I've spent more than 2 decades in this country, and I'm pretty sure India has the least number of atheists. There are two humans in this nation who are surely believed to be heaven-sent, and immortal.
There is a thing beyond support, fandom, idolization, praises et al... It is what's called "Worship". I'll try to express how two people in India have created their own religion, and millions and millions of disciples.
I'm a Tamilian, born in Madras, moved out, and returned 10 years later to Chennai. I spent 10 years of my childhood in pockets of Central and Northern India. Through those years, I enjoyed the fragrance of Tamil cinema through the eyes of the earlier generation, i.e., of my parents. They were all fans of Shivaji, MGR, Jayalalitha and Nagesh... They were mostly well preserved VCRs of the movies, some of them in black-and-white. I would've no idea about how the Tamil cinema is currently doing, but enjoy myself with the old classics. And then, one fine Sunday, we moved to Chennai, in 1999.
The one word that one associated with "cinema" in this land was "Rajinikanth". Frankly, I hadn't seen many of his movies by then. And even since, I don't have a recollection of having watched most of the movies. But, that inexperience doesn't dock me of finding how the fans feel about him. During the first vacation that academic year, I had been to my grandparents' home, and the rest of my family was in Chennai. By the time the vacation got over, my sister & mom had watched every single Rajini movie that had been telecast on the TV channels during the holiday season. Sure enough, they had become instant fans of the superhero. So too, my dad.
One cannot talk bad about that actor. At all. He had a charm. It was visible, but invisible. He looked just like every other fellow you would meet in the state of Tamil Nadu, but he had that one talent to please everybody else that stood him apart from all of us. And everybody was happy he could be that man. He was no billionaire who came into the cine industry because of any household name! He was a conductor, plying buses in Bangalore. The famous director, K.Balachander opened his pathway to the cine industry and then, he took the industry by his side.
I'm a man of very poor memory in certain things. I have no clear idea what the story was in his movies Padayappa, or Mutthu or Arunachalam or Baadshah. I have seen them all, but the names confuse me. But surely, in each of those movies, there was a style, a charm, an identity, that separated him from the rest. He became the face of the Tamil cine industry, his moves were imitated by the kids and aged alike. Fan bases became fan clubs, and fan clubs became fan houses, and these houses became most sought after especially when there is a new cinema of Rajinikant coming out.
A new Rajinikanth movie is a festival. Large posters and figures of Rajinikanth are seen everywhere in Tamil Nadu (atleast). The "thalaiva" cut-outs look over the rituals, which include being showered with rose-water and milk, and end with the fans gracing themselves with the holy flame from the lighted camphor. Something which is done to Deities in temples while praying. A huge queue lingers outside theaters, which never reduces in length or enthusiasm for months. It's what people are willing to sacrifice to watch him in action. He almost never lets them down. All his movies are made for the people! Emphasis on the word "for".
And, who is he off the big screen? A man of simple nature, humble to the core, man of humility, no ego, loved by all. He doesn't involve himself in politics, nor does he stir any controversy. Not afraid to speak his frank mind in public. That little speech he made to Aishwarya Rai, half his age, spoke of the humility and respect he had for others, no matter who they were or what social status they held. Once, he was to play the role of a holy saint in a movie, and for that movie, he gave up all the worldly pleasures and led the life of a saint himself. THAT was dedication, respect. he wears simple clothing for public appearances. He runs a school for the differently abled. Even a poorly scripted becomes a whole new movie with Rajini on the screen.
When I joined this institute, here in Nagpur, I was paying the fee on the first day of the course. When I told the accountant that I was from Tamil Nadu, he smiled at me, put the paper work aside, removed his glasses with one hand and told me, "Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. Marathi roots, but India's best superstar. I love all his movies". I sensed pride in that tone.
The one word associated with cricket? "Sachin"
Even in my younger days, I've lived through the tales from my many elders about Gavaskar, Kapil paaji, Botham, Chappells, Caribbean magicians, the Don and others but I don't think there was one person whoc could've revolutionized the game of cricket to the extent Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has done.
The timid boy made his debut when most other players in the team were almost as old as his father, but, the flair that he had was not something that could go un-noticed. There was only one way for him - up. he rose through the ranks, he pulled down opponents with sheer brilliance. It needed the guidance of Dennis Lillee to make him focus on batting, and not pace-bowling, and how good has that paid off? I don't remember watching a single ODI that didn't feature a jam-packed stadium, just to witness one curly haired fellow bat.
Be it Sharjah or Mumbai, Madras or Sydney, England or Caribbean, each cricketing country has been graced by the brilliance of Sachin Tendulkar. Really, what makes him the heart-throb of half the cricketing fraternity? It is nothing different, he would say. It is something completely different, I have learnt.
If you watch him bat, one would change the quote "poetry in motion" to "Sachin with the bat". It is very difficult to find him play any ugly stroke. Ever. It is a treat to watch the fraction of second when his front knee bends, left elbow drops, right hand pushes, pad and bat come together and witness the straight drive which makes me skip a heart-beat almost every time I see it. It is one of the most beautiful thing one can witness on a cricket field. And what does he have for the bowler, a sheepish innocent smile. It is the look of a man who loves what he does.
For ages, he was the one, maybe the only one, who carried the responsibility of the Indian cricket team. The fortunes of Indian team was parallel to his. India relied on his performance. India breathed along with him, India cheered every shot of his, India prayed every day for him, he was in the thoughts of every concerned Indian cricket fan. More often than not, he did deliver. Which is why, he is better known as God...The God.
Critics come and go, but his answers to them keep coming. Sachin has seen the likes of Lara and Waugh come and go. But he goes on and on. Even the most perfect machine wears off after 20 years. But this run-machine just goes on and on. He looks the same lad as he was all those years ago, but he has become times more ferocious with the bat though staying as caring as ever.
1998 it was, when I fell in love with Sachin's commercial stint with Pepsi. 1999 it was when Sachin cried and never left the pitch when he got out in the test vs Pakistan, which India eventually lost. Sachin was the face of Indian cricket, so was he the hope of the Indian cricket.
Last year, I got a chance to witness him in action, during a test match. India were to field, and he was the last man to enter the field, and the reception he got was something one would associate with, probably, God. Every single soul in the stadium stood up, clapped his entrance, raised slogans in his praise, and kept on cooing "Sachiiiiiin Sachiiiiiin" whenever they liked. A man of 37 years of age, he would still lend his ears to the young and lesser-experienced captain, and would not budge against orders to field in the outfield, where of course he would be received by over-excited fans, who would be surely be acknowledged by a charming smile and a wave of hands...each and every single time. And we wonder why is a favourite.
An absolute gentleman on the field. One of the few cricketers who walk even for the faintest 'nicks, even if the umpire hasn't ruled him out. Not a single wince, scowl or protest. He respects the umpires decision, removes the gloves, thanks God almighty for helping him thus far through the innings, and feels a bit of pain for letting his team's expectations down a bit, he always has the hunger to do that one bit more.
He is a lifeline to many. I've heard stories where people suffering from critical diseases have said that the only thing that keeps them going is the sight of Sachin playing on the field. He is a miracle, and that, even Sir Don Bradman acknowledges. He said that the closest man to resemble him is Sachin Tendulkar. Even George Headley fans might agree. He sends shivers through the people with his strokeplay. Just 2 examples to prove that - the sudden shivering shrill in Tony Greig's voice (especially in Sharjah), and the obvious ear deafening noise of the crowd.
Yesterday afternoon, when I was sitting in front of a TV and watched Sachin enter the field, I heard the Chepauk crowd give him the best ever reception I have ever seen. Thousands of miles away, I so wished I could've been in there, the atmosphere was worth bottling and preserving for ages. The moment he got out, it was the silence like in a house paying homage to its hero.
I hope such silence never looms over him, ever. He doesn't deserve silence, he deserves the loud love from the world around him which has blossomed along with him. Listing and talking about his records is an insult to his immortality. Let the list be a sentence with no end.........
Rajini and Sachin are both immortal in our hearts. And this comes from a man who has never been a big fan of either, but could never not appreciate and respect the services they have lent to their religion, cinema and cricket, resepectively.