Brown Saheb’s Burden and Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar the cricketing legend is playing his last test match this week. Tunku Vardarajan marks this occasion by pissing on Tendulkar in his NYT column. Vardarajan’s biggest beef with Sachin seems to be that he didn’t retire two years ago. What did Sachin ever do to Tunku Vardarajan? And when did Vardarajan become an authority on cricket, I mean other than writing pretentious columns about what he eats during a cricket match? In fact in the column he says precious little about cricket but uses the column to bash India and Indians. Self hating, much?
As Nehru said on Gandhi’s death, so India will say on the day Sachin hangs up his white cricket flannels: “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.” (India mourns in purple prose.)
I haven’t come across anything as over-the-top in the Indian media, yet.
There is no Indian tradition of graceful retirement. The inherent human vanity of an authority reluctant to cede the public stage is reinforced by a culture of adulation, of shrieking, ululating crowds, of an uncritical elevation of heroes to godlike status by devotees who will not let go. In politics, in cinema, even in corporate business houses, old Indian men do not fade into the sunset. They hobble on and on. And when they die, they are “kept alive” by heirs who succeed them: sons, daughters, wives. Sport, by its very nature, is different: there is no elegant case for heirs on a cricket team, and the body imposes its own laws of retirement.
Is this a uniquely Indian phenomenon, sporting legends not wanting to retire? Moving on, he writes about those weird Indians with their weird gods and even weirder religion. Like all biblical stories make perfect rational sense.
After all, idolatry is an Indian art form. Some Indian gods have three heads, or 10 arms. Others have serpents coiled around their torsos, or rivers streaming from their heads. And one, Sachin, wields a sacred cricket bat, heavy, sweet, made of the finest willow.
Then he follows with some faux social anthropology, like an imitation David Brooks,
Sachin’s blossoming coincided with the economic liberalization that followed, and his cricketing splendor tracked a healthy, sometimes rollicking, growth rate. In his success, he embodied a new Indian self-image. Other heroes have since emerged: younger, brasher, like the New India itself, but Sachin’s heroism reminds the country of a more vulnerable time, and he is loved the more for that.
No cricketer has ever played 200 test matches before. No other cricketer will. Sachin managed the feat only because he has batted on for 24 years.
But we shouldn’t blame Sachin. In any other land, he would have aged, recognized the limitations brought on by age … and moved on. India has not let him do so. It is India, by its corrosive love, that has betrayed Sachin Tendulkar.
So let me get this straight, Tunku’s biggest beef with Sachin seems to be that Sachin did not retire on Tunku’s schedule. For some reason, he also seems to be bothered by Sachin’s humility. Also, Sachin’s Indian fans suck because they are too gauche to agree with Tunku’s superior and sophisticated judgment. Tunku Vardarajan’s column gives me a glimpse into how the British managed to subjugate India and rule it for over a 100 years, despite their tiny numbers compared to Indians. Now it is the brown saheb’s burden to make sense of those icky Indians for a NYT audience.
Tendulkar has had the greatest cricket career of anyone who has ever played the game.
I think I will take Lara’s word over the brown saheb’s.