These words, soon after the end of a cricket Test at Lords. In which, perhaps you'll remember, England hammered India by a huge margin. And in cricket, as it often happens, there are some life lessons.
The result of the match, you'd think, would be the primary concern of Indian fans when it started five days earlier. You'd think Indian fans would be urging the team, silently or otherwise, to play to win, first and above all. I'm sure there were some fans like that. Except that if you read and heard all the pre-match hoopla about the game, you'd be forgiven for thinking that victory wasn't on too many people's radars. What was, instead, was a certain cricketer's personal milestone.
Sachin Tendulkar's 100th international century, of course. Ah, what poetry if he scored it here at Lords, the venerable home of cricket, where he has never done well. What joy if he got his name on the famous honours board at Lords. What perfect number magic, if in this 100th Test between India and England, in this 2000th Test match of all time, he managed to score his own 100th hundred.
Yet I don't remember seeing in any of this breathless adulation one simple thought: what if we won? What if Tendulkar scored a century while crafting a famous Indian victory? For surely that's what teams play the game for, to win. Surely not to provide a vehicle for one player to achieve greater heights than he already has.
Our obsession with such heights, I believe, encourages us to lose sight of what's important. Like, in this case, winning a Test match.
Now I can hardly suggest that the Indian team itself was similarly obsessed with Tendulkar's records and lost the Test right there. After all, there are plenty of exemplary cricketers in that team -- Dravid, Raina, Kumar, Sharma -- who fought hard all the way. But there's something to be said about this adulation of a man for his individual records, mighty though they are, in a team game.
In fact, there's something larger to be said.
If you merely look around, much of our country's landscape is dotted with adulation like this. Think of giant cutouts of whoever the current Chief Minister is in Tamil Nadu or Karnataka; think of how that cutout culture is spreading elsewhere. Think of the enormous statues of Mayawati in a new park on the outskirts of Lucknow. Think of the crowds that collect outside Amitabh Bacchhan's home every day, jostling for a glimpse of the man. Think of the obsequious reverence with which we greet the rich, famous and powerful: whether Anil Ambani or Bal Thackeray or, yes, Sachin Tendulkar. Think of men tattooing "JJ" on their bodies to mark Jayalalitha's birthday, enough tattoos to match the lady's age.
Because they reach a certain place in life, we turn these people into figures on a pedestal, give them flowery titles, worship and adore them. Thus Tendulkar is "God", and at least one book about him actually puts that word in its title. Jayalalitha is "Puratchi Thalaivi", or "Revolutionary Leader". Anil Ambani is MTV's "Youth Icon."
Yet perhaps we must remember that these are just more men and women, with qualities and foibles and failings like all men and women possess. Just people, really. What do we do to them, to us, when we turn from respect to worship?
Take Anna Hazare, for example, and the number of times he's been compared to Gandhi. ("Grandparents are taking children to see the Gandhi of this generation", said one ecstatic bit of mail someone forwarded to me when he was on his Jantar Mantar fast last April, a message that did not so much as mention what Hazare was fasting for). Why should he have to fill those oversized boots? And if we keep expecting him to fill them, should we be surprised when he fails, as he inevitably will? When we regularly mention both names in the same breath, in a mistaken excess of respect, we lay a burden on Hazare that nobody should have to carry. The comparison is unfair, above all, to Hazare.
But if we've all heard plenty of times about the dangers of putting people on pedestals, there's a subtler point here that worries me more. With a not-even subliminal parallel to Gandhi in place, our focus shifts: from the effort Hazare is making, to the man's character and moral stature, especially because he is stacked up against Gandhi. From the Lokpal Bill and how we can improve it, to what kind of man he is and what he did or did not do, prior to this moment in history, in Ralegaon-Siddhi and the Army.
The point, and it's a crucial one, is that Hazare does not have be "the Gandhi of this generation", or even to measure up to Gandhi in any sense, to make a difference to this country. His single-minded pursuit of the Lokpal Bill stands on its own, and can be judged on its own, certainly for the debate it has generated on the evils of corruption. I realize that we're unlikely to see grandparents taking children to see the Lokpal Bill. Yet if it comes to fruition and is able to curb corruption in this land, that's the achievement that will mark Hazare's place in Indian history. In exactly the same way, plenty of us now question the character of Gandhi and his colleagues from our freedom struggle. But what those men achieved speaks for itself.
Freedom is like that. Freedom from corruption might be like that too.
Back with cricket. Something I read on the morning of the last day of the Lords' Test summed up what I'm trying to say here. You will remember that India started that last day facing a long struggle even to save the game, let alone win. Tendulkar had been ill for most of the previous two days, and thus off the field. According to the rules, therefore, he could not come in to bat until nearing lunch time.
So that morning, someone wrote a short article titled "Why you don't want to see Sachin come out to bat". Since he would only be able to bat later in the day, it said, he would have "little time to get his 100th century even if he gets going." And therefore, "with India in a tight spot and battling to stay in the Test, this may well be one time that Indian fans could end up praying for Sachin to not come on the pitch at all."
Funny: with India in a tight spot and battling, one Indian fan -- me -- yearned for Tendulkar to bat us to safety, period. Yet going by this article, mine was by no means a universal yearning. Evidently there are people who would prefer that Tendulkar bailed out of trying to save the Test, because batting in such circumstances might interfere with his chances of scoring that century.
And so after England finished administering its Lords hammering, I wondered if these people were disappointed (as I was), and if so why. Because Tendulkar came out to bat after all? Because he get nowhere close to scoring a century?
Or because India lost?
Surrounded by a sea of mediocrity, of what most of us perceive as half-men and women, it's natural to long for heroes. That's fine as far as it goes. But it's worth remembering that what makes them heroes is what they do for those around them.
That may not necessarily include a 100th hundred.