I grew up in a bubble that shielded me from the realities of time. In my years in Chennai and the subsequent undergraduate years in the US, I couldn't wait to get older. For example, when I was in the third standard I looked up to the fifth standard students who were deemed responsible enough to write with ink pens. And when I was in the sixth standard, I wanted desperately to be in the eighth so that I could rid myself of those childish blue shorts and be a part of the mature brown-pants crowd. In college too, there were clear advantages to being older. Students in their junior year got to register early and avoid the punishing 9 a.m. classes. Plus, I had to be twenty-one to legally get into a bar on Austin’s 6th street and the clock just didn’t seem to tick fast enough.
One of the foundations of my bubble was the comfort of short-term finish lines. Even if I hated school, I just had to see out a few years and I’d be in college. And if college sucked, well then it would be a four-year grind but still it was just four years. But a few weeks into my first full-time job, I realized that I didn't have a short-term finish line anymore. The limited control I had assumed under the structure imposed by college had now expanded. I suddenly had many questions and very few answers. Was I going to spend all my working years in this company and in this city? Was what I was working on really making a difference? What was next for me? No longer a student, I now had plenty of time to worry about what seemed like too little time to figure out what I really wanted to do, and then… you know… do it.
The bubble was in danger of being pricked.
A few days ago, Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat for the very last time, and I sat at the edge of my friend’s couch shutting out the sounds around me and focusing on the television screen. Every time Tino Best delivered a bouncer and Sachin cheekily offered a dab to third-man, I panicked. I was consumed by the selfish fear of what the repercussions on my life would be were he to get out. Sure, Cheteshwar Pujara played a wonderful knock, but his greatest contribution was that he helped delay the inevitable. But it was only a delay, and Sachin was soon dismissed, nicking to slip.
In my teens, all I did was go to school and then come home and play cricket. It didn’t matter if the stump was a tree or if the crease was drawn with a piece of brick. Cricket was a constant. Sachin was a constant. I may not have been particularly good at the sport, but it didn’t matter. I bought an MRF bat because Sachin endorsed it. I even drank Boost for a while because I wanted it to be the secret of my energy. The time that I spend in my head now worrying about what's next, well in my teens that time was spent standing in front of a mirror with a bat in hand, my imagination in high gear as I took on the likes of Wasim and Waqar with the calming presence of Sachin at the non-striker’s end, a smile on his face saying, “You’re doing good, kid.”
Sachin Tendulkar, that other foundation of my bubble.
On November 16th, Sachin Tendulkar walked up to the Wankhede pitch and displayed his deepest gratitude to the twenty-two yards he’s lived his life on. And as he made his final walk back to the pavilion, his floppy white hat expertly shielding him from the cameras as he dabbed away tears, the wobbling bubble burst. The man’s been playing for India almost as long as I’ve been alive, and while he was around, I felt like I hadn’t completely left my childhood behind. Goose bumps, shivers and chills – the whole lot of them descended at the thought that I now had to face life without Sachin’s career running in parallel.
Life’s unknowns can be confusing and scary, and I’ve found it easier to cope sometimes by holding on to symbols that remind me of a simpler past. Sachin Tendulkar may have retired, but there is consolation. If I ever need to remind myself of the Sachin experience and what he meant to me, I just need to watch the highlights of his ‘desert-storm’ knock. A diminutive man in Indian colors taking on the world champions. A match set to the soundtrack of the late Tony Greig. “The little man has hit the big fella for six!” Tony cheered, and then when the little man did it again, “Whadda playa!” he declared in that happy, embracing voice of his. “Did you see that?” he seemed to ask of his viewers. “Did you see that?”
Yes I did, Tony. Yes, I did.