Sachin Tendulkar’s greatest contribution to the self-image of the diasporic Indian is to enable the construction of a new narrative of self-description. Our constructed individual selves have invariably drawn upon community and nation: its achievements, flaws and shortcomings have become ours. Freud and Marx both devoted considerable intellectual energy in emphasising the change in selves wrought by changes in self-description. Sachin is the agent of such a change in the overseas Indian’s self-description and consequently, his self; he helps write a story about ourselves considerably more satisfying than the one afforded thus far.
The diaspora has perhaps become numb and blase about the usual Indian success stories of cardiac surgeons, mathematicians, venture capitalists, software entrepreneurs, perhaps even Booker prize-winners. These are achievements of the mind, triumphs of the mental. But we are corporeal beings too, who might hanker for physical excellence; a self-image that does not do justice to such aspirations is doomed to be painfully incomplete. Admission to the gilded halls of corporate headquarters and the ivory towers of the academy can only be rounded out by acceptance into the hurly-burly of the gymnasium.
A sportsman described as the Michael Jordan of his sport sticks an arrow into the Indian quiver that has been missing thus far. True world-dominating sporting power in the new liberalised era is foreign to Indians; to trade in the currency of its attainment, to speak of an Indian at the top of the heap in a game, to speak of the physical skill of an Indian, is a heady experience. Sachin brings instant admission to a world long denied to Indians; he does it by enabling a conception of us that is still exhilaratingly new. The nationalistic pride that he enables is of a qualitatively different nature.
The manner of Sachin’s cricketing achievements has had much to do with the pride of place he occupies in the overseas Indian’s heart. His cricketing success is of a mensch, a man capable of stylish, articulate, yet powerful, expression with his choice of cricketing implement. Sachin does battle with a heavy bat; the possessor of this bludgeon is capable of using it as a steely wand as well. When you consider that a small-statured Indian batsman devastates the world’s best bowlers using a bat that is most reminiscent of the one wielded by Clive Lloyd, the leader of perhaps the most physically fearsome cricketing outfit in the game’s history, you come to understand Sachin as an embodiment of not the usual Indian understatement but of a hitherto unknown panache and pugnacity.
This pugnacity is most visible in his disdain of pretensions of the fast bowling world’s aggressors. His dismantling of Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup by the six that went sailing over backward point stuck a dunce’s cap on Akhtar and flung him to the corner. When Tendulkar did lose his famously even temper, he made sure he did so against the Australians, against Glenn McGrath. An Indian batsman talking back to, and taking on, both metaphorically and literally, the big bad fast bowlers, does justice to the urge in every diasporic Indian to stop being the archetypal ninety-seven pounder.
The diasporic Indian can always take pride in India’s booming economy, by feeding on the scraps of praise flung his way by, say, stray editorials in the Economist and the New York Times, or by reading the tickertape of the world’s stockmarkets. But that is not enough for someone aspiring to be part of a broader cultural conversation. Tendulkar has provided that entre#e. It has helped that Sachin’s passions are cosmopolitan—he is married to an older woman; he likes Formula 1 racing; he drives fast cars; there is a hint of adventurousness in these biographical points that provide a refreshing contrast to the staid resumes of the usual over-achievers. ‘Hint’, for he has not overstepped the bounds of propriety in any of these endeavours, and made his success that much more palatable. Thus, miraculously, Tendulkar, by finding the Aristotelian mean in his life, has enabled its successful realisation in ours.
It has often said Tendulkar is an Indian success story eschewing the standard associations made with the modern-yet-archaic India: the corruption, the nepotism, the dysfunctionality. That is certainly true; but more importantly the Sachin narrative does justice to the wisdom of mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body).
(Samir Chopra teaches philosophy at the City University of New York, and blogs for ESPN-Cricinfo)
The theory advanced by Samir Chopra on Sachin is interesting (Finally, It Weighs Like a Ton, Jan 17), but would probably hold true for Indians settled abroad. Personally, I don’t think Gen Y Indians look up to Sachin (exclusively, anyway) any more. His calmness, rootedness probably don’t appeal to them. They’d rather identify with brash and aggressive sportsmen like Dhoni and Yuvraj.
The article appeared to be too fawning about Sachin. True, he is a great sportsman, but to accord him such socio-cultural significance is certainly hyperbole. Massively talented, he made use of the opportunities available to middle-class Maharashtrians. Unlike, say, Jesse Owens, or Michael Jordan, he did not break any racial/class barriers. For god’s sake, can Sachin possibly be a cultural conversation-starter?
Do get out of your cleverly constructed, but absurdly fallacious, construct, Mr Chopra. I have been an expat for long, yet Sachin has less than nothing to do with my self-image. Your dependence on Sachin is also built on weak ground; why, isn’t there more to sport than Sachin?
Apropos of Finally, It Weighs Like A Ton (Jan 17), thank you for the abominably inane ‘philosophical’ reasoning. It is indeed new to me that being married to an older woman is a cosmopolitan passion, and that Formula 1 racing and driving fast cars are virtues in which one needs to find the Aristotelian mean. If Sachin is an example of the Aristotelian mean, it is sure to make Aristotle turn in his grave.
Do get out of your well, Samir Chopra. I am an expatriate and sachin has less than nothing to do with my self image. If you have to depend on sachin yours seems to be on shaky ground. There is much more to sport than cricket, perhaps?
@ Siddharth: Yes it is true that there are many in a poor country like ours that dont have the oppurtunities for advancement especially in sports.You are trying to discredit SRTs achievements because he was a middle class Brahmin and thus had more opputunities. Middle class of any caste has equal oppurtunities in india. In fact, being middle class is a deterrant for entry into sport as most middle class famillies would rather swee thei wards being professionaly qualified rather than sport or showbiz (SRT and Madhuri Dixit)
I would credit SRT for being middle class , yet being world class in the field of sport which coincides with india's economic rise, thus firing the imagination of millions of middle class youngsters, some of whom are the MS Dhonis you have mentioned. Thus SRT did break barriers by showing India that world class achievemtn is possible ( again Gavaskar did that in a limited way and kapil dev after him)
It is not SRTs fault that cricket is played only in commonwealth countries and that America has more resources to project Michael Jordan (how many in india play basketball?) So I do think that SRT deserves every bit of praise that goes to him.
I dont mean to nitpick , but before JOrdan, i think Mohammed Ali had reached as dizzying heights with both world fame and financial gains. He was followed by holyfield, tyson, carl lewis. So I think its Ali and not MJ who was the real game changer for blacks (Jesse owens being the trendsetter)
I never said that being middle class Brahmin in Mumbai was sole reason Tendulkar was successful, But denying that he had opportunities that lower caste Hindus or other minorities in India don't or have limited access to, is too narrow a view of his success. Racial barriers don't have to be explicit; in most cases in today's world they are subtle.
Jordan was the first black superstar, do doubt there were black atheletes before him. But he cornered the adulation of the public and media world like no black person had done before him. He broke racial barriers in advertising, no black person was ever a commercial success before him. You should read his biography. Tiger Woods too, he did the same in golf.
Tendulkar happened to be at the right time in the right place with the right talent. IWhat Kambli could and couldnt have done, we will never find out, so its presumptious to assume his failure.
I think it would be an interesting (though futile) exercise to remove all the facilities that Tendulkar had (good schooling at Shardashram, freedom to practise cricket when the family is well off economically, a mentor in Gavaskar ) and then speculate if he still would have got the same success.
Samir Chopra, this article sounds written by an Australian.
@ Siddharth : It is unfair to bring casteism to Tendulkar's achievements. Not all top notch Indian sportsman are Brahmins and not all middle class Brahmins are given equal oppurtunities in India. SRTs achievements only bolsters the coming of age of India's modernity and his achievements instills pride in the overseas indian.Even an Kapil Dev/Gavaskar so not instill such pride when compared to SRT. Also Michael Jordan did not break any race barriers by being an icon in B'ball. There were several black sportsmen/women and several black showmen/women who had donee that already.
Kambli was just not disciplined enough to perform consistently in the top league. One needs a certain mental toughness to survive the fame and fortune and kambli unfortunately was not upto it. Also skill wise kambli was not on par with tendulkar. he could not face the short ball. His lack of technique was exposed when WI visited india in 94-95.
My only grouse in your article was to bring caste unnecessarily into your argument.
Despite being a Mumbaikar and being ready to compromise anything to watch Sachin bat on TV, this article seems too fawning and over rating Sachin's accomplishments.
Sachin's achievements are undergirded by opportunities available to middle class Brahmins liviing in metropolis like Mumbai. While he did grab the opportunity left behind by Gavaskar (which Manjrekar failed miserably at), Kambli did not get the same opportunities or if he did, the Indian cricket moguls had lower tolerance for him. Jordan broke race barriers and was the first black superstar athelete, Tendulkar did not break any barriers.
Being an F1 viewer, married to older woman are can hardly be defined as signs of being adevnturous. They are more of potentially Oedipus and Napoleon complex. So the author should stop making overarching generalizations.
MS Dhoni, Praveen Kumar should be heralded more as heroes in Indian sport . So should be Baichung Bhutia and countless other hockey and soccer players who struggle everyday to gain meaningful success in world sports.
Tendulkar cannot be a cultural conversation starter, for God's sake !!! Cos no-one outside of India and other colonial powers know or care of Tendulkar or cricket.
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