Around the time of the assumed day when the world was to come to an end, an incident occurred which appeared no less than end of the world for many cricket lovers in India and also in many other parts of the world. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar announced his retirement from One Day International.
At the very beginning of this long pending post I must make it clear that there can be no dispute about the greatness of Sachin as a cricket player. But in this post what I am attempting is to understand, through the lens of pop-sociology, the forces that turned the great player of the game Cricket into a God and not just the greatest player of the game.
This is a long pending post. Long pending because I have been taking time not just to think, clearly, of what I want to say but also to think if I should voice it or not, being aware the kind of fanaticism that exists in relation to Sachin Tendulkar.
The history that Sachin created in the game of cricket is, according to me, a part in the larger history that gave him the status of God of the game but not the only factor. There are various other factors that have gone into him becoming the God, apart from his brilliance in the game which created its own history.
Lata Mangeshkar has a sweet voice which pulls the chord of one’s heart. But what made her voice the voice of the nation was not just her voice, as argued by Sanjay Srivastava, but various other factors of history which intersect with the history of Lata Mangeshkar, like the post colonial need for a feminine representation as an embodiment of nation to which the feminine voice of Lata suited in contrast with the masculine voice of the several other female singers of that period, the Hindu nationalism to which the saree draped image of Lata Mangeshkar played very well to define the ideal Indian women etc. The fact that the sound recording changing the voice culture also plays its role in turning the Lata as the voice of the new standard at a point where the artists of live performance are reaching the end of their singing careers.
Similarly there are various aspects from the history which intersects with the history of Sachin Tendulkar which has played its own innings in winning the trophy of God for Sachin.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar played his debut game in the year 1989. It is interesting to note that in the year 1987 India had hosted the ODI World Cup. This followed the 1983 World Cup victory of India, which had given a boost to the cricket craze in the Indian subcontinent. But the 1987 World Cup created an extra craze with the game being played, on the soil of the nation. The new cricket craze in the subcontinent intersects in the period where the great stars were dropping from the sky, one by one, leaving behind them a slightly weaker team. It’s at such a historical point of extra craze and a weakening team that Sachin Tendulkar made his entry into the field of cricket.
The 1992 World Cup brought colors to the game of cricket and added light. In the same year India opened up itself to liberalization which slowly formed a nexus between business, advertisements, media and cricket which corporatized media and cricket. With this nexus between business, advertisement, media and cricket the number of games being played increased giving the then weak Indian team showcase its weakness and Sachin an opportunity to show us his mastery and appear to the viewers as an individual who was larger than the game itself. The increase in the number of game was the reason for the increasing craze and the increasing craze was the reason for increasing number of games. Behind these two were the increasing business interests and an after-effect of it was the increasing number of advertisements.
At this hour the Indian cricket team had lost its charm and Sachin was the only consistent performer making him the apple of the eye of not just Indian cricket fan but also of media and advertisements. Interestingly it was the time when the new capitalistic aesthetics was trying to drive in the idea of slim, sleek, small/short as the model through its products. This took a complete shape only later in the course of history but the seeds of this new aesthetic idea or idea of aesthetics was being sown in those days and Sachin with his physically short stature and the sleek batting style became the ready-made icon for advertisements not just to sell the product but also the idea that “small is beautiful” and “sleek is style”.
With becoming the brand ambassador of various products Sachin became the signifier and the signified. Obviously his consistent performance when team India was at its best weakness his performance stole the headlines of the sports page. The multiple channels that made an entry into the country then started broadcasting every single match live. This projected more and more of Sachin and to add to the growing image of the man there was people like Ravi Shastri and Harha Bogle on the non-strikers end of the image making pitch, with an invisible magnifying glass attached to their tongue for exaggerated commentary making a mountain of a pin and God out of a great player.
There is always an embodiment of history’s epoch in certain individuals. Vinay Shukla has observed that Indian cinema’s heroes can be understood in three phases: The era of Dilip Kumar, the era of Amitabh Bachan and the era of Sharukh Khan. In the era of Dilip Kumar the hero had to be correct legally, ethically and emotionally. In the era of Abitabh Bachan the hero need not be correct legally but had to be correct ethically and emotionally. When Sharkh Khan’s era began the hero was not required to be legally and ethically correct but only emotionally. In these references we see that the larger spirit of the times the larger social consciousness was not just manifesting itself through these icons but also turning them into icons. The history’s spirit creates a hero/God out of the icon which it choses through whom it can express itself or in whom it can personify itself.
In the globalized, liberalized, privatized capitalistic new India in the post-1992 a sense of individualism within the idea of a community started emerging. The individual figure started becoming self-centric, in the new socio-economic and political condition, but not divorced of the idea of a community but within the idea of a community, being attached to it. Which other game could have suited other than cricket to become the favorite game of this new condition? Cricket is probably the only game where an individual can become a hero even when the team fails to win the game. Even on one of the biggest days of Sachin career when he made his 100th century the team for which he plays- India- lost the game. Cricket is a game which appears like a team game but is very individualistic by its nature. There can be no interaction between the individual and the team even when the individual is placed within the team. This nature of the game extended itself to non-cricket realm too. In that context one can remember the intervention of Sunil Gavaskar during the 1992 riots of Bombay to stop, within his own limits, the riots in his immediate surrounding. But with Sachin, who wore patriotism (through the symbol of national flag) on his hat/helmet, it took 20 years to say, for once and only once, that Mumbai was a part of India and thus indicate that Mumbai belongs not just to Maharashtrians. This nature of being and remaining an individual within the society and not interacting with society is a self reflecting story of a cricket innings, it looks. But that is how the new society was being formed, where “minding one’s own business” was becoming the “in” thing.
So the game of cricket became a larger embodiment of the epoch and Sachin became the embodiment of the spirit of the times not just by being a great player of the game but also by being an embodiment of the philosophies of “sophistication” “minding one’s own business” and “focusing on one’s career” and also by not getting into any kind of controversy which gave him the image of a “clean” person which went well with the new ideas of tidiness that was dawning on the collective psyche.
These non-cricket reasons have played the game for Sachin, to make him a God, and not just his bat and his records. The increase in the number of games contributed to the tons of records and runs that Sachin made, which in turn has a larger historical context. But yes, his talent grabbed every single opportunity or rather most of it to turn himself into an extraordinary player. His consistent performance, especially, when team India had no one to look at, created a special liking for him in the hearts of cricket lovers in India. There have been many players who have consistently performed very well in the game and who have made team India prouder than what Sachin has. But what makes Sachin a God to many? History has silently worked behind this image making, it appears to me. So to me the history that made Sachin a God is as important as the history that Sachin created in the game of cricket.
I have no disagreement with the fact that Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is a good player. In fact a great player. But it’s my personal opinion and also my belief that he was more of a statistician’s delight and over celebrated too. So on a personal note: maybe he is God, but I am an atheist.