid terms despite a raging controversy.
Away from this, I am aware of how he exhorted his team-mates to be seen singing the National Anthem before the start of each ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Someone had drawn his attention to the fact that some of them hadn’t been singing the Anthem in the first couple of games. He knew how important it was for the team to make all hearts beam with National pride.
He has remained a concerned citizen, dedicating his 41st Test century – a 103 not out that helped India beat England by six wickets in Chennai in December 2008 – to the victims of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai. He has spent time with the police bravehearts and their families and telling them that he admired them and their courage.
He has always drawn from other sport like tennis, Formula One racing and football, nurturing his admiration for Roger Federer, Ferrari and Manchester United. He has more than passing interest in music and films. His admiration of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle as singers and AR Rahman as a composer is as well documented as his being a fan of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits. He is an acknowledged Amitabh Bachchan buff.
Come to think of it, the converse is true as well as all these and more are his fans too. Yet, despite having hordes of admirers and friends in high places, he has remained rooted in humility, maintaining a low profile and not getting involved in areas that he has little interest in. There are a number of lessons we can learn from him but, yes, the biggest is not to forget our own roots and to take pride in being Indian.
At 38, he can charge up a whole nation when he walks in to bat. Besides inspiring India, he can do many things, and wonderfully at that. For instance, he can find the time to get away to a karting track in Powai in the dead of the night to be able to get behind the wheels of a Go-kart. Or, take his family to Mussoorie on a holiday.
For all the images he has given over the past 23 years, we will have to do without one – that of Tendulkar going shopping on an Indian street and driving a bargain. But you will agree that it is a small price for us to pay for being around to experience the many delights that the man offers us when he is playing cricket.