It started when I started sneaking surreptitiously out of the strict confines of a Roman Catholic institution to follow the exploits a fellow schoolboy whose blazing trail had just been sparked off in neighbouring Pakistan.
Two decades later, the trail continues to blaze along pristine paths where no mortal has treaded before. And now, as a supposedly responsible manager, I creep with a careful ALT+TAB past the forbiddingly workmanlike windows, to peep at his continuing saga of success in the pages of Cricinfo. While he sustains the insatiable appetite to score more and more, I retain the childish craving to break the rules to follow his awe-inspiring achievements. The ageless wonder has also managed to keep me mentally young.
With the coming of globalisation, slowly but surely, India emerged as a force to reckon with. Along with the newfound confidence of being a player in the world in her own right, Team India too underwent metamorphosis. The 27 for two specialist of the team no longer had the enormous responsibility of carrying the burden of batting on his own shoulders. He was no longer forced to ensure that India qualified for the finals at Sharjah before proceeding to loft those sixes off Kasprowicz and Fleming to try for an impossible win, bearing the brunt of the media if his single handed attempt at the impossible did not come off.
There matured a Wall to secure the innings, an artist to paint it in peerless patterns, a dada to stand up against the bullies of the world and a nuke from Najafgarh to blast opposition attacks to smithereens. Sachin evolved from the one who specialised in fighting losing battles, the engineer of ephemeral dreams, to the quintessential torchbearer who could plant the flag of the nation on the highest pinnacles. In boom time India, Sachin was that extra yard, that final frontier, that elusive peak which the Indian woke up to realise was within grasp. The country no longer followed the crumbs dropped along the way by the Hansel and Gretel of the west, it cut furrows where no other nation dared to tread. It was this boy who had grown into a man who taught the nation how to. Taught them to live in the way he went about scoring runs.
Through his straight drive, one was taught the art of persuasion, the ball coaxed to the fence with the minimum of forceful negotiations. In his paddle sweep was the schoolboy who continued to live, finding cheeky non-existent gaps in patrolled confines to sneak out of the restricting oval into the forbidden boundary. In his upper cuts one came across real innovation, the new Indian who knew to take risks that amounted to audacious calculations. And his pull spoke of colossal confidence in self that defined the emerging superpower.
And now, 49 centuries and 14000 runs later, with almost double the figures if one considers the One Day Internationals, he still goes on and on. The dada has passed on into the shady confines of the IPL, cracks and crevices appear on the great Wall that for long sheltered the batting order and an work of inspired genius by the artist is often followed by days in recuperating recess. Passage of time has probably rounded those rough edges of excitement that used to accompany every foray into the middle. The fractional fraying of the hand eye coordination has probably curbed the audacity of the stroke-play, now passed on to the more than capable hands of Virender Sehwag. But, for each small diminution of the treasure-store of ability, there has been replenishing pearls and diamonds from the many splendored vaults of experience. Time's erosion has been replaced and secured with timeless foundation. Having shown the way to take on the world, he is now the wise general who knows the virtue of consolidation, of accumulation. He has never looked so invulnerable, so impregnable.
He is now the Bhishma Pitamaha of Indian cricket, who cannot retire until the last sling and arrow of fortune in the war for the world cup is shot. The one who has perfected his batting to resemble the benchmark of the Don in the last year, and yet has that last frontier to conquer.
While Sachin Tendulkar has without doubt been the crowning achievement of the sport of cricket and the rejuvenated nation of India, what follows in the wake of his gargantuan glory brings to light the ancient Upanishadic teaching – everything positive comes with its own inbuilt negative.
There are hordes of so called followers of cricket in our very nation who lift their hind quarters to pee their quaint peeves on the monumental achievements of the man. These consist of the self proclaimed defendants of the society who try to hide their irrational envy behind righteous indignation at a man making money for his phenomenal contributions, and the zonal yellow journalists, with a flair for statistical ignorance, who try to cut down each and every exploit of the remarkable cricketer with reasons and ratios that redefine ridiculous. A most pathological bunch of losers if there ever was any. If the master symbolises the height of Indian achievements in the past couple of decades, these callous critics probably underline all that is wrong with the nation, bringing alive the celebrated history of colonial divide and rule, the propensity to wallow in the muck of one's own making, of being satisfied with glorified mediocrity.
However, the collective contamination of these social stinkers can do little to tarnish the halo that has been the result of two decades of resplendent brilliance. 15000 runs, a 100 hundreds, a World Cup triumph? Whatever is the final goal, I await it with an amalgam of hope and trepidation. While nothing would be dearer to me than this giant of a little man to conquer whatever peak he sets sights on, summits the less of ability can hardly make out with the naked eye, a part of me dreads the day when he will make for the pavilion the last time. I have not known adult life without Sachin Tendulkar at the crease. Without the little man walking out at two drop for India, a whole generation of Indians will start walking alone.