[In memory of a friend tragically snatched away from this world and in honour of the greatest cricketer on the face of planet earth]
It was early in 2003 towards the end of the second semester when a passionate debate about cricket was suddenly ignited in our room no. 118 of Hostel 3. Guys from neighbouring rooms and afar had joined in the fray. The debate was like many other hostel debates that had happened in the past and would happen again in the future, intense and eventually unresolved. No side was ready to give any quarter and swords remained drawn. The topic was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and his greatness, and for once in my life I was not in his camp. Not in his camp because there was only one person battling for him and he was the greatest Sachin fan I have ever known. It's not an easy thing for me to say, super maniacal Sachin fan that I am, that Abhishek Tomer was such a Sachin fanatic that I seemed mild in comparison. In that debate, Tomer was insistent on only one point "Sachin bhagwaan hai (Sachin is God)!" I said that Sachin was and is my favourite player of all time, but it was too much to call him God because A. he was yet to win a World Cup (This was before he almost singlehandedly took India to the 2003 World Cup final), B. he sometimes stuttered in big matches (Again this was way before the magic he displayed in the 2 one day finals against Australia in Australia in 2008) and C. India had a much much better record of winning the match when say Sehwag or Ganguly scored a ton rather than Sachin (Put this down to bad luck more than anything else). He heard all of this patiently and told the rest of us "Say what you will, but one day you'll realize that Sachin bhagwaan hai!". He couldn't really convince us and we couldn't really convince him.
I was watching India bat on live television in 2008 when I heard of Tomer's tragic passing away. A friend had called me and told me the terrible news. That night was not Sachin's night either as within minutes of my coming to know, Sachin walked back to the pavilion, dismissed early. I thought with a lump in my throat and a reeling mind, "There is no point in playing this match, Sachin. Your greatest fan is no more."
When I think today and go back to that day seven years ago in Kurukshetra, I evaluate God's (the real one if there is one up in the heavens) track record. Does God always do what is asked of Him? Do we really believe that He will help us out of every ditch that life throws us into? Do we worship Him because of His iron-bound reliability or because of what He is possibly capable of? Would we really be happy if He gave us all that we wanted without a struggle or without the occasional sobering punch of defeat? If God is so far from perfect, how on earth can we train our guns on Sachin!
For more than 20 years, this man has carried the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders. He is too self-effacing, too much of a real gentleman to make any claims to be God. That is the most awe-inspiring aspect of Sachin's mental make-up. He wouldn't ever get thrown out of a night club for misbehaving with a girl (unlike a certain Australian competitor) and neither would he ever put the unity of his team at stake for his personal ego (like the West Indian great of this era who I personally believe is the only batsman in the world who can dare to look Sachin in the eye). Truth be spoken, Sachin could do that and get away with it such is the level of hero-worship the great man commands, but he would not... simply because he is Sachin. All he ever wanted to do is to walk out to the middle of the ground as the crowd shouts his name and hit the ball with the middle of the bat. He wants to get up every day, train, run, shout, bowl and give his 100% on the cricket field every single time. He wants to let loose a flood of joy and optimism through the lives of his millions of followers by that wonderful straight drive, the crackling cover drive or the bullet like pull shot. When Sachin bats, he bats for everybody and everybody bats for him. I don't care for all the records that he holds or how many trophies he has won for India, all mere statistics and cold numbers to me. It's how I feel when I watch him play however long or short his innings might be. For that wonderful honour of watching this artist at work, I am indebted to him forever.
When on February 24th, in the packed office canteen, we saw Sachin steal that final single to get to 200 and jumped up in delirious joy, there was only one thought running on my mind over and over again like the ticker tape they keep running headlines on at the bottom of news channel screens. Wherever you are, buddy Tomer, may your soul rest in peace and may you smile & savour this victory. When I see that an international sports legend is 36 years old and still as bubbly, enthusiastic and capable of bringing such happiness into people's lives, I must finally accept defeat in this 7 year old debate and say what must be said. "Sachin bhagwaan hai!". Enough said!