Saturday, November 16, 2013

Yet another Sachin article

Today, Sachin walked back to the pavilions for the last time and I didn’t care enough to watch it. And I know I am not alone. I am from that generation that has covered the distance with him from teenage to middle-age. Things have changed since, the world has changed. Just in cricket, it seems lightyears away now where we grew up blaming our national Hindu lack of killer instinct. A lot can be said there, but the point is that the journey of the man somewhere marked our own, across an upheaving canvas of collapsing world-orders and ditzy transformations still not fully digested and understood. For that is what adulation is, finding associating and investuring something of ourselves in the object; an identification that goes beyond admiration.
I briefly glimpsed the match yesterday as wifey watched it, and no nostalgia stirred but that wry amusement at the media overkill, where once I would be muttering prayers every time he prepared to face a delivery. I could not simply find that boy within me amid the high-pitched spectacle – and all the boys and girls that made up that world then. I could not imagine how an age I had lived and believed in was ending, despite the fact that it was, right before my eyes.
I understand the commercial interests of the media but did it have to be really so vulgar and loud? Other sporting giants retire elsewhere and generate as much media attention – but this cacophony? Did people need to be stirred to a hysteria where none was needed? I mean this is Sachin. Whatever the niggling fatuous debates of his legacy, he touched the lives of a few generations as few icons ever have. The viewership and the engagement is absolutely assured, all you have to do is plug in your content. But respect at least the man’s sensibilities, if not ours. Yesterday, as the camera panned and stayed on the man’s family despite their discomfort with it, his mother literally squirming at its unmoving gaze, I had to avert my eyes. 
Sachin, the soft-voiced hero who survived 24 years of the intensest limelight without a controversy, without a crack in that quiet cultivated armature, now finally overwhelmed by the forces, slotted clinically in the hype-ometer along with the likes of Poonam Pandey.

 For the man, for us, was more than just a light of world-class genius in an age of darkness; within that genius, he was an embodiment of an age and its values, humility and understatement being the foremost. For he assured us that one did not have to scowl and sledge and elbow to surge ahead, quiet determination was enough. We were a generation of middle-class kids, humble to various degrees, unsure, no silver-spoons in our mouths, no uncles who had glimpsed the world beyond our mufassils, not a modicum of awareness of the world that south Bombay-kids were privy to, the world that would in a few years suddenly dazzlingly open to anyone interested via the ethernet. Our only view was a tunnel vision, a looming pit we had to leap across, our only chance, and our only trick in the bag was merit honed with, well, quiet determination. Sachin was the embodiment of that attitude for us, a boy only a few years ahead of us, with more or less the same resources without, and that is why he meant more to us beyond the craze for the game. He might have been a colony bhaiyya whose example our mothers cited to us. He was not the God for us that the media quickly crowned him and we accepted, but an apotheosis of our own condition. In the days when we stole time from studies, when the world and our future seemed hung only on the marks we drudged towards, he gave us a reason to believe. Our identification with his lone-ranging defiance in the midst of collapses that made Indian batting in the 90’s was so visceral, almost commensurate with what the Argentinans must've felt for Maradona after the Falklands humiliation. He gave us hope that we had the fight in us, despite our diminutive stock. (Those who came later would be surprised to know that there was a prevalent eugenics theory then as to why we Indians always failed, such was the nadir of our national confidence; and this is the time when Sachin, and before that Kapil, walked in).
It’s been a small, contained journey for most of us; we started out desperate to land anywhere, just not fail, and have ended up better than we thought we would. Hard work has paid, despite those darkest times when we felt small and unchosen, as a people, in a manner that perhaps is now forgotten to the next generation, and thank god for that. Even here, Sachin showed a quiet way of handling success without compromising our essential selves, our most personal values, without the image-makeover the hollow-men were demanding all around us. There was always his example, steady and constant dignity despite the brief effervescent threat from the doppelganger Kambli, tempting us in the beginning but ending in a weeping heap in an Eden Gardens pitch in Indian cricket’s darkest hour. But dignity was not what Sachin’s last time at the crease was about. It was about hype, cacophony and melodrama; it might very well have been Kambli’s retirement.
Since the economy opened up, a whole system of myths – of Bollywood stars, of Chetan Bhagat, of tycoons –has been foisted on us, that feeds and grows fat on the money it sucks up from its monopolies of our sensibilities, and would have us believe that mediocrity is an essentially Indian condition. That hyperbole is the only manner in which we Indians Coca-Cola enjoy! Those who would keep you ever stimulated, ever extroverted, ever unthinking and superficial.
It was about manipulation. These myths have been out in the sun for a month now, grinning Suhel-Seth fashion around, lapping up all the accolades and eyes waiting for Sachin, the real deal. Nothing was spontaneous, not even the spontaneous tributes, not the commentators’ asides every five seconds, not the Tshirts, not the decibels, not the dedicated column-spaces running for weeks. True emotions were elbowed out by their simulacrous spectacles. In the end, Nita Ambani, India’s richest housewife, got to lord over it while Sachin’s mother quietly tucks the rosary beads under the shawl and squirmed and waited for the camera to go away.

I turned my eyes away, for whatever the man still meant to me after being left cold by that din of images and soundbytes, or perhaps a reflex of a habit of respecting elders, and others’ spaces and privacies in general – I am still not a voyeur enough. I am the sort of man who finds melodrama disconcerting, for it sweeps everything, even the genuinely heartfelt, in its tide and makes it appear as silly and excessive as the cheapest and the most superfluous. And there are many, many more like me, and will always be. We will stand with hands folded and smile but refuse to gush out our most hallowed Sachin moments because someone’s thrust a mike under our chin, refuse to scream and jostle in front of a camera trained on us. Every emotion has to find its true form to truly express it, and this is not our form. We refuse to be manipulated, we refuse to share, we refuse to participate without our inner consent.

Maybe, later, after a few years, I will visit the moment in a Youtube link, and forgetting the ugliness of this farewell party, remember the lad once who became a man, Sachin, myself, my generation. And I will remember, alone, quietly, hopefully smilingly.

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