It is easy for a book on Sachin Tendulkar to indulge in deification without sounding apologetic about it. That at least parts of Sachin-Genius unplugged — a glossy compilation of essays — steer clear of such traps reflects the extent to which journalistic objectivity has been able to prevail over the fanboy tendencies some of the writers are prone to. In all, there are 16 pieces — short, varied, and insightful — on the most-written-about cricketer of our time. The contributors include Indian and international journalists, former players, and commentators on the game, who have tailed Tendulkar on his journey in the public eye.
The essays touch upon the universality of the Tendulkar experience, his enduring passion and motivation for batting, the inevitable comparisons of style, method and temperament with two other great batsmen — Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Vivian Richards — and the unreasonable, even if very human, irritation expressed sometimes over his squeaky clean image. Harsha Bhogle sets the ball rolling with a recount of how he had to go through Tendulkar's elder brother Ajit for getting an audience with the little fellow, then all of 14 years. “Even then one knew that something special was about to happen,” the commentator writes. Indeed, it was the start of something special. The era of Tendulkar ran flush alongside the emergence of neo-liberalised India, the man and his deeds coming to symbolise the ideals and the aspirations of a growing middle class — an aspect that brooks constant acknowledgment. Writes Mike Marqusee: “If Sachin hadn't existed, India would have had to invent him. The dominant culture of the day demanded an icon of success … a world-beater bred in the heart of Mumbai's status-hungry middle class.”
Writing on the genesis of Tendulkar as the ultimate ODI batsman, R. Mohan traces the torrid chain of events that led to his promotion to the opener's spot. Peter Roebuck holds the little master “the best of them all (excepting Bradman, who belongs in a category of his own)” and his straight-drive, “the attainment of an ideal”. A comparison with Richards impels Roebuck to observe that, while the West Indian is generally considered to have lacked Tendulkar's unassailable composure, the Indian does not have the Antiguan's ability to “grab the moment and strike it till it submits.”
The drone of preternatural talent, undiminished focus, mass hysteria, and zeal bordering on the religious runs through the pages. But perhaps the most interesting bits are those that virtually nobody — aside from the few whose objectivity refuses to prostrate at the feet of genius — wants to talk about. These hushed ruminations add a splatter of controversy to what is largely undisguised fawning.
Pakistan's Osman Samiuddin recalls Rahul Dravid's infamous Multan declaration (which left the master on the brink of a double century) as a backdrop to Tendulkar's “underwhelming” returns in Pakistan.
The touchy subjects of Tendulkar's poor record as captain and his “incapability” to win matches also provide pegs to hang some random arbitrariness on. “Because Tendulkar was without edge, he seemed to lack a lever with which to pry open his team's talents,” says Marqusee. And then come the really juicy parts, with contributors wondering if there is a dark side to the sterile life that Tendulkar, whose bodily fluids now find inclusion in a $75,000 limited-edition biography, is purported to lead.
Marqusee, once again, supplies food for thought. “I find it hard to believe that a life of so much creative energy, driven intensity, constant combat could exist without its demons. Maybe, they emerge from hiding during those pre-dawn drives along the Arabian sea,” he says.
Barney Ronay dithers on the precipice of cynicism before confessing to be a Tendulkar convert. But he too is mildly disconcerted by the mania, finding it “too corporate and earnest, too Princess Diana Memorial Book of Condolence”. “We got Tendulkar. But we didn't wholly get him. The genius was clear; but it was a solemn genius, a churchy and refined genius,” he says. Nothing wrong in being all that, especially when — over 20 years and a zillion leg-side pats later — its bearer refuses to warp around the edges, emitting a luminosity that becomes more pervasive with each passing day. “The age, and occasionally the game itself, has belonged to him,” says Roebuck. Agreed! If only we had some scurrilous scuttlebutt thrown in, along with all the nice pictures and fanatical hat-tipping, the book might even have broken new ground.