So, we didn’t think it would come to this, did we? It did not ever occur to us that some day we’d get here — more importantly, that some day, he would get here?
Of course, it is not as if Sachin Tendulkar woke up this morning to find out that he had just come out of a decades-long dream that was straight out of a fairytale, and discovered that he was not the original Sachin anymore.
The fault may lie in us; somehow it had seemed impossible to believe that The Boy Wonder would be a Forty-Something some time.
“Art is a lie that helps us see the truth,” said Pablo Picasso.
The Boy Wonder image in which we collectively enshrined Sachin was something that some of us, in our sober moments, knew was a make-believe; knew, too, that we would sometime in the future, have to face the truth.
Through one man’s journey from teen prodigy to Indian icon and cultural touchstone, many of us have lived out our own dreams. It has been a great ride lasting almost a quarter of a century.
But like all such journeys, this one has to end. And so it will, sooner than later. As the great man turns 40, it is a gentle reminder to his tens of millions of fans that getting mentally prepared for Life After Tendulkar in the world of cricket might actually be a sane thing to do.
As tributes pour in to celebrate one of the most astounding careers in the game’s long history, pointing to the very existence of a sunset might sound like heresy. But truth has to be confronted head on; and Sachin will probably do it sooner than his diehard fans would like him to.
Sachin has certainly withstood top level sport’s harsh winnowing process much better than most great cricketers. But the last year and a half have not been kind to him and to believe that age has nothing to do with this would be a fallacy. Sporting narratives cannot be reordered to suit our own fantasies.
On the other hand, the fact that he is closer to the exit door than ever before in an extraordinary life in cricket is hardly a reason not to celebrate a memorable landmark in the maestro’s life.
For, Sachin is as much a symbol as a person. He has helped millions of Indians over three decades to construct their national identity — to weave their own proud narratives — in the bright light of his own personal success.
It is because of this the man has inspired not mere admiration, but a kind of reverence that is rarely witnessed in sport. And this is also the reason why the emotional bond between Sachin and his fans is of a kind never before seen in Indian sport — and it is unlikely to be recreated anytime in the near future.
In the recent Test series against Australia, fans were actually applauding the departure from the crease of a brilliant young man merely because the one walking in to take his place happened to be Sachin. Those fans knew that such moments may be vanishingly rare in international cricket.
Sachin and Sachin’s fans; they are as inseparable as Romeo and Juliet. You can’t think of one without thinking of the other. And the love has been unconditional. No other superstar-fan love affair in contemporary sport might have quite the same emotional valence to it.
This brings me to the heart of this column. Records apart, fame and money apart, even the famous Aristotelian ideal of self-actualisation — eudaimonia — apart, what is the meaning of a good sporting life?
I’d settle for happiness, not merely the champion’s own but the happiness he has provided to tens of millions of fans through his deeds — however transient, however illusory that emotion might be.
The late Douglas Adams, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, said that the meaning of life was 42. He also came up with something called the Infinite Improbability Drive in the all-time classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
To many in this country, now and again, the very meaning of life might have been Sachin; and they might have believed that it was some kind of Infinite Improbability Drive that helped produce a Sachin for Indian cricket.