By Jaideep Vaidya
Indian chess great and Dronacharya awardee Raghunandan V Gokhale was in the middle of a fascinating speech in the build-up to November’s World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen. Gokhale was describing how Anand would be preparing for the match and how Carlsen is different from other opponents Anand has faced. A packed CK Nayudu Hall at the Cricket Club in India (CCI), the venue for the awards ceremony of the Sports Journalists’ Association of Mumbai (SJAM), was listening to each and every word, seemingly captivated by what Gokhale was saying. But just when he was in the middle of a sentence, suddenly there was a flutter of the camera shutters and flashes emanating from every corner. Gokhale looked around to see what the commotion was, and then he saw him.
Sachin Tendulkar, with wife Anjali in tow, had entered the hall. There were nervous hushes and gushes all over, while the shutterbugs kept clicking. As the Tendulkars took their seats in the front row, the photographers from the media almost hounded their faces and clicked away to glory. It was a wonder the first family of cricket’s eyes were still intact after that. But then again, this was just one evening and one small event in the life of the Tendulkars. Meanwhile, Gokhale, with a resigned expression on his face, patiently waited until the photographers were done taking enough images to fill their memory cards twice over. He would have wondered if anyone remembered what he was talking about — the championship match of a tournament that dates back to the 19th century. Do they even care?
After Gokhale was done, almost every speaker had a few words to say about Tendulkar. Some praised him for his cricketing deeds, some requested him to be more generous towards the less privileged sports, while some even presented him a painting depicting his centuries, on a day when he was to be awarded by the association for completing a hundred international hundreds. Finally, the moment arrived when Tendulkar was called to the stage to be felicitated. The video camerapersons battled it out verbally with the still photographers for shooting space, a common scene in India’s media circus but heightened this time around due to the esteemed guest in presence. As Tendulkar took the dais to say the customary few words, a pin-drop silence struck the hall.
“I’m going to take this opportunity to be a protective father,” said Tendulkar, towards the end of his speech. “My son has played a match today — his first club match, an official match. He is passionate and madly in love with cricket. I would appreciate if everyone allows him to be himself, have his own identity and enjoy his cricket… When I started playing cricket, though my father was a professor and in the literary field, at no stage did I have this pressure from anyone to follow my father’s footsteps. At no stage of my life, there were comparisons. My son has just started his career and it’s a humble request to let him live his life like a normal 14-year-old, without thinking about anything else but falling in love with the sport.”
The words stuck and struck the hearts of those who had something beating behind their rib cage. It was a humble fatherly request to journalists to stop hounding his teenage son Arjun, whose every little movement has been the topic of much discussion and newsprint ever since he first held a bat in his hand. Arjun had played in his first Kanga League match just that very day, and Tendulkar’s request thus came at a perfect timing and at the perfect venue, where journalists from his hometown Mumbai and across all age groups were in attendance. Tendulkar, 40, has attained demi-god status among India’s billion-plus population after breaking numerous international records and has been constantly under the spotlight for the majority of his 23-year playing career, which would have affected his private life and freedom as well. Any father would not want his son to go through the same.
While there have been some families where multiple generations made names for themselves, such as the Pollocks, the Amarnaths and the Pataudis, there have been many where the younger generation could not quite fill in their illustrious predecessors’ boots. Those expectations touch the tip of the Everest when your father is your country’s golden boy and a legend of the game, with feats to match up to that are near impossible. Liam Botham, son of the great England all-rounder Ian Botham, and Rohan Gavaskar, son of legendary Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar, come to mind. Both were never given a chance by their country’s respective media to ever breathe easy. Finally, both never ended up playing a Test match in their careers. Diego Sinagra was picked for the Napoli youth team as a child, and went on to represent Italy in the Under-17 level. But he never quite made it any further, and ended up playing beach soccer instead, just because one of his middle names was Maradona. Edson Cholbi Nascimento, or Edinho, played for four clubs in Brazil, including Santos, between 1990 and 1999 but never represented Brazil like his father Pelé. Edinho’s football career was over in 1999 when he was convicted for murder as a result of a street car race gone awry. He was later absolved of the crime.
That’s not to say young Arjun is going to be seen knocking down lamp posts and pedestrians on Marine Drive when he grows a little older. But will he be given a chance to make his own name, rather than being attached to his father’s shadow and initials all along. His father says that he is deeply in love with cricket and is really passionate, but will the media let that passion last? If so, for how long? Watching Tendulkar make this humble plea evoked a feeling of helplessness and sympathy towards him and his family. Right through his career, he had to handle the pressures and expectations of billions and live up to his stature of being one of India’s biggest public figures. While there are some who crave all the attention, Tendulkar doesn’t seem the kind who would. All he would want is a peaceful professional and personal life, without having to worry about guarding his every move and thinking more than twice before uttering even a single word. Would he want the same for his son? Which father would?
Tendulkar’s words drew applause from the gathering of journalists that day. Perhaps, he hoped that it would have made at least some difference, however minuscule. The following day, the country’s leading daily published a story titled “Son rises in maidan” and described Arjun’s every movement during his Kanga League fixture. Another daily did the same, with Tendulkar’s request to the media occupying just a tiny inset in the bigger story covering Arjun’s exploits. The media had given their reply to Tendulkar’s plea. Not that it would have surprised him the tiniest bit.