I woke up this morning to a news report of Malayalis flooding now-retired Maria Sharapova’s Facebook page with apologies.
We are admittedly living in an age of short-term memory, but despite this, the Maria Sharapova ‘I-don’t-know-who-Sachin-Is’ episode from 2014, and the resulting public backlash from Indian cricket fans who were in shock and denial when confronted with the fact that their “God” is not everyone’s God after all, is still hard to forget.
After Sachin’s recent ‘pro’-establishment tweet, alluding to external support to ongoing Farmer Protests in India as “propaganda”, it appears that criticism of the erstwhile infallible God is now par for the course. Or at least, the chance of you being branded ‘anti-national’ seems to have reduced. Or even if you are called ‘anti-national’ then you know you aren’t the only ‘anti-national’ anymore.
That wasn’t the case until a few years ago.
In 2016, stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat was roundly pilloried, when he made an admittedly unfunny, but still totally harmless Snapchat video parodying two of our most revered public celebrities: Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin is still my Bae, But…
Let me clarify: I love Sachin. I grew up idolizing him. I still find myself chanting “SACHIN SACHIN” in my head, every time I catch snippets of live cricket matches on TV. I continue to take irrational pride in the fact that I was born in the same year (1989) that Sachin made his India debut. I will forever view Sachin as the guy who gave Indians like me a sense of pride in an era where any success by an Indian in any sport was an exception, rather than a less-uncommon occurrence as it is today. I still think that Sachin – with his life-long babyface & still-to-crack high pitched voice – is our version of a Maradona, both in looks and deed.
Sachin as an active cricketer undoubtedly inspired millions of Indians to believe in him, themselves, and indeed the potential of our country. Sachin was truly a God, who made us have faith in higher powers, even if it was just for a brief two hour, half-day or few-days long period, when his exalted batting, bowling (or even fielding) cloaked us in a warm glow that felt like our own accomplishment.
I was among the many Indians who had tears in his eyes when Sachin gave his post-match retirement speech at the Wankhade Stadium.
But post-retirement Sachin seems to have shown little signs of evolving into a mature public figure, with depth and knowledge on issues beyond the cricket pitch.
Sachin, now the God of Small(er) Things?
Whether the new Farm Acts are pro or anti Farmers is up for debate. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject. But coming from the totally unrelated world of promotion of non-cricket sports in India, I do wonder if the reducing halo around Sachin can indirectly help in encouraging a more honest conversation on how non-cricket sports in India continue to remain in cricket’s shadow. Cricket is a religion in India, and Sachin is its God. But therein lies the problem. For, any religion inevitably entails the suspension of rationality, an unquestioned faith in its Gods & Goddesses, and an almost militant refusal to accept the existence of other religions.
Maybe now India as a country can mature into a more objective headspace, where its self-worth is not predicated on the performances of a single sporting team or the online utterances of one of its former practitioners.
Maybe cricket in India can finally convert from a ‘religion’ to a ‘sport’. Sachin can still remain its venerable God of course, but a God of smaller things not stretching beyond the boundaries of a cricket maidan.