(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
There was a feeling of sadness permeating through the air. The streets were empty. Families gathered together to lean on each other for support. Those without anyone reached out to others like them so that they wouldn’t be alone. A dark cloud had descended over the country. The sun had been eclipsed by an even bigger star. No one was ready to say goodbye yet. But they still had to. First there was the silence. Followed by the tears. And then, there was the chanting. A billion-plus people shouting his name. A nation whose citizens spend every day of the year fighting with each other was united for one short, solitary moment. In five, ten, fifty years, those who survive the nuclear winter will recall this day and let their radiated descendants know how time itself stopped to say goodbye to Sachin Tendulkar.
Okay, none of that actually happened. But if you were a fan of Sachin Tendulkar, then this is probably how you will remember the last day of the last match of his cricketing career. And if you were one of the unfortunate people who didn’t subscribe to the school of thought that proclaimed that he was the greatest thing to happen to this world since the oven that was used to bake the first batch of sliced bread, then you probably will remember that day for the elaborate system of passwords and secret handshakes you needed to use to find any remote safehouse that kept you away from the brainwashed masses.
That must have been a difficult task because those people were everywhere. In your house, ruining what is supposed to be your haven away from the world. Or at your local cafe, disturbing your “me time” with their incessant need to discuss strange things like “batting average” while making snide insinuations about some chap called Bradman. They didn’t even spare your favourite bar, desecrating the holiest of holy places by boldly asking the shocked manager to switch off the ‘bacardi blast’ cd playing on repeat and putting on the match commentary instead. They took over all the newspapers too! Instead of reporting important salacious details about whom Ranbir Kapoor was dating, our broadsheets were printing interviews with all the important people in Tendulkar’s life, like that guy who once stood next to him at a school bus stop. All the news channels stopped focusing on silly political non-events for a while and instead held panel discussions involving various cricketing legends like Shobha De and Suhel Seth.
Members of the Sachin sect took over twitter too. Between tweeting links to youtube clips of Sachin’s best innings and blogposts that were supposed to make your eyes water while you swallowed that temporary lump in your throat, they spent the day of the final goodbye accusing those who did not agree with them of being dead on the inside. (When did being dead on the inside stop being a thing that should be encouraged? I, for one, highly recommend it!) They declared that anyone who didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of loss on Tendulkar’s retirement must be less emotionally equipped than the Frankenstein monster. They were shocked – shocked! – that not everyone talked about their lord and saviour with the same reverence that they did. They even wondered out loud why everyone else in world couldn’t see that he was the chosen one.
Recently, a court in UP banned the screening of a movie because some stupid people were faux-offended by the use of the words ‘Ram-leela’ in the title. A few months ago, a court in Malaysia banned non-Muslims from saying or writing ‘Allah’ in any form. Earlier this year, when the lead actor for the movie version of the Fifty Shades of Grey series was announced, he got death threats from some of the most obsessive readers of the ‘books’ because according to them, he didn’t resemble the version of the eponymous character that they had in their head.
We’ve let those who believe in the magical powers of ancient storybooks, fairytales, man-made symbols, octogenarian actors, politicians, sportsmen with a cinematic narrative for a life story and other fictional characters determine how we talk about their object of reverence. That is a slippery slope. One minute you’re agreeing to not make silly jokes about a way-past-his-prime cricket player to avoid a confrontation or to please his fans, the next minute you’re going to find yourself prostrating in front of his life-sized statue, as your life flashes in front of your eyes and you wonder how you got here.
I’m all for worshipping whomever you like! We pretend it’s a free country, after all. We’re all entitled to our delusions. But the insistence that other people follow suit? We’re not entitled to that.
Now please excuse me as I make a change dot org petition asking Obama to sign an executive order banning Ben Affleck from ever wearing a Batman costume.