For the entire 16 year duration of your career, we adored you alright, but we always kept you at a pedestal below 'God' . You toiled hard for us, the sweat dripping from your eyebrow, and saved us from many precarious situations. But then, we overlooked you.
However, the most beautiful part of it is, you never complained. I think, you got used to it.
You see, Rahul, in my opinion, the only mistake that happened, and it was out of your control, is that you played in the same era as Sachin Tendulkar.
The mind craves for someone to hold it captive and bewitch it, and Sachin did it, time and again. But then, being a Sachin worshipper myself, let me confess that you were probably as effective, or even more, than the master himself in the longest format of the game.
But the thing is, you were not captivating to the eye. Tendulkar’s one straight drive was enough, to make someone fall for him.
But then, Rahul, you were all about hard work, weren't you?
You were our silent warrior, the man who guarded our fortress, day after day, till you bid adieu to the sport. When you came to the crease, you gave us assurance. That brisk walk, that beautiful front foot stride, that solid back foot defence.
But, more than anything else, you were the quintessential team man. An opener injured? No problem. Dravid will step up. The team wants a batsman who should also double up as the wicket keeper? Again, no problem. You were there. It might have taken so much out of you, it might have thrown you out of your comfort zone, but you hardly complained.
When we look at the period from the mid 1990s to the first decade of the new millennium, all of us remember it as the 'Sachin Tendulkar era’. When we think of that famous ODI against New Zealand in 1999, the first thing that comes to our mind, is Tendulkar’s 186. But then, your valiant 153 has been sent to the misty depths of forgetfulness.
When someone talks about the famous Eden Gardens Test in 2001, the first thing that we talk about, is the magical 281 of VVS Laxman. You scored a defiant 180 too, in the same innings. We conveniently chosen to ignore it.
And Rahul, being a Sachin fan, let me make a very honest confession here. There have been many times when I have secretly prayed for the first two wickets to fall, so that Tendulkar could come out and enthral me with his resplendent stroke play. The biggest problem is this - once someone is captivated by Tendulkar, it is impossible for him to look at any other player with the same reverence.
For most of us, Tendulkar was our passport to prosperity.
Finally, let me come to the way both you and Tendulkar bid adieu to the sport. I still remember that small press conference that you gave when you announced your retirement. Impeccably dressed in a suit and a tie, you spoke a few words to us, posed for a few obligatory photographs, and you disappeared.
Just contrast that to the kind of farewell that Tendulkar received - the whole of India coming to a standstill, grown up men and women weeping like children, the Goverment of India releasing a stamp to celebrate the maestro’s 200th Test, the shower of rose petals. It was surreal.
Lastly, Rahul, I would like to tell you just this. We, as humans get extremely irritated and frustrated when our effort does not get the recognition that it deserves. But then, it happened to you almost throughout your career. But then again, you never complained.
As the adage goes:
Sachin may be God. But even God in the temple is protected by the four walls around.
We go to the temple to pray to God, and not admire the walls around, isn’t it?
An ardent Sachin fan