This too shall has passed.
In the nostalgic concert halls of a timeless Wankhede, amidst the weary melee of misty-eyed adoration sweeping every blade of grass in the land, a little God crooned a bewitching swansong as he took his final steps within the hallowed corridors of ancient brilliance, walked past the sepia-toned gates of history and vanished into the enchanted chambers of peerless immortality. The sands have finally slipped through our hands. The clocks have finally stopped ticking. The birds have finally stopped chirping. The music has finally stopped playing. In this eerie quiet amidst this madding chaos, the sun, it seems, has finally set.
There is no way of softening the blow. There are no royal cushions to soothe the pain or mystical concoctions to make us forget the unforgettable. It will stare at us forever and it is staring at us right now. Sachin Tendulkar has retired. Life, whether you walk in space, win a million dollar lottery or discover an endless supply of bubble-wrap, will still be a poorer place tomorrow. Unless a benevolent soul gifts the world a functioning time machine or a wandering soul chances upon the fountain of youth, come tomorrow, what are we then left with? Before walking past that door, what, if anything, has Sachin left behind?
Memories? Yes, memories. Printed onto the back of our minds with the sort of tattoo ink that, even if you cross the seven seas, take a dip in the Bermuda Triangle and come back to rid the world of hunger, poverty and pop music, is never erased. Those kinds of memories.
“Another world, where the birds always sing
Another world, where the sun always shines
Another world, where nothing ever dies…”
It’s been, what, 25 years? I feel like I’ve been watching Sachin forever. Well, I’m only 22. The entirety of my life then. It’s been a journey so long and so complete that there is a real danger of losing yourself in its memory. It is better than reality. It is sweeter than reality. This journey with Sachin, following even from a thousand miles away, is still closer than reality. Every single moment spent with him, in all these years – in a life running in parallel to our lives, is one to cherish. There is not a single blemish, a single disappointment, a single letdown. If there really is a workaholic God who had his hands full for the whole week, we now know what he did on the seventh day. We have ended up with one of the most beautifully written scripts the divine ink could write. It’s a surreal story which has been carved so artistically, so flawlessly and one which is now resigned to an alternate reality – guarded within the meadows of our memories. If Robert Smith really did believe in a world where the birds always sing, this is it.
But is that all? Just a panorama of striking images that caress you, excite you and then smother you and your very soul? Is everything that Sachin has done in all these years now resigned to dusty old tapes and an engaging mind full of joyous sorrow and melodious nostalgia? Are the monumental feats of this tiny man, like most other athletes of the land, really that limited in their wider significance?
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon and hoisted the American flag where no human had ever set foot, much less hoist a flag or take a walk, it was an era-defining moment. More than it being a matter of a record, it was a symbol, a statement. The pride of a nation. The victory of human persistence. The power of a human dream. Of a lonely march into an unknown land, of inventing the uninvented, of discovering the undiscovered. It was a marker, a line in the sand.
And that’s precisely what Sachin did. This is not to say Indians are without imagination, without dreams. We too had drawn lines in the sand. But what Sachin did was walk a hundred steps ahead of our line and draw a bunch of new lines in faraway lands. Every time we built a little house and tried to be satisfied, Sachin would go out and build us a house ten times bigger, fully-furnished, with a garden at the back, a car on the front and a beach on the side. And he would do it alone, without a hint of annoyance, pain or regret but with that youthful smile forever glued to his face. We were almost spineless, spoilt kids and he was our big brother. He never believed in taking from us, but just giving, and then giving some more.
For a change we didn’t have to make people remember the days that people had stopped remembering, the days when our land was called the golden bird, the days of Aryabhatta’s zero, of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel, of Satyajit Ray’s movies, of Dhyan Chand’s hockey or the year of ’83 – to make our chest swell with stale pride. For once, we could actually point at our present, raise our collar, puff our chest and walk out of the room with our heads held high. As we began growing as a nation in the nineties, with every statement that shouted and spit at us our inferiority, we could fall back on Sachin, take his cue, take all blows and then punch one back. This little boy took us by our finger and showed us a new way, a new land. Every time we fixed our boundaries and built walls around it, he would rush out of his crease and shatter all walls. “Don’t do that. There are no boundaries. Come, I’ll show you.” And again, he’ll patiently take us by our finger. That’s how he was.
Has he left behind anything other than memories? I believe we both now have the answer. He has left behind what only the likes of legendary presidents, era-shaping musicians, monumental freedom-fighters and the bravest of soldiers manage to leave behind. A legacy. The achievement of touching the lives of a billion people for a quarter of a century. With humility, dignity and unflinching national pride. Of inspiring a generation of a country and many more throughout the world. Of being the man every single one of his countrymen looks up to with eyes watering with adoration and chests choking with pride. Of being the man whose every single word could calm a billion or make a billion revolt. Of being the man for whom even the most hardened rivals throughout the land would unite and cheer as one. When it came to Sachin, there never were two ways about it. He was absolute. A single umbrella for the whole nation to take shelter under. A cult hero.
At the end of the day, all a soul wants is to be happy. For 24 years, he has strived for just that. Pleasing the fans of the game. Pleasing his countrymen. God? No. Not God. Not Superman. After 24 years of attempting the impossible in lands where no Indian, nay no man has ever been, making a billion swell with pride, making a billion strive for better, making a billion dream, it leaves us with no doubt. He’s our Spaceman. That’s his legacy.
So long, cricket.