My Role Model …

Great photographs tell stories and capture the enormity not just of moments, but of the sentiment around them.

This is my favorite photograph of all.

It is of Rhea holding my hand for the first time. Just born, barely awake, her entire hand smaller than that part of my finger (Distal Phalanx, says Google). Tiny, but overwhelmingly engulfing. This was infinity and eternity all at once. I will never forget it.

Rhea

She arrived in the world earlier than most kids do. And somewhere in those early days, needed to fight just that bit harder than most kids do. She did.

Now, next month, she’ll be 13. Thirteen! If you haven’t been there, or even if you have, the prospect of a teenage daughter is, let’s face it, daunting. This is when all the scary stuff about vanity and rebellion is supposed to kick in, when the conditions implicit in unconditional love become that much more stark, when you’re acutely aware of the importance of every step you take as a parent and thereby unduly nervous about it. This is when you balance independence with control. This is when you hold hands but also when you let a bit go.

My daughter is now no longer at an age where knowledge is what is presented to her and absorbed effortlessly. Now, her curiosity shapes what she learns. She has the means at her disposal just like everyone now does (did you know that there is a Wikihow page on How to be a Good Daughter? Yes, there are 14 easy steps apparently). It is a bottomless, horizon-less world out there.

This is how she’s shaping up : Her room is the color of her favorite team – the LA Lakers (no, not Team India), on the wall there is a Justin Bieber poster (no, not Eric Clapton), and for mood, One Direction sing the Story of My Life over and Over Again. It is beautifully infuriating.

On the odd day, we sit down with her and talk of the value of friendship and choices. How far you go, baby, depends on who goes with you. Choose wisely. Beware the alluring sounds of alarm bells, for that is how they sound at that age. Be careful of the examples you follow and even more cognizant of the ones you set. Read. Write. Always read and write. Express yourself. Follow the news. Compete. Be kind.  It is our own little Wikihow.

And then, on a day to day basis, we keep a watchful eye. But some of the biggest examples of character come when you hardly expect them. About a year or so ago, Rhea told us of this initiative in schools here to volunteer in various ways for Cancer cure and research. She told us of her desire to shave her head , donate her hair, show solidarity, raise money, contribute to finding a cure and help those who waited for one. It was a decision with amazing clarity.

She had read about it, spoken with friends, understood what it meant and chosen to do it. Over the past year, her resolve has been unstinting, her excitement only increasing. It is probably what she has looked forward to the most. This wasn’t a parent’s idea of virtue carefully planted or spoon-fed. It was in every way her own initiative born out of her own sense of value.

So tomorrow, she will do what she set out to do. And I will be there to hold her hand

My daughter is older than that girl who first held my hand and I am proud that as she enters her teenage years, my daughter’s biggest strength is implicit in this choice that she has made. That for her, the real cancer is apathy and the only cure is empathy.

The Future Shows The Way …

Last week, Tara Tripathi Sarkar performed a big act. In the Straits Times this morning, Rohit Brijnath wrote about it.

You can’t imagine the nausea. Can’t feel the fatigue. Can’t touch the sores in the mouth. Can’t experience the diarrhoea or constipation. Can’t see what this drip of a chemotherapy drug does to the body. Except the hair. Always, in movies, in photographs, we see the hair gone. Falling in clumps from the head, vanishing from the eyebrows. It’s as if cancer leaves you naked, stripping away so much of you. Even vanity.

And so, in an attempt at visible solidarity with cancer sufferers, people shave their heads. It is a bare statement to raise funds for necessary research. It is painless and symbolic, yet I have failed to do it myself, as if the superficiality of vanity and the real absence of courage are stilling me.

My grandfather fell to lung cancer, dying in slow, painful motion, and so, yes, like you probably, I know this disease. I also know Thomas Jefferson’s words: “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act”, and yet I don’t act.

But Tara Tripathi Sarkar did. And it’s why she’s better than me.

In a friend’s dimly lit study, Tara sits, one leg folded on the chair, arms semaphoring, two gold stars glinting in her ears, the room illuminated by her smile and the light reflected from a head with no hair. She’s healthy, loves dogs, fitness and movies and didn’t know what the word “vanity” means. She’s also shaved her head, cried when her hair fell out, and has raised $4,055 so far through St Baldrick’s Foundation.

Did I mention she’s 13?

At 13, you’re supposed to be unaware, Snapchatting after lights out and dreaming of Justin Bieber. You’re not supposed to be capable of taking a leap over the chasm that separates intent from action. It is the most telling of human acts: to not merely be good, but in fact do good.

Let’s be clear, this is no junior saint at work, no overdeveloped conscience in a precocious head, no child who read deeply on kids’ cancers and felt compelled by a rush of empathy. Discovery of the self is far more complex, it is about the first, tiny steps a person takes beyond his own, safe world.

And so Tara stepped out. And on her own.

Parents everywhere push their children towards virtue. Help a neighbour. Support a cause. But there is a substantial and separate beauty to the act that originates from a young teenager’s self, an idea to try something that is not coerced nor suggested by the parent. Where there is no adult hand to lead – in Tara’s case her parents were supportive – but only a childish one that reaches out tremulously to experiment on its own.

Tara is hardly the only child of her age in this city to shave her head and only representative of a breed. She’d heard about heads shaved for a cause. A friend told her she was going to do it. And she discovered St Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that funds research for cures for childhood cancers and which has been supporting Duke-NUS’ Paediatric Cancer Research in Singapore since 2011.

So she sat, was shorn, was scared a little (what will people say?), yet emerged as an adventurer who’d made an early exploration into the idea of compassion.

The shaved head, for some, is a defacing of the self and is an idea that can alarm parents. People will stare, they’ll laugh, you’ll be that most terrible of things – different. You’ll stand out in a way we’re not sure you’re ready for. But perhaps we underestimate both the resilience of our children and their sensitivity.

Her head, Tara tells me, is an object of fascination, rubbed like a magic lamp. Respect has come her way, talk of bravery, a contribution from teachers in her school, stares, and yet also the awareness that “it’s OK to be bald if you’re a girl”. In a small way, perhaps not yet entirely digested by her 13-year-old brain, she is starting to appreciate the beauty of difference.

This is surely what we want, children who are sensitive to the differences, of colour, look, privilege, that percolate within a society. No one is advocating schools alive with unfettered self-expression and no boundaries, but blind conformity will suffocate the beautiful bits of individuality that make us so human.

It is where St Margaret’s Secondary School erred last year by chastising the brave girls who shaved their heads for Hair for Hope and did not wear wigs. To cover them up was to miss the point.

Growth as a person lies beyond the degree. As a parent of an older child, I wish for her a fine job, a stable marriage, but if I haven’t stressed the value of decency, the strength of integrity, the ugliness of bigotry, if I haven’t provoked her capacity to care and encouraged a spirit of adventure, then I have failed.

For that, in many ways, is the more real education. As Tara’s father, Mr Jyotibrata Sarkar, says: “It’s not a grand, noble step, but I thought it was a big step and I wanted her to take that step. To know there is a world beyond you and that it’s not always about you.”

Already, at 13, Tara is appreciating the power of the symbolic act, for if she wished to raise $400, now it is 10 times that figure. Already, she is negotiating feelings she is unfamiliar with: “I did feel I was doing something for somebody else. It’s a different kind of happy than doing something for yourself.”

One of the alluring parts of the young is that they are often absent of artifice, carrying with them a simple directness. And so Tara won’t allow us to lift her up as some glittering role model, and says: “It feels good, but it’s not as big a deal as other people make it out to be.” Her hair, she calmly points out, will grow back and, in her most profound moment, she adds: “I can’t say I understand how (kids with cancer) feel. I am not going through all that.”

There is, we’re learning, no prescribed age to make a difference. And a difference is being made. As Professor David Virshup, director, Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Signature Research Programme at Duke-NUS, says: “The survival rate for certain types of childhood leukaemia beyond 10 years from diagnosis is more than 70 per cent compared to less than 10 per cent in the 1960s. These young philanthropists are leading us in the belief that we can do better, and we must.”

For Prof Virshup, and every researcher, Tara matters. All these young kids who take a stand matter. Every fund and dollar matters. But for us it also matters because there cannot be anything more vital than to encourage the humanity that inhabits our children. For in a single act they can understand, and so do we, that when hair falls off, often people grow.

Postcards from a dream..

Long before A Gran Plan was even a plan, she and I, as much in love with cinema as we could be – watched Good Will Hunting. And within it, this scene stayed on loop – over and over and over again. Till we knew it.

Notice the cockiness of  Matt Damon’s Will Hunting at the start, the assured sadness of Robin Williams’ Sean Maguire, his delicate balance of counsel, admonishment and imploration as the camera lingers on him, the ambient sound underlining why this scene could have been done indoors but was better done in the real world. Look at when the camera returns slowly to include Will Hunting, his eyes just that bit shifty as a tenuous bluff is called, that hint of a gulp which one tries to disguise at a time like that but never really manages,  and notice too when the music comes in serenading the dawn of truth…

It’s a magnificent scene, brilliant in almost every aspect of film making and we remember seeing it often. Every viewing brought out a new perspective, a more exciting debate, a fresh nuance.  Its great quality is that even seen in isolation, the power of the dialogue (for Matt Damon’s fragile silence never allows it to be just a monologue) holds you and educates you.

But what lingers really is the gist of it: that experience is the only real intelligence…

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At the start, A Gran Plan was, as far as I know,  a nameless, featureless pursuit.

There were children who were attending a film appreciation workshop at Playacting and the grand plan was that the workshop would culminate in a film. Perhaps a short film, but something which exposed them to the art and craft of structuring a tale and then transferring it from vivid imagination to eloquent images.

That was all.

Every dream  has nubile beginnings till it gets nurtured by a desire which derives perhaps its greatest strength from its own innocence.

***********

Sangeeta had been toying for a while with the idea of the story which ultimately became A Gran Plan. The original premise was that it be staged somewhere, like some of her earlier works. As the film appreciation workshop developed, so too did the idea that perhaps this story could form the backbone of something bigger. Even at this stage though, its horizon was limited to doing it with a scratch crew and adult cast, almost entirely locally.

My sense is that the growing confidence and enthusiasm of the children fuelled  and emboldened the dream.

One reads and hears often of the meticulous planning and effort that goes into first ventures. A Gran Plan was none of that. What was the plan? Who was the audience? How was it going to get out there? None of these questions were asked.

All that was answered was a feverish desire to chase a dream.

But about a year later, it was conceived, written, named, sourced, directed, edited. Six months later, it was awarded.

***********

Along the way there were many – too many to mention, too important to forget – who bought into the dream and invested, among other things their time and other equally hard earned resources. As the dream grew, so too did their investment. As the dream faltered – for all dreams do – their resolution provided it with strength and their strength provided it with resolve.

The shared money, the time with the kids, the houses to shoot in, the beds to sleep in, the clothes to borrow, the schedules to coordinate, the tips on the weather, the visits to the hospital (that’s another story), the meals for the crew, the efforts at cleaning up, the liaison with the music director and singer(and so what if Shreya Ghoshal was his undying, unsolicited, unprofessed love), the late nights, the early mornings, the dialogue, the arguments, the debates, the celebration … they all contributed.

The only thing better than a dream is a shared dream.

***********

Being a part of or at least being around a film crew is perhaps something which should be on every bucket list.  This lot come together from diverse backgrounds, different age groups, unique skill sets and almost always have strong opinions on everything from the color of the set to left wing socialism. And yet, they somehow magically and implicitly believe in the Director and the actors on set. Its a very safe place.

A lot of the crew for A Gran Plan were a result of cold calls and cross referenced chats. Each arrived at various stages of the film, many on the first day of the shoot. You would never have seen someone buy-in and commit as fast and as much to something which was unknown.

The degree of suddenness of the commitment and bonhomie is eclipsed only by the abruptness with which it all ends. As the movie completes, they vanish just as soon as they had arrived, leaving pretty much only the Director holding the baby.

But there’s a beautiful lingering.

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The last time she played a central character, Farida Jalal won the Best Actress Filmfare Award even as the film, Mammo, won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. There were days in the A Gran Plan shoot when the crew and onlookers applauded her takes, only to be astonished when she would ask if she could give another take.

But as you sit to watch the film next week, notice too,  the cinema newbies – like Tania Mukherjee, particularly in the closing stages of the film.

Also, take a look at the kids – all acting in their first film. While you enjoy their dialogue and banter in helping set up the film, keep a close eye on the dinner scene or the scene at the end and watch the expression of their silence.

And most of all, watch Ollie. Oliver Kennett’s role has dialogue, a gamut of emotions never easy to portray and long pauses in scenes where its just him and Farida Jalal. In many ways, you’ll see that he walks away with the film. If I could have a Dollar for each time you’d want to hug him….

***********

Sangeeta thrives in the slipstream of doubters. Those who prophesize failure are the ones that inhabit her shrine. In itself, that is a romantic concept, but as the best advice of all time goes : Don’t try this at home.

Nevertheless,  her journey from scripting a story to making the film was a long, hard road and often a lonely battle. The parts I remember are really the good ones – the joy when Farida Jalal said “Yes”, the first shot that morning, the prayers before the first shot every day, the lyrics arriving from Jaideep Sahni, the first cut of the song by Shreya Ghoshal, the first look at uncut footage, the first cut, the first reaction from friends, the first private screening on a big screen,  the thrill of filling up festival forms, the acceptance at all those festivals, the excitement of heading off to New York and LA to attend the festivals, the call that day from New York saying she’d won the Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker and that Farida Jalal had won Best Actress at Harlem, Ollie’s award as Best Child Actor, the trip to Delhi to attend the Delhi International Film Fest, the big cake by the Taj the next morning when she’d won Best NRI Film

There were other days too. A lot of the film was shot at home, it was edited entirely in the study and all those days of the process were a swarm of busy, lonely struggles. And that was before it was complete. The saga of trying to sell it in Mumbai was another story altogether – Aside from the fancy distributors who wanted to know if there was any “masala” (Sir, its Farida Jalal, a family and kids!) which you could forgive but not ignore, most of the rest of it was painfully cliched “It-is-great-but-its-in-English” or “It-is-great-but-what-can-I-do-with-it” or “Have-you-considered-serialising-it-for-television?”. The pain of an unreleased, completed work is a terrible downer.

But ultimately, it is here.

A Gran Plan releases in Singapore next week.

Sometimes, one sees a work ethic, a pursuit of a cause or a devotion to a dream and the surprise isn’t that there is success, but that there was ever any doubt.

The Trailer of A Gran Plan here.
The Song (sung by Shreya Ghoshal, lyrics by Jaideep Sahni, Music by Kabir and Kaizad) here.

Book your tickets here.

On Listening ..

Rohit Brijnath in yesterday’s Straits Times.

 

In my school perched on a northern India hilltop, the wind at night rushed furiously through the trees and sounded to me like a fleeing cavalry of galloping ghosts. I remember this. I remember reading to the percussive sound of a monsoon rain, the unkind swish of a teacher’s cane, the clinking cans which were the milkman’s xylophone, the beseeching caller from a distant mosque.

Even as we grow older, the music of our youth never dims. Sound, after all, is essential to our personal histories, as if we are connected by a string of strange notes to another time and forgotten places. As children, our ears seemed as open as our minds, but as busy adults caught in a cacophonic planet, we have forgotten how to listen.

People wail online and harangue on Twitter and righteous opinion is hurled at us like tossed confetti. The television debate is often a poor version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral where angry rhetoric is fired from predictable positions. There is a lot of telling, but not much listening.

A wise fellow given to clever anagrams once shuffled the letters in “listen” and came up with “silent”. Sometimes, to do one requires an embrace of the other. To listen is to open up my world to receive from yours, it suggests I can be enriched by what you say, it means I must suspend my belief that I know it all and empty myself of preconceptions. Listening is a quiet and lost humility.

I had no idea till last week who Zeno of Citum was – a Greek thinker, who else – but he wrote: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” It is simple mathematics that Anton Casey might have applied. If he had read aloud his puerile Facebook posts, the words percolating within, their implication digested, he might have deleted them and stayed happily anonymous.

Casey didn’t listen to himself or his prejudices, neither did some members of the online mob who flayed him. Few of us do these days, despite growing up to Simon and Garfunkel’s 1965 warning about “People hearing without listening”.

On the Net, irate comments to articles often have no connection to the topic at hand, just wild rants about imagined slights. Already amidst the tragedy of a missing plane there is irrelevant innuendo about meteors, aliens and Bermuda triangles. Who knew the human race needed so badly to be heard?

Listening is learning, it is reflection, it is an art worth reacquiring. It is not only about the words we hear, the tone we recognise, but also in the languages of the bodies we read. In a teacher’s still stance and stern face, we have all listened to disapproval.

As Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf percussionist, wrote, listening is linked to sound, yet also feel. She would put her hands on the wall when a teacher played notes on the timpani – it produces a lot of vibrations – and found she could “distinguish the rough pitch of notes by associating where on my body I felt the sound”. Low sounds in the legs, high sounds on face.

Listening is not all seriousness, it is whimsy and pleasure, it is the hoot of laughter, the melancholic whistle of the departing steam engine, the crow cackling out a soliloquy. Perhaps it was easier as a boy for I had no mobile phone, no computer game, no iPod, no TV. So I had to listen to the world, if not my mother.

Now, with headphones on, few care to eavesdrop on the world. It is as if we choose not to experience life. Part of it is understandable for urban sprawls echo with the dull sound of rumbling car and groaning crane. It is why we must flee now and then into nature to listen to the planet.

In thick jungle, over the tranquil sounds of murmuring river and humming insects, it is the monkey’s alarm call and rustle of the panicky deer taking flight that help build a picture of a tiger prowling through his domain.

But even in cities we can find fulfilling music or at least find places to listen to ourselves, order our thoughts and restore our sanity. It can be found in morning runs when we are attentive to every beat of heart and gasp of lung and have conversations with our deepest selves.

It is discovered in kitchens, where a friend tells me sound is integral to his art, for he is attuned to the tales told by every spluttering spice and sizzling seed in his oily pans. It is found by the sea and in the quiet depths of the Botanic Gardens, where if you wait you might hear a leaf fall.

There is much to listen to if we care to and if we also accept that all of us are carriers of tales. Years ago, I found myself captive to three old men – their hearing faulty, their zest enchanting – as they exchanged tales of India’s freedom struggle and spoke compellingly of legendary figures from my schoolboy textbooks whom they had met. We were in a hospital waiting room and escape was impossible. I had to listen and then I was grateful for this was an oral history of my land.

The sentences of old folk can meander like a kite on a windy day, but listening is patience. It is waiting as a grandfather stitches memory together and tells tales of a different Singapore that will be lost with his passing. You cannot appreciate a nation’s present if you haven’t listened attentively to its past.

Yet old folk must pay attention, too, for the young are restless messengers of new ideas. In conservative nations an outdated hierarchy of speech persists, wherein women and children must be the listeners, not the listened to. It is underpinned by conceit for it suggests every voice does not matter, when of course it does.

We need not check our hearing, but only recalibrate our ability to listen. So read aloud a passage from a lyrical book. So remind yourself at parties, as I should, of the writer Russell Baker’s warning:

“When you’re talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that you can hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a moment and listen to yourself. It’s good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe… you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamefully foolishly.”

I am trying to open my ears. It is why two months ago – to the laughter of my daughter – I pressed a stethoscope against her stomach. My mind closed the door on every distraction and I waited for it, this faint yet frequent sound which a doctor friend had told me about. There… yes… I swear I heard it… did I? Maybe it was just my imagination, but it scarcely mattered. I was listening for my granddaughter’s heartbeat and listening to life.

Of Memories, Loss and Love ..

Rohit Brijnath in this morning’s Straits Times.

In a drawer in his bedroom, inside his neat house, next to his wallet and his watch, lies the card. It is like any other card, a piece of folded, white cardboard. It is like any other birthday greeting, full of wishes from her and exclamations of love. Yet it is like no other card because he doesn’t know if this is her last love letter to him. Not because she is going anywhere but because her memory is. She isn’t falling out of love with him, it’s just that she just might forget how to love him.

This is not a Valentine’s Day- approved love story. It has no happy ending, but then love stories often have elegant beginnings, it is their conclusions which are rarely tidy. Relationships fray, romance fades, companionship grates, disease calls. It’s when you know love isn’t a one-off bunch of exquisite flowers, but a grittier and more persistent virtue. Love is cleaning diapers, it is hard work.

This love story is about two people: Raj, 67, a man built of chunks of muscle and wit and gentleness; and Bobbie, 63, an elegant woman whose beauty has not yet been sanded away by time. They met in 1978 in Kolkata, travelled to another land, had a son, then three grandchildren and live amidst movies and books in a corner of Melbourne.

It is a neat and familiar suburban picture, except for this: Raj loves Bobbie, and Bobbie has dementia. Every year he gives her a Valentine’s Day present. Now she doesn’t know what the day means.

Raj cannot precisely summon the day when the threads of his wife’s logical brain and memory began to fray. Was it summer when she began to repeat herself? Was it spring when she watched television and kept asking the same questions?

He can’t remember, he just knows that over seven years, like a slow, unfixable leak of reason and recall and feelings, Bobbie’s momentary lapses have turned into a dreadful pattern. She knows the way back home from the shops but cannot recognise friends. She has forgotten familiar tastes – she relished curries, now she abhors them – yet rises in delight when her son steps through her door.

The death of neurons turns the brain into an erratic, clumsy machine which no potion can fix and no surgery can mend. Your wife is there before you and yet a terrible theft is under way, a hollowing out of her which you cannot stop. It imprisons you in a vice of confusion, helplessness, sadness, yet within this changed life Raj has not forgotten how to love Bobbie. He has just gently renegotiated the terms of this romance.

He is her listener. And so she will speak, and repeat, every day from a similar script, yet he will never silence her. He is her chef. He will wake at 5.30am to make her lunch and then return from work to put together her dinner, faithfully putting on a plate all that she likes. He is her compass and he is her detective. When she says her mouth is burning, he will investigate and find she has used detergent, not mouthwash.

He is her guide and he is her friend. He will take her shopping and stand mute as she gathers endless items and then pays the incorrect sum because prices and mathematics elude her. He just inclines his eyebrow at the shopgirls who are now his accomplices in a compassionate routine: surreptitiously they will put away items, yet never ruin her day.

In books, love is built of a scaffolding of shared words and sharp dialogue. In films, two characters meet, tenderness is expressed, feelings are returned and they bend for a kiss. Here, love is more silent and undemonstrative, here there is a limited exchange of the normal vocabulary of affection, for Bobbie cannot easily express emotion. So, on almost every day, nothing is taken by Raj, but only given.

It is as if he has embraced the idea embedded in the author Anne Morrow Lindberg’s words on changing love: “Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”

But then sometimes, for no apparently scientific reason, the tide turns. Sometimes, from nowhere, Bobbie loves him back.

Last year, Raj comes home on his birthday to find a bottle of bluish liquid waiting for him. “It is what you like to put on your face,” she tells him. She has bought him mouthwash, but she thinks it is after-shave. It is what he used to like, now it’s only the colour that remains with her. She also gives him a tracksuit, but it is small enough to fit their grandson.

It doesn’t matter to Raj: He just thinks of her walking to the shops, he imagines her rummaging through her memory, he considers her gesture – and then he sits down, this friend of mine, and he weeps. Her buying this bottle, he knows, is a profound act, for it is as if love has transcended dementia, as if for this brief, wondrous moment it has defeated the disease.

Love – even if it is quick flashbacks, sudden shards of recollection, unconnected pieces from a past – is possibly among the last of Bobbie’s memories. Old memories of this greying, bespectacled man who has spent a life alongside her, memories so deeply imprinted they are still defying erasure. On a recent night when I visited, when he bid her good night, she took his hand and kissed it, once, twice, four times, seven times. She never did this before, but these days she does and he cannot explain it. Except to say that he is grateful.

It is when he tells me about the card, the one he now keeps in his drawer. On Jan 4 this year, as she always did, she gives it to him. It is his birthday but she has bought him a wedding card and it is a beautiful mistake.

Inside she scrawls a message in her altered handwriting, but this year, like last year, she signs off in a way she has never done before. She writes, “Your wife, Bobbie.” Is she reminding herself who she is to him? Or is she telling him, Raj, please, don’t ever forget who I am to you?

An Anthology of Sachin Tendulkar Tributes …

Sachin Tendulkar’s career had been overwhelming and so too was the deluge of tributes.

Here’s my (far from comprehensive) selection of favourites.

Rohit Brijnath wrote as only he can. If you were fortunate enough to live in Singapore, (or were a subscriber of the Straits Times), you’d have read a lot more than the ones that finally made it to the wider world outside. At first, there was The Patriotic Pandemonium of Sachin Tendulkar at the time of the announcement of Tendulkar’s retirement. This was on the 15th of October, more than a month before the day it all ended. Read the first line of the piece a few times before going further – “WILL he make a speech, this retiring Sachin Tendulkar, in his home city of Mumbai in November during his last Test and is it the closest we’ll come to a nation crying?“.
Then the long form Genius in Residence at Livemint, as much a letter of gratitude as a tribute. Finally, the day after it all ended, he captured the emotion of the last day of the Tendulkar career.

Rahul Bhattacharya had written Man-child Superstar on the occasion of Sachin’s 20 years in international cricket, among my favourite Sachin pieces. Here, he wrote Among the believers, a writing masterpiece where every line was superbly crafted, the article ultimately using Sachin’s last Ranji innings in Lahli as an allegory of the Sachin Tendulkar experience. Brilliant.

Gideon Haigh wrote on the inspiring greatness of Sachin Tendulkar.

Steve Tignor wrote On Gods and Humans which spoke of a vicarious respect for the legend of Sachin Tendulkar and the desire to savor the fading genius of Roger Federer.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan‘s earlier tributes to Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had both been achingly brilliant. At the time of Sachin Tendulkar’s ODI retirement, he wrote this piece which eerily, beautifully painted our lives alongside the Tendulkar One-day career. Here, at the end of the Test career, he wrote two wonderful pieces : In The grand piano has left the building, published on Cricinfo, he told us of how everybody had a Tendulkar story ; In When He Walks Out to the Middle, he deconstructed the experience of a Tendulkar innings, a piece stunning in its execution and brilliant in its end.

The Wisden India Extra had an Issue called The Sachin Sunset. It has some fine pieces by Dileep Premachandran, Saurabh Somani, Shashi Tharoor and a host of others, but my favourite was the one by Supriya Nair (on Page 18).

The Cricinfo coverage was comprehensive and had much to look forward to – with Andy Zaltzman‘s stats and pieces a huge personal favourite. However, nothing quite matched the evocative brilliance of Sidharth Monga’s Notes from Kolkata’s Sachin Festival – a beautiful piece on how everywhere Sachin Tendulkar went, he took the weather with him. Later, came an eloquent Sharda Ugra piece on the love, drive, discipline and balance of Sachin Tendulkar. Rob Steen wrote like Rob Steen, and Sachin Tendulkar. And of course, there was Sambit Bal talking about Cricket’s love for Sachin.

Deepak Narayanan had written at the time of the announcement, asking – When do you think it will sink in? Still resonates…

Mahesh Sethuraman wrote on the infinite posterity value of Sachin Tendulkar.

In two intensely personal pieces, Subash Jayaraman wrote about this trip to the last test and the significance of that journey, while Sriram Dayanand wrote a deeply poignant, intensely moving tribute to the eternal relevance of the Sachin experience.

There were others too – Ed Smith , Mudar Patherya, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sriram Venkateshwaran and Brian Carpenter.

Outside of the written words, there were a few other important things :

The Youtube video tribute series by Harsha Bhogle. There are 5 videos in the series. This is a link to the first one – you can take it onward from there.

Rahul Dravid’s interview with CNN-IBN on the Sachin legacy, where he displays the kind of humility which can only come from complete self-belief.

And finally, my favourite work. So often, we complain of the lack of sporting museums in India. I think the sheer effort that must have gone into the colossus of the digital museum which it is, makes the Sachin Memory Project by Star Sports, perhaps the best media tribute to the great career.

(more suggestions – and feedback welcome)

My piece – here.

Of Tears, Words, Emotions and a Career..

The emotion of the final day of Sachin Tendulkar’s career .
Captured here by Rohit Brijnath.
From the Straits Times.

Today was too much even for him. Today, on his last cricketing day at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, even he, the impassive man, left the field forever with a stump in one hand and a tear wiped with the other. He was not alone, for this day – for those in the stadium and beyond – resembled an emotional mass. Sport has rarely seen the like of it.

Today, Sachin Tendulkar, who spent a life, he said, over 20 metres – the length of a cricket pitch – for 24 years, was retired. His white clothes to be packed. His bats to be mothballed. His competitive instinct to be buried. A long story, even if it went on longer than it might have, has concluded. There is for him no cricketing tomorrow.

Always he was a man of runs, rarely of words, a private man locked in this most public of professions. He let others do the talking about him, but this day, for almost 24 minutes, he yanked down his well-constructed veil and spoke. In time, people will return to YouTube not just for his innings but for this speech. Tendulkar has rarely been so personal.

In the stadium, an Englishman wept.

Today, with the match won by India, he took the microphone, a floppy white cap on his head, a list in his hand and a shadow across his face. You could not see his eyes, but in the silent pauses between his words you could sense his struggle.

His list was very Tendulkar – thorough and prepared. Nothing left to chance. He, the unforgotten, not forgetting those who made him. Alone he stood there under his last cricketing sun and said: “It’s getting a little bit difficult to talk but I will manage.”

He started with his father, Ramesh, who passed away in 1999. A father whose picture he carried on tour; a father who he saluted with a look to the heavens after every special innings; a father who he described as “the most important person in my life”.

At 11, his father told him to chase his dream, but advised “make sure you do not find short cuts”. Always his father told him to be a “nice human being”. Tendulkar listened well and for all his 15,921 Test runs this has been his finest achievement.

In the stands, the old, the young, together they wept.

Today, a man who a nation has given constant thanks for, expressed his own gratitude. He wondered how his mother put up with such a “naughty child”. He spoke of his sister Savita, who gave him his first bat and “fasted” when he batted. He honoured his confidante, his brother Ajit, who even on Fridaynight was discussing his dismissal in the first innings. “We have lived this dream together, he spotted the spark in me,” he said.

He paused. He swigged his water. There was more to say.

Today he spoke of family, not the cricketing fraternity, but his blood, his wife, his kin. No champion is built alone nor forged in isolation. For the athlete to succeed, the family must live to the rhythm of his wake-up calls, must answer to his dietary whims, must adjust to his varying moods amid defeat and during injury.

His wife, Anjali, a doctor, he said, stepped back from a career when they had children. “Thanks for bearing with all my fuss and all my frustrations, and all sorts of rubbish that I have spoken,” he said.

His daughter, Sara, 16, and son Arjun, 14, went birthdays and sports days without a touring father in attendance. He looked to his children and said, “Thanks for your understanding”. India has given much, but it has taken from him, too.

Behind her sunglasses, his wife wept.

Today he hailed his coach Ramakant Achrekar. For 29 years, he said, “sir has never ever said ‘well played’ to me because he thought I would get complacent and I would stop working hard”. Then he smiled and said, “maybe he can push his luck and wish me now, well done on my career”. Today the timing would be right, he said, speaking with an almost aching sadness, for there are “no more matches in my life”.

In the press room, veteran writer and apprentice scribe, together they wept.

Today, he praised his friends who would wake up at 3am when he was injured and take long drives with him through an empty city while reassuring him his career was not done. It was a startling and beautiful confession to the utter lonelieness of the sporting life. No, he told us, he was no impenetrable genius all the time, but this wounded man who needed help as he negotiated doubt.

Today, he thanked the doctors who healed him and physios who restored him. Today, he acknowledged the cricketers he grew up with and those he played with and accepted “it is going to be difficult not to be part of the dressing room”. In this room he was best understood, in this room he was allowed to be human and fail.

In Singapore, alone in front of his TV, a friend wept.

Today, Tendulkar gave thanks to India. To those who “fasted” for him, who had “flown in” from far for him, who supported him whether he scored “a zero or a hundred plus”. He looked and sounded a lucky man.

So often he batted with such concentration one might presume he was deaf to a nation’s plea and prayer, yet he was listening. “Sachin, Sachin”, this chant he heard, this chant he would never forget. “Sachin, Sachin”, he said, would “reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing”.

The crowd replied as only they could. They cried.

“Sachin, Sachin.”

Today, finally, his speech done, he did his lap of honour, then walked alone to the pitch, this 22-yard strip on which he became a myth, a man, a marvel. He stood on his piece of favourite earth, just him and the dust of his past. He touched the ground with both hands, he made a sign of respect, he left. Cricket had been left behind.

Of course, he was weeping.