All of us in India know only too well what the forthcoming retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from cricket means to our nation. That understanding is rooted in what this ‘belief-man of India’ showed us in the last 24 years and it’s something we will all genuinely miss. He is a dream to millions of us. And undoubtedly, an inspiration. But to me, there is a larger picture that the Tendulkar saga gave us i.e. for a developing economy like ours that is waiting to unleash its potential on the world, here is a sporting icon who demonstrated to us how it’s done from his walk of life. And by extension, to other walks of life.
Despite all the changes that we have seen in cricket, the game is fundamentally still about scoring runs and taking wickets. Tendulkar taught us how to score runs better than anyone else. He taught us how India can be a world-beater, if she wants to. He exposed us to the theory that we can be the best that there is, if we chose to be. Sachin showed us that we can not only be the best in the times that we live in, but can also be the best that there ever was/will be. All this, grounded in some supremely valid old world habits. He taught us that if you work hard at what you are basically very good at, it is realistically possible to hone your skills and come out top-notch.
As Indians, old values of hard work, discipline and great work ethics have been inherited by us from our ancestors. But, in this modern digital era, where instant gratification is more the norm than the exception, Tendulkar taught us why those old values still hold true and are perhaps India’s biggest strength. To me, the biggest lesson that Tendulkar gave us was, it’s one thing to be talented, and it’s quite another thing to use that talent to be the best that you can be. His lesson to millions of people has gone far beyond the cricket stadium where the world saw him educate us, in his own style.
Tendulkar’s cricketing story is certainly a part of sporting folklore. But, what he taught us is something that I think will be mentioned in the same vein as the lessons that the great Mahatma Gandhi taught us (Bapu mainly stood for non-violence, peace and freedom struggle). The lessons from Tendulkar, is more than likely to be repeated for generations to come i.e. simplicity, dedication, discipline, hard work, high values and ethics, non-compromising in the wake of hostility, answering critics with performance and nothing else, sustenance, longevity…the list is endless. It is quite natural for me to compare Tendulkar’s stature in the Indian context to that of the Mahatma, simply because, both these great men were able to sustain their vision and deliver on it like no other. People dream about being successful, about being liked and accepted, about having a great career etc. But, Mahatma Gandhi from the 20th century and Tendulkar from the modern era are two people who simply captured the collective imagination of Indians and others on the world stage. That is rare, tough and extremely inspiring for generations to come. Both of them had self-belief, far beyond what is normal for any human being. But, for that sort of self-belief to translate into performance on such a mass scale, leading them to become icons of their generation and beyond is enough reason for the rest of us to learn from these two phenomenal people that we have been privileged to see from our shores.
I called Tendulkar as the belief-man of India and it’s something I have believed in for a long time. The great man, at the very heart of it, taught us what self-belief means and how it needs to be used to one’s own benefit. I still remember that Adidas ad of the 1990s, where they showed Tendulkar playing on a pitch in adverse conditions and a mother praying for this great sportsman to win the match. That is the consciousness that this man managed to seep through. He quite literally, brought a nation to a halt when he batted. We have had sporting greats being idolized, but this man was worshipped. That in itself is a rare enough phenomenon. He was not about just scoring centuries in different parts of the world. He was about making us believe that yes, delirious success is a genuine possibility, irrespective of which sphere of life we were in.
To me, the lasting memories of Sachin's test match saga are three-fold - all three, are from his iconic centuries). First, that incredible 114 in Perth in 1992; second, 136 against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999, and third 108 in Chennai against England in 2008. Incredible batting displays that gave us lessons of life as it were. Three amazing knocks, tremendously different in their nature, and each knock with a profound message. The Perth knock was an innings far ahead of his times and told the world that India is no pushover in the toughest cricket pitch on the planet; the Pakistan knock was a message to fight the most extreme adversity in life against the toughest odds possible against your arch-rivals and a demonstration of what it means to give it your all; and that magical, even romantic innings against England that told us what it means to do your bit in order to cheer a billion hearts when terrorists had plundered the Taj in Mumbai. Amazing, amazing, amazing cricketer, who brings tears to my eyes, just as it swells with pride & admiration. Not to mention, supreme inspiration!
Sure enough, for a few weeks, this great cricketer has managed to snatch the attention of billions of fans from politicians (in an election year) to his last 2 test matches at the iconic Eden Gardens and Wankhede Stadium. That, in a country that is steeped in political history, is an achievement that not too many other cricketers could have managed.
Let’s enjoy the last 8 days of test match cricket that this once-in-a-generation cricket will play. Let’s not look back at his 24 years, but live the moment like he taught us to. I so look forward to the ooh-aah’s when he bats in the next 4 innings. I am also very certain that there will be more than a tear on 18 November when he walks back to the pavilion at the Wankhede stadium. It’s a big ouch (after the ooh-aahs), that we need to get used to.
I only hope that what this great man taught us enables us to extend it to our respective walks of life and try to make India the best that there can be. For now, it really is, Sachiiiiiiin, Sachin, in true, vociferous, genuine, heartfelt Indian style!