Gaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
1989 was dreadful. I was 13. A friend went to America in our summer break while I was yet to see what a passport looked like. And to make it worse, he came back with stories of how he kissed a girl on the sly! A real girl! Amitabh Bachchan starred in and as 'Jaadugar.' And then appeared in and as 'Toofan'. One Prime Minister had frittered hope of a new direction away by then. His replacement was a demagogue who questioned my right to a future in my own country. There was just so much awful stuff around in 1989. And then one day, my dad in a casual conversation said two words: Sachin Tendulkar.
Now I was into cricket. But not in a nerdy, thirsting for information kind of way. I was yet to confront the reality of a terrible lack of talent. So I played. In the park. In school. On the road facing the house. In front of the only full length mirror at home. In my head, there was a perfection waiting to be discovered by the world at large. One day dad said you know there's this boy. A little older than you are. He's already made so many runs against the best bowlers in the country that they wanted to send him to the West Indies. But a wise man said, let that be. He is 16. Those brutes bowl real quick, they may scar him for life. So they waited. And he kept making runs. They had to send him to Pakistan.
So Sachin came into my life. Much before so much else could. Before ambition. Before desire. Before lust. Before money. Before pain. Before loss. Before love. In dreadful 1989, Sachin was unbridled joy. Magnificence in a wretched world. A creature of splendour. Sachin Tendulkar was beyond envy. I knew I could not be him. This was clarity of a non-shattering kind. For a 13 year old, a breakthrough moment if you will!
So many years have passed. He fails more often than he succeeds these days. I scratch the stats down. And then I face a camera and ask those in the know if he must mull his playing future. I form considered, objective, cold opinions of my own. I write them. And I speak them. I do the job that runs my life. I read what others write. I hear what the others say. He is a player. He must be judged like everyone else. He isn't just another player. He has a right to leave on his terms. He has the right to his struggle. So much is said. So much is written. So much.
Cricket journalists are quirky creatures. Most start out as obsessive fans who wander into the profession. Finding it hard believe there are people in the world willing to pay you to watch the game at stadiums, interview its players and pontificate about its issues. Somewhere along the line, the hard-nosed professional takes shape. He discovers the vanity and insecurity among players, the politicking among officials, the treadmill of deadlines and exclusives. The fan extinguishes. He is now a working man.
Sachin confuses me. For nearly half a life before I became a cricket journalist, I was a devoted fan. That singular one-way investment which demands nothing, only panders to its own obsessiveness. Sachin was distant. Unreal. Remarkable. So crossing paths with him as part of my working life is always a touch awkward. I have often found my posture wilting slightly when I shake his hand. It isn't reverential, just a sub-conscious acknowledgment of a constant presence over all these years. Hey I was 13 when you first showed up. And 14 when you did what you did at Old Trafford. And 16 when you did what you did at Perth. And then one day, while I sat interviewing you, I hoped my heavily pregnant wife would delay the onset of labour! All these years.
These days a noisy debate rumbles on. Must he play? Must he go? Must he relinquish? Must he battle? Is he in permanent decline? Will there be another run of glory? I add my two bits often. I ponder and opine. I argue. I vacillate. I concede. Perhaps I am confused. Perhaps I am torn. Perhaps I am eager to grab what is left. There is never a full stop with Sachin. He isn't just so much to so many. He is so many different things to the same person.
After a particularly ferocious debate recently, a man usually of supreme intelligence and logic, turned to me and said- 'I want Sachin to make a hundred in the next Test. It will be a *%$# you hundred for all those who want him to quit'. I murmured in response, perhaps it will merely be 'phew thank god' hundred and not a *%$# you one. Whatever happens, Sachin was still the centre-piece of the argument. When he is done, whenever that is, some of us will be less confused. But something important will have ended. Something that started in dreadful 1989.