History books, and I am talking about the ones prescribed for us in school, tell us simple stories. Like how Gandhiji brought us freedom.Like how non-violence made the British leave.
Not that we complained—after all the last things one wants in late teenage life are complexities, especially of the type that can come to bite you on your ass during Board exams.
One of the many complexities papered over in school, which for many of us was the last time we formally read history, was the uneasy relationship Mahatma Gandhi shared with much of Congress’s top-brass post-1945. As independence became inevitable, and Gandhi’s utility waned, a large section of the rank-and-file felt that Gandhi exercised way too much control over the Congress party, as evidenced by the sidelining of the more popular and charismatic Patel in favor of Gandhi’s favorite, Jawaharlal Nehru. Even those that won the internal power struggle, the so-called progressives under Nehru, were worried that Gandhi’s negation of technology and his doctrinaire embrace of a medieval pastoral ideal of India, of village republics and of sewing one’s cloth and of cleaning one’s own latrine, would come into stark conflict with their Soviet-model of rapid industrialization. Also the fear was that Bapuji’s style of politics, centered as it was on non-cooperation and subversion of authority through systemic paralysis would be a dangerous legacy for post-colonial India. The consensus thus, for different reasons, was rather universal. Namely, that Gandhiji should withdraw from active politics and adopt a more ceremonial role (in today’s IPL terminology what we called a mentor). The only problem was that despite public pronouncement to the contrary, Gandhiji remained as invested in the politics of Congress and India as ever. And given the God-like reverence he was held in, and his readiness to use the weapon of fast as to get his way, there was really nothing anyone could do.
This might be a provocative thing to say, and there is of course a danger of taking the analogy too far, but I will still go ahead and say it. Sachin Tendulkar, in independent India, has been the closest we have had to a Gandhi-like figure, his cult crossing barriers of language and religion, his image transcending sport in the same way Gandhi’s transcended politics.
Like Gandhi, he engenders extreme emotions– religious reverence (“Sachin is God”) as well as, acceptedly from a smaller group, visceral hatred (“Overated and selfish, when he plays well India lose”).
And finally as with Gandhi, and perhaps for the same reasons, he has demonstrated an inability to let go, even though it is fairly evident that he has exhausted much of his goodwill with the powers-that-be in the Indian cricket team. But, as it was with Gandhi, no one can say what needs to be said to him publicly, because the facade of “Sachin is too mighty to be told to retire or, horror of horrors, be dropped” must be maintained. He has been given the status of a modern-day Bheesma, the only man with the divine right to choose his moment of passing because, and I shall let a hypothetical Sachintard speak here—“He has done so much for the country yaar. He knows when he needs to go. You don’t need to tell him, da”.
To Sachin’s credit, whenever the rumblings have started, he has produced a stellar performance and then some more, validating, as if it needed further validation, his God-like ability to persist. Not that he cannot do produce rabbits out of the hat even now, the possibility of a century or a match-winning innings is always around the corner. To labor the analogy, Gandhi could still bring peace to a rioting city when all had given up hope, even after many felt his best days were over. And to labor it even further, the next Test is in Calcutta.
But despite the possibility of yet another purple patch and despite the lack of alternatives, it is time for him to lay down the bat, if for nothing other than that one player cannot consistently be placed above the norms expected for other players, other great players, on the basis of “Sachin cannot be told what to do. He has earned that right.”
And finally, if Sachin truly is God, then watching him flounder about like a human being, day in and day out, lessens our faith in his divinity.
His legacy needs saving. From Sachin himself.