When Mumbai was attacked last year, we were playing a one-day match against England in Cuttack. We won the match comfortably, but as the news from Mumbai was flashed a sense of shock descended in the dressing room. We couldn’t believe what had happened. I thought the nightmare would end by the time we reached the hotel. But it didn’t, instead, it got worse... 26/11 was a dark day for all of us.
We were in the middle of a series then, but such horrific acts lay bare before you the fact that cricket is not the most important thing in life, even though to me personally, cricket is life. In such situations you can’t think cricket.
It was heartbreaking, for Mumbai is very dear to me—it’s the city where I was born, where I grew up and lived in. People love their hometown and naturally Mumbai is the city I love most. I started playing cricket here and spent so much time on the playgrounds and visiting friends and relatives across the city. I made my first friends here, went to school here, went to college for a while. Mumbai lives in my heart; to me, everything happens here.
Your bonds with a city also grow because of friends and family. Most of my best friends, people I’ve known for years, live in Mumbai. I visit them when I’m in the city, though of course, I have to admit it’s not very easy for me to simply walk down a street. There’s a misconception that I resort to disguises. I’ve done it only for fun and that too very rarely. I’m normally a quiet guy but with my friends I have fun. We’re always joking and playing around and to interact in this manner, I have to know them really well.
Mumbai is also special to me because my memories are tied to it. Really, I can’t imagine how time has flown since I first played for India 20 years ago; or even since my father died in 1999. I continue to miss him. It’s very difficult to accept the fact that he’s not here. It hurts. Like most children, I too have learnt life’s lessons by observing my father. He was my role model and from him and mother I got my values. They taught me the importance of staying firmly grounded. People today call me ‘humble’ but the truth is I haven’t had to make an effort to stay this way. Perhaps it has to do with the way I was raised. It’s easy to get carried away if you start seeing your photographs printed in newspapers even before you’re a teenager, but my family ensured my feet remained on the ground.
And that’s exactly how I’d want my children to be. They’re well-behaved; but they have to understand the importance of being a good person. Apart from setting an example for them, I listen to the feedback from their school and friends’ parents. I’m happy they’re turning out to be good human beings. And credit goes to my wife Anjali.
So family, friends, old memories and ties—this is why I love to get back to Mumbai after a tour. And yes, before every tour, I go to temples in the city to seek divine blessings. What does god mean to me? I’ll try to put it simply: I can walk to a cricket ground knowing fully well I’m ready to face any challenge, but I can’t ensure I’d definitely succeed. I believe there’s a power greater than man. And whatever you’re destined to achieve happens. I have much to thank god for all he’s given me.
You can understand my feelings for my city under attack, a city that has become so much a part of me. I was very, very worried that day. It was a sad and emotional day. I constantly prayed for the people who had lost their lives or their loved ones and those trapped in different places and even those fighting the terrorists. The places under siege were familiar to me, they are the landmarks of the city, places every Mumbaikar has seen or been to. I also knew a few people who were trapped in different conflict areas. I later visited them.
Mumbai is my city and I’m extremely proud to be a Maharashtrian. Yet, as I said at the press conference, Mumbai is a part of India and I play for India.
(Tendulkar spoke to Outlook at an event organised by the World Sport Group to mark his 20 years in Tests.)