Sachin transcends like Dylan and Eminem and Woods

FOR USE AS DESIRED, YEAR END PHOTOS - FILE - In this March 16, 2012 file photo, Indian students hold a large poster of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar after Tendulkar batted for his landmark 100th century, at a school in Chennai, southern India. Tendulkar, who had been stuck on 99 centuries for a year, became the first cricketer to score 100 international centuries when he hit to square leg and ran a single against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. (AP Photo/File) INDIA OUT
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By Sevanand Gaddala

It's interesting how certain icons of a particular field are most unlike their contemporaries. Bob Dylan was a folk singer but offended fans when he went electric, Eminem is a white rapper who isn’t much of a gangster, Tiger Woods is multi racial in a sport played overwhelmingly by whites, heck, even Barack Obama is a black man who won the most powerful position in the world, not by embracing but transcending race.

Another aspect of great men is that they transcend. The world takes more interest in their field or profession only because it has been brought to their notice through the great man’s feats. You may not care about painting but you know Picasso, classical music may not be your type of music at all but you’ve heard of Mozart, and scientists may seem like the most boring profession but you wouldn’t mind being as smart as Einstein. For me the thing that allures me most about Sachin Tendulkar is that he is a transcendent figure.

He is a shy, short, stocky man from a third world country that dominated a sport taught to us by colonial powers. The rest of the world may still think it is silly that men wearing whites play a game for five days with lunch and tea breaks all after which a draw is a probable result, but they want to hear more about this man who maintained such level of excellence for 24 freakin’ years.

I don’t like cricket that much. I cringe when I read some of those banners and posters held up by spectators in the stadiums. I roll my eyes every time I hear the phrase “In India, Cricket is more than a sport, it is a religion” and I want to scream “blasphemy” when Tendulkar is called a god. But I like Sachin Tendulkar and I don’t mind that he plays cricket.

As with the other greats, observing and thinking about Tendulkar is both exhilarating and frustrating. It’s exhilarating because you know that humans are capable of such excellence, but frustrating because It comes with the realisation I would never be able to command my body and mind to perform so.

Since I’m not an aficionado, I don’t care about his technique or his skill set, but I’m intrigued by the inner workings of his mind, psyche, and will. But because he reveals so little in news conferences and interviews, Tendulkar remains a mystery. Even his wife Anjali recently confessed, “There's a lot that goes on in his mind. He doesn't let us know, maybe one day he will tell.”

Watching him, the spinning top comes to mind – at optimum speed it looks still, almost motionless, but we know that there some laws of physics that are frenetically at play. I want to know if it’s pure instinct, or if he’s relying just on the conditioning of practice. Just how closely do his mind and body work together? I wonder what it must feel like for him to experience the thrill of imagining doing something a certain way and then physically doing it exactly that way – again and again. Those times he is in the zone (heck, when is he not in the zone) does he feel he is in control or is it some kind of a possession? Is he ever afraid he will lose that or can he will himself into the zone?

I’m in awe of the way what for his peers is a mountain top to him is a plateau, a table land. There are other batsmen who found themselves in such good form, a purple patch, but just as they reached the mountain top they invariably had to descend. There are no mountain tops for Tendulkar. He is such a force of nature he has blasted and hammered the mountain top to create a plateau – for himself.

So, Tendulkar has finally walked away from the game and I need to get back to my life. And I will ever so often, look for inspiration and pointers from the greats of my profession, but I know I will not be able to resist looking for clues, any bits of crumb, from any talk about Tendulkar, that can unlock at least some quality of performance in me. I might even think of him when I’m doing the not so complex or great tasks of everyday life. Isn’t this how the rest of the country thinks of him? And now maybe even the rest of the world?

Who else but a transcendent can creep in and burnish himself in the flesh and grey matter of our brains? We all have a little part of our brains that Tendulkar owns. Maybe that’s a much bigger accomplishment than owning the 22 yards of the cricket pitch.

Raised in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, Sevanand Gaddala is a writer, journalist and theologian. He is based in Bangalore and one of a few Indians who doesn't care about cricket all that much.