Sachin Tendulkar is special not only because his names always speaks volume about statistics. His actual importance is that over 24 years that he represented India, he shaped out a nationalist identity of a changing India, a India which discovered itself as an young and ambition nation.
If we rewind the clock, Tendulkar made his debut at a time when India was not happy. In fields like politics, films or sports, the main topics that keep an average Indian interested, the biggest democracy wasn't in the best of health.
The young national leader on whom the nation had banked after Indira Gandhis' assassination five years ago perished under serious corruption charges, the cricketing legend called Sunil Gavaskar had already quit the field while another icon Amitabh Bachchan was past his prime. The country was desperate to find its next hero and there was this lad with a curly hair.
In 1989, there was a vacuum in the Indian life and Tendulkar filled it
Sachin Tendulkar's arrival was also special in the pre-liberalisation era. In a market dominated by the Ambassador cars and black-and-white televisions, the 16-year-old Marathi boy's appearance was a refreshing experience for the nation. His heroic debut against arch-rivals Pakistan also played a part in a fast development of Tendulkar's gigantic image and impact on the Indian mind.
Debut series against Pak and a deadly delivery! This was enough for Sachin
The blow that he received from fierce Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younis in that tour was perhaps the first touch that made Tendulkar a darling of Indian nationalism. Even a 200 against any other country on debut might not have matched 16-year-old Tendulkar's heroic act of facing the Pakistani pacers with a bloodied nose.
When politics was polarising, Sachin united the nation
In domestic affairs also, Tendulkar fast emerged a pan-Indian character not just because he entered Indian cricketing world as a prodigy but also because there was a deep polarisation growing in the nation's socio-political life. After the Congress's pathetic loss in the 1989 elections and the fall of a young leader in Rajiv Gandhi, the Hindutva politicians began to mobilise their energy for the next few years and it was a time when the middle-class secular class of India was facing an identity crisis.
Gandhi's assassination in 1991 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 were two shattering events for the secular middle-class of India and it was Tendulkar who had helped it regain some confidence. Tendulkar's maiden tour to Australia in 1991-92 had confirmed his capacity to succeed at the world stage as his superb knocks in Perth and Sydney proved and he was back in the country after a very long tour as the polished diamond.
Politicians disappointed moral Indians, Sachin didn't
Politics in India saw the advent of the period of instability in the late 1980s and early 1990s and corruption began to surface as a major characteristic of public life. This had left the average Indian, who did not approve of dishonesty and loss of morality, disappointed and Tendulkar again was a relief for those souls. The cricketer was never a politician but he was always looked up to as a benchmark, particularly the average section. His untainted image and the public knowledge about his perfect family training by his modest family did his acceptability a world of good. Only filmstar Amitabh Bachchan can be compared to the cricketer in this respect.
Post-liberalisation, Sachin didn't lose focus
In 1991, India saw the beginning of the liberalised era. And Tendulkar, unlike other youngsters of that era like Vinod Kambli and Sanjay Dutt, continued with his mission unaffected by anything. This was again something the average Indian cherished and began to set him as an example before his or son children. Tendulkar had never endorsed cigarette or alcohol for advertisement and he was immensely admired for this. The determined focus on career and the awareness about his social responsibility as the icon made it certain that it was only time before he was called the Banyan Tree of Indian cricket.
Politics was vulnerable again in the mid-1990s, Sachin's commitment was never
India's next phase of political uncertainty had begun in 1996 when again the Congress suffered a loss and between 1996 and 1999, the country saw its prime minister changing five times. Tendulkar had become the captain of India for the first time around then and there was a sense of joy in the air for the common Indians who had felt betrayed by the country's political class. Tendulkar's team had lost in his very first match as the captain but that did not turn away his supporters. The man had hit a valiant century in that match against Sri Lanka and it was enough to cement the belief in the public mind that the man never gave up when it came to his responsibility towards the nation.
1989 was back in 1999, this time in India
In 1999, there was a revisit to 1989 when Pakistan came to India to play a test series after a gap of 12 years. Tendulkar had played an innings of 136 against the arch-rivals in the first test in Chennai and under a lot of pain in his back. Yet, he could not bring victory as India collapsed after his dismissal and lost by just 12 runs.
It was again a moment of Tendulkar's affirmation as a national hero like that in 1999 when he was hit in the face in Pakistan. The pain and the defeat made him a giant. It was also the year when the BJP-led NDA government handed a defeat to the Pakistani forces in Kargil. The two battles had different results, yet Tendulkar's losing glory made him immortal.
Sachin and coalition politics: Similarity there too!
Tendulkar did not have the bear the entire batting line-up of the team on his shoulders once the Gangulys and Dravids had arrived on the scene and after he gave up his captaincy for the second time in early 2000, his performance as a batsman continued with a smooth flow, just like the governments at the Centre, which begun to witness a return to normalcy.
India was not the 'only-Tendulkar' team from the late 1990s just like its coalition politics, where there was no centraisling authority anymore. But yet Tendulkar was a man who stood out from the rest, just like former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and now BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi This is a paradox that sets a similarity between Tendulkar and the coalition pattern of Indian politics.
We are feeling sad over Tendulkar's retirement for he had given wings to the dreams of the Indian middle-class at not so happy times. He took the fight to the opposition at a time when chips were down and that had instilled confidence in the mind of millions. His fight with the bat was in spirit similar to Bachchan's virtual crusade in the 1970s and 1980s. Tendulkar's identity had changed with his age, playing style and the prevailing conditions and this is perhaps the biggest reason that had given such a longevity to his acceptability.
Every post-colonial society needs and hence manufactures a hero. Tendulkar is our latest. Who next?