To the most celebrated man in the cricketing world, a heartfelt letter on his 42nd birthday.
You’ve turned 42 today. And it’s as if all of us have lived those 42 years with you. There cannot be another person who will ever receive as many genuine wishes as you on this day, Sachin. We all want to tell you about what you meant to us, through a memorable exhibition game that you played last July.
It was great seeing you play that day at Lord’s. Fitting, if I had to describe that whole experience in one word. The official Home of Cricket, white uniforms, stumps that were made to bear more wooden flesh than anything the modern game has ever seen, morning start, and that ensemble. That was just the kind of cricket you've always been passionate about, am I right?
I guess I am because it showed in the way you batted. You managed to take us through the last 20 years of our lives in that brief window in which you occupied the crease. Your stance, your balance, your sheer composure and knowledge of where every element on the ground exists, your application of technique - the one that is taught pretty well these days but rarely replicated on a cricket field - from head to toe, you were a holographic image of your own hey days.
But there was one subtle difference. One that wasn't necessarily visible to the audience on the ground but was literally seeping through our television screens into our hitherto selfish egos. You had a smile on your face. All game long. A smile that said, "I don't have to perform here. I can finally play!
You were, for once in your life, allowed to do what you really love, the way you really want to.
We've been difficult fans, Sachin. I know that. We've been a handful. I don't think my limited intellect would ever be able to fully comprehend how you handled us for a quarter of a century. I guess it was a cycle. You saw us worship you and tightened your screws up further, and seeing you improve tirelessly made us worship you all the more. A cycle during which we selfishly revelled in the entertainment you unconditionally provided us without pausing to think for a second that at the end of the day, there are just two shoulders that have to bear that burden of expectation. We have done to you what every stereotypical parent does to their children. We have tried to live our dreams through you. How did you manage a billion parents, Sachin?
Having said that, you really cannot blame us for loving you like that. Look around, there literally is no one like you. Your magic doesn't exist anymore. We thought it would rub off on the others eventually but it hasn't. They are different and unique entities and their contributions to the sport have to be respected. But. But! They're just not you.
I attended a match at the Wankhede last year. (Maybe it was April 2014, maybe it was May. I just call it “After Sachin”.) The first time I had set foot there since your pious farewell speech in November 2013 had me and 40,000 others present there in tears.
The noise levels were the same. Probably even higher. But it was white noise. Not those entranced chants that used to reverberate when you used to walk out with the bat in your hand. The rate of action on the pitch, faster. Much faster than the glorious 90s era. But it didn't make hearts stop. It didn't make blood pressures fluctuate. It didn't make people sit in pure awe and say "This is what we live for". It was good. It just wasn't magical. It was classic slam-bang rock and roll. It just wasn't poetry.
I remember every single moment of joy you gave us, Sachin. I really doubt if I or any of my peers would remember anyone else that way 50 years from now.
We have travelled the world with you. Grown up with you. We have experienced sandstorms in Sharjah and heartbreak in Johannesburg with you when we've had homework to do. Or early morning school to attend the following day.
We've lived through the horrors of your injuries and the ecstasy of your centuries. We've realised what the World Cup means. We have seen colours flow. Literally. In your national uniforms and out of that bat/magic wand you used to wield. We have skipped school, college, university, jobs and business to watch you play.
The mind numbing pressures of examinations have been healed just by watching you get on the front foot and graze the ball through the covers. We have had our hearts broken, our shirts torn, our reputations spoiled, our tempers blow up.
And you've made all of that pain disappear countless times just by showing up to bat.
You have been the icebreaker, the conversation starter, the escape route, the nostalgia, the debate topic, the topic of bonding, the reason to wake up at 5 am or the reason to stay awake till 3.
All the nagging questions that we have tried to avoid all our lives. "What are your career plans?", "When are you getting married?", "What marks did you score?", "How's the job hunt going?"... All the nagging questions have been easily brushed aside in the past using one magic potion:
"What's Sachin’s score?”
And now that you're not around, our bubbles have burst. We've been forced to grow up all of a sudden. The fable has ended. Everything seems so real now. And trust me it's not pleasant.
How then, can we leave you alone? We're sorry to have put you through all of this. But we have had literally no other choice.
Without you, Sachin, it isn't the same anymore. Sure, the stadiums have developed. They have silicon roofs now. They have bucket seats. They have electronic scoreboards and large display screens.
But a concrete dustbowl with broken benches, no protection against the scorching sun rays, manual scoreboards with your name on it used to seem far more comfortable and luxurious.
I know we shouldn't be unreasonable to you. I know we should just leave you alone now. Give you peace of mind. I know all of that. But seeing you take to the field the other day made me wonder if we'll ever allow you that freedom. And my opinions were echoed when those Armani-clad, stiff-upper-lipped, MCC members stood to welcome you onto the pitch like little school kids.
Don't expect freedom from us, Sachin. You are our freedom!