Timing one's exit is vital to a great performance. Tendulkar fluffed it; will Anna Hazare do better?

To paraphrase Dickens, for one it was the best of times; for the other the worst of times. In August a septuagenarian Anna Hazare straddled the Indian consciousness like a larger-than-life Bollywood hero. The classic David, he took on the Goliath of the Indian political establishment and brought the high and mighty down to their knees. That he accomplished in real life what a Bollywood hero can only do in reel life is astounding. That he was an old man employing peaceful means, rather than the angry young man of the Bollywood ilk makes him all the more endearing.

On the other hand, his fellow Maratha Sachin Tendulkar went in the opposite direction. His performance in the Test series in England saw him fall from the pedestal of a cricketing god. As the failures multiplied and the hundredth international ton refused to come, he began to look more and more the ageing athlete clinging on after his day had passed for the sake of a record.

Too much hype

Really, each time Tendulkar walked in to bat and commentators started talking about that hundredth century, you could almost hear Shakespeare's lines from “Hamlet”, ‘To be or not to be…,' sounding in the background. Certainly Tendulkar's unconvincing, leaden-footed performance had more than a whiff of the vacillating, indecisive Prince of Denmark about it, right down to the last failure in the Oval Test where he got out in the nineties after a chancy knock.

Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It”, ‘All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players.' Well, in that vein, one thing that makes a great performance memorable is the timing of the exit. If Tendulkar had retired after the World Cup, the last memory of him in the blue of India would have been of him holding the trophy. And the last memory of him in Test match whites would have been a tremendous century on a brute of a pitch in Cape Town against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel at their nastiest. An innings that helped India come back undefeated for the first time from South Africa. Moreover, both he and we would have been spared the sight of him playing out the cricketing equivalent of an ageing thespian fluffing his lines.

Just a number

True, he wouldn't have got his hundredth century. But at the end of the day, that is just a number. Don Bradman needed less than 10 runs to have a lifetime Test average of 100 when he was out for a duck in his last Test innings. He could have, conceivably, got there by deferring his retirement by one more Test. He chose, instead, to call it a day in the wake of a heady Ashes triumph.

That is an example that Anna Hazare would do well to remember in his moment of glory. Right now he is seen as a hero in the length and breadth of India, because he has given voice to a longstanding Indian grievance. Corruption is a disease that afflicts everyone and Anna has successfully cast himself as the messianic figure offering the possibility of a cure. Once a satisfactory Lokpal Bill is passed, he should exit the stage gracefully and let India go on with the business of living. If he does that he will go down in history as a genuine Indian hero. God knows we need a few of those. The worst possible thing he can do is attempt to convert his goodwill for the purpose of more socio-political engineering. No independent country can afford to live in a prolonged state of revolution, least of all a developing one. Such a state of affairs creates disorder which only helps the cause of regressive, authoritarian forces seeking to grab power by promising order. Remember the Balkans after the fall of communism or, for that matter, the Weimar Republic in Germany in the late 1920s. Surely we don't want to replicate them in India.