Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Final Test, Exit Sachin Tendulkar - Dilip D'Souza

Did you miss the last Test match Sachin Tendulkar played? His 200th Test match ? If you have not been there in November 2013 (or even if you have been there) and wish to be in the Wankhede stadium again, read Dilip's book 'Final Test - Exit Sachin Tendulkar' The book picks you up from Bandra - pick-up point Dilip's home - which is opposite Sachin's, and takes you into the Wankhede stadium. Tickets, trains, journalists, die-hard emotional fans, institutions, noises, smells, tastes, feelings and sights engulf you in this ride as the book chugs on. You are overwhelmed by it all but there's a rational voice next to you, the author's, unobtrusively and inoffensively putting forth arguments and thoughts that could offend, if said in any other way. You cannot argue with cold facts, intelligent arguments and logical observations, especially if they come served on an honest platter. So you nod your head, wonder why nobody had the guts to point out some of these issues before and why everyone is bending over to make this happen, and yet, the author has not lost sight of the real thing, the exit of one man who held the reigns to our wildest hopes over many years and made many things seem possible.

The phenomenon of Tendulkar began in the late eighties. Dilip writes beautifully on how the phenomenon impacted us socially, psychologically and economically even. You can read it in the book. Let me tell it from my viewpoint as I experienced the way he impacted us in the past two decades. The late eighties was a time that was hopeful at best. We were all hazy twenty somethings who had just got used to the huge idea that we were lucky enough to be World Champions in 1983. (Amitabh Bachchan fought our wars on the screen till then but he was growing older and we could still not relate to real success except that some injustices were righted.) If that one win in 1983 proved to us that we Indians could be looked at kindly by the gods (who seemed to be white by the way), we started hearing news of this run machine who dominated proceedings in school cricket matches. He was not limited by our fears; instead he seemed to think that we should be winning the World Cup every time, every day. Play him anywhere and he'd attack. His approach threw off any aspects of fear, of subservience, of wanting to survive. He wanted to dominate. He blew away all concepts of good - he wanted to be the best. He had developed the skill, he had the attitude and he had the courage and burning desire to drag a whole nation of negative thinkers, timid people who settled easily, divisive people into what seemed to be the light. The entire team bent itself around him as he became the nucleus, bowlers and oppositions started fearing India as an opponent and a new energy crept in. Could we all be like that?

Can one man pull a whole nation and its collective consciousness out of a hole we had dug ourselves into with sheer application, skill and dedication to the medium? It cannot happen overnight. But it did- it happened slowly. We started to believe that we can dominate, not by talking of the past, but by our current actions. But we also found that it was difficult to sustain such levels of excellence because it is hard work. We tried in many ways to blame  and pull down this newly constructed tower of excellence. This we-frogs-will-pull you-down effect told on Tendulkar surely as he changed his game to be more responsible, to look for outcome than mere dominance, to change his technique and his psyche. In the end perhaps, he wanted to prove that he was right. Slowly but surely, through his injuries and the sheer length of time, his love for the game, his surrender to the force that he was blessed with, he did pull the psyche of the negative Indian upward and sent it soaring. To the other extreme now.

Even as he tired, slowed, he never showed any signs of not being capable. He was still the wicket to get. It all came through diligent and intelligent work, an attention to detail, work ethic and humility. But the nation that grew around him and his exploits, that could now look the white man in the eye, was not reflecting these. It reflected words, empty threats. It basked in the reflection of Sachin and many such stalwarts who grew in this period, not just in cricket, But it chose to ignore the path they took. It showed an ugly side to it.

The game grew exponentially in the years that Sachin played. the money, the media, the exposure, the entertainment, the advertisers, the craze for the game increased phenomenally and it all seemed to hang on to the shirt tails of this one man who led it like a Pied Piper. BCCI grew into a monster and started bullying cricketing bodies all around the world. The game itself transformed. The IPL saw the white man now being at the beck and call of the brown man. Cricket had reached a stage in India, where it was fully drunk on its own power. We can bully anyone. We can do anything. We are India. We are cricket.

This is a dangerous stage to be in. If the spirit of the game is trampled, it will lose its charm. Its quality to draw people.

Somewhere in this stage, Sachin's final test match was organised. It was a special occasion. Sachin, god to millions, will exit. He will choose when to exit. He will choose where to exit. He will choose how to exit. Everyone bent themselves over to give him the perfect farewell. The match was organised hurriedly, the opponent was picked, the venue. Sachin played. All else is forgettable about these two matches (which were highly forgettable anyway) and were a bad advertisement for the game. All one remembers is that Sachin played, people poured their hearts out as if a part of them died. Sachin spoke the near perfect speech, the team carried him on its shoulders, the crowd roared, cried, he almost got a hundred (I loved the way Dilip introduces Sachin's dismissal), his mother watched, a billion people watched. The game - well it was forgotten. It became a mere vehicle for this grand farewell.

And this is the space where Dilip sits, at a corner of the Wankhede where he cannot even see the game properly thanks to some wonderful engineering to build these swanky new stadiums. Why was this being done to end one of the most stellar careers we have ever seen? Why did he agree to it? Why did he want it this way? It was not as if his capability had diminished. He could still hold his own. It was not like the way we all waited for Kapil Dev to overtake Hadlee's haul in the most laborious, saddest manners and heaved a sigh of relief when he did. We don't want to remember our heroes like this. We want our heroes to be heroes forever. Not illusions to be shattered. We were part of the story too - you cannot take it away from us. You cannot burst our bubble. We have invested in you. We created you.

Dilip wonders why this match was held and in such circumstances. Would world greats like Nadal, Jordan opt to go out like this? Would such thoughts be entertained? He wonders at the crowd and its delirium. He sees the boy who has come from Chennai for two days just to watch Sachin play, the people who want a glimpse of their god outside his home, the messages that flash across the big screen, the irony of the naming of the Press Box. He sees the aggression in the fans, remembers what they did to poor Maria Sharapova, sees them pile up garbage, mess up the stadium, heap praise lavishly and embarrassingly. Dilip remembers small incidents from each players cricketing life, adds life to the proceedings with his keen powers of observation and honest questions. How the BCCI now swaggers, the money in the game, the people on the inside, the people who want to get there, the people on the outside and what it means to them. He wonders what the West Indian greats would say if they saw their team surrender so abjectly? He connects cricket to math, quotes from cricket classics, shows glimpses of his life. You want to meet his friend who blocked the full toss and lost a game for them, friend Praveen Rastogi who ran the best three runs ever, Dilip's love for fast bowling, his admiration for the game and Rahul Dravid (and his straight lines), his take on the advertisements notably Fair and Lovely and his experience while adopting a child. He sees the Ambani's car (that car!), he ponders over the irony of releasing a postal stamp in an age when his students questioned him innocently about what post boxes are and how they transport post, he wonders as most of us do at what the politicians are doing there, the not-so-loved BCCI strong men as they muscle their way into the frames, he looks back at the way the nation stopped to participate in this event. Dilip packs so much into the book that its racier and spicier than any cricket book I have read in a long while.

To pack in the details to make a book interesting is done in two ways. One way is when you want to make the book sell at the cost of everything else, truth and integrity be damned, in which case you look for the stuff that sells and try to stuff it in. Another, is to look at the truth that haunts you. and try to uncover it, without losing judgment or perspective, to put forth an intelligent and uncompromised viewpoint and to fall in line with the greater truth. This is an act of love to the medium of expression and Dilip stays true to that. I am so glad he did. In fact I am so glad he writes and expresses himself so because we need voices like his. How many have dared to look at Sachin, the cricketing institutions, the fans, and written so honestly. Not too many as I know. It is not done whimsically to raise controversy, it is put forth intelligently without ever taking away from the brilliance and luminescence of the man or the game. In a world that seems to favor the former approach, I am glad we have Dilip, and people like him, who bring intelligence, maturity and integrity to the table.

'Final Test - Exit Sachin Tendulkar' is as good a eulogy to Sachin as any to me. An honest one,  and one that could well show the mirror to the cricketing world. Well done Dilip.

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