| Vice-President Hamid Ansari with Sachin Tendulkar after the cricketer took oath as Rajya Sabha member in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI) |
New Delhi, June 4: When a member of a globally exclusive club of One joins a national club of close to 800, he arrives entitled to hold his own. Sachin Tendulkar, who has travelled where no cricketer ever has — or will anytime soon — took oath as nominated member of the Rajya Sabha this morning, emphatically swearing allegiance to the game over all else.
“Cricket is the reason why I am here, at the moment I can’t take any focus away from my game,” he said of how he plans to essay his parliamentary innings. He felt grateful, he said, and honoured to be invited into the House of Elders, but not obliged yet to sublimate himself to off-field expectations — “I did not lobby for this, I did not go to anyone and say I want a Rajya Sabha position, it’s an honour that I have accepted.”
Bluntly put, the vaunted two-letter appendage that became suffixed to his name this morning — MP — cannot be allowed to counter-weigh his playing passion. “As and when I have time in between (playing cricket),” he said, frank and assuring, “I will look into contributing to sport, not just cricket but all sports. If I am remembered as someone who did something for sport rather than just for my statistics, that will be fantastic.”
Giving something back to sport was a personal dream, he revealed, but it’s fulfilment is something Sachin has allocated the “latter half” of his life to. At 39, that half is arguably still a little beyond his current field of vision. He has played the international game close to the top for 22 years and is not done yet with pushing the summit higher for the league playing catch-up.
“When I decide to retire,” Sachin offered, without being impolitely asked, “I will let people know, I do not know when that will happen.” The thought of signing off from cricket was nowhere in the vicinity as he signed on as MP in the Rajya Sabha register of records.
The oath itself was swiftly done, Sachin opting for Hindi over Marathi, his mother-tongue. He read it out unprompted and left few in doubt the boy from Shivaji Park was cognizant of expectations from a national icon. The cricketer has slowly but consciously finessed his image in recent years; his Maratha pride has seldom come in the way when he has thought fit to pointedly eschew and admonish parochialism that recurrently foams up in his hometown.
Remember his retort to the Shiv Sena during a spike in its “Marathi Manoos” campaign in 2009? “I am extremely proud of being a Maharashtrian, but Mumbai is a part of India and I play for India. Mumbai is for all Indians.” Sachin earned a prickly volley from Bal Thackeray but didn’t turn a hair. Today’s choice of language in Parliament could be his way of buttressing the same point to narrowheads in his neck of the woods.
Parliament’s newest entrant arrived with wife Anjali and a Boycott-hatted junior parliamentary minister Rajiv Shukla, who played a key role in securing Sachin’s assent as the UPA’s surprise pick to the upper house. He was pursued all the way to the restricted chambers of Chairman Hamid Ansari by a pell-mell media tail; en route he tendered stock treatment to stock balls: Is this a big day, Sachin? Yes, very big; Is your priority going to be cricket or politics, Sachin? Cricket, I am not a politician; How are you feeling, Sachin? A glance in the direction of the poser, and a grin as wide as a regulation wide — what does it look like to you?
Parliament in recess, Parliament minus the buzz of a session can be like a body without bloodflow, eerie to the senses. The flap of pigeons can echo long under the ceilings, the plop of their frequent dropping becomes audible. Silence sweeps emptiness. But today a part of it hummed with arrangements for the star arrival.
Walkie-talkies crackled, automated turnstiles clicked open and shut too frequently for an inter-session day, housekeepers scurried about seeking out the oddest thing to do as long as it kept them within sighting distance of Sachin, a platoon of gardeners had decided the flower-beds opposite the Rajya Sabha’s chairman’s entrance needed the most tending.
One of them had sneaked in a grandson who stood trying to be invisible in a corner close by, a tattered copybook in hand should there be opportunity for an autograph. Vivek Agnihotri, secretary general of the Upper House, bobbed in and out of his room, expectant as the little boy, his bureaucrat’s reserve expunged by rushes of excitement. Are the corridor lights on? Has the register been fetched? Is there a pen at hand? Keep the lobby clear please…what’s his location? How long will he be?
He was on time, a good few minutes before the appointed hour of eleven, at the head of a little procession of pursuers. It came and vanished, like the passing of a swarm, in from one door and gone behind another before the wonder-ridden gardener’s grandson could even begin to think of making a move beyond his assigned corner. The autograph wasn’t to be, but he will probably be able to tell peers and progeny he was there the day Sachin started an innings without a bat in hand.