Ajay Jacob is an instructional designer, blogger, poet and cricket fan. He lives in London. As we put the final wrap on the Sachin Tendulkar era, he offers his humble advice on how Sachin can continue to make an impact over his many post-cricketing days ahead.
The work is done,' grown old he thought, 'According to my boyish plan; Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught, Something to perfection brought'; But louder sang that ghost, 'What then?'
– William Butler Yeats
There comes a time in everyone's life where the end of a road is reached. Sometimes you arrive at that point at a time and manner of your own choosing; other times, the end comes to you instead – forced perhaps by circumstance and other factors over which one has little control.
In your case, you've probably had a sense that the end of this particular road was approaching for some time. I suspect you would have gone through a process of acceptance, followed by meticulous planning and preparation. That seems to be your style. Fans the world over have felt obliged to weigh in with their own opinions, but you may well feel the timing was spot-on. And so, here we are, at the end of an era.
It's a funny thing, this reaching-the-end-of-the-road business. Your entire journey is played back, dissected and analysed. Highlight reels are prepared. Words like 'legacy' get thrown about. For most people, this happens privately; at the most shared between close friends and family. But you are not most people. You are, arguably, the most famous Indian alive. And so, your end-of-the-road moment is being played out by an entire country. It is a collaborative effort. It has become, like your journey itself, a national pastime.
Which bring us to the inevitable question – what next? What happens when you wake up on the morning and your profession changes from Cricketer to Member of Parliament? The fact that you have chosen to make a seamless transition into public service suggests a life of solitude is not what you are after. Quiet or noisy, what shape will the next innings take?
Gymnasts might start before they can barely walk and golfers might play on until they can barely walk, but these are exceptions. For the most part, the primary currency of professional sport is youth, and youth has a funny way of vanishing like the morning mist. And so you retire with your whole life ahead of you. At 40 you may be the elder statesman of international cricket, but in almost any other profession this would be the age when you finally find your feet. It is, in a sense, the 'sweet spot' – that age when you have just enough experience to filter your dreams, and just enough time to turn them into reality.
This most likely already occurred to you when you walked in to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) for the first time and discovered you were one of the youngest members there. This is the amazing thing – despite your remarkable achievements over such a long period, you have so much more to offer. And offer you must, not because you haven’t given enough already or because you owe it to your fellow Indians, but because you are uniquely placed to make a difference. With your profile and the resources at your disposal, you can make things happen. When you speak, people listen. It is a privilege granted to the very few.
The outpouring of love from all corners of the world over the past few weeks is proof, if any more was needed, of how highly you are held in the public’s affections. You represent so many things to so many people, to the point where it stopped being about cricket a long time ago. You have become – even if against your own wishes – an icon, an emblem, a hero for these troubled times. You are in that small club of public figures that have emerged from the battlefield unscathed, with pride and dignity mostly still intact. There’s probably no President who has been as well known, and no Prime Minister as popular. The adulation often defies logic, but that does not diminish your capacity to bring about change.
What is this change? How does it come about? I am sure you are well aware that the right sort of intervention, at the right time, can more often than not be transformational. Families and communities can be impacted by a single act of giving, sometimes even a few words of encouragement. Not just sportspersons, but people in all walks of life can continue to be inspired by you, a young boy who dared to dream. Who took on the world and won. Maybe in time, more of us will be shaken from our slumber, our indifference, and our chronic commitment to mediocrity. We may begin to think differently, and share a vision for a different reality. It could happen.
Many different roads now lie ahead of you, but it is more or less certain that a life of anonymity will not be one of them, not while your name is Tendulkar and cricket is still played in India. Someone once said ‘A man spends half his life trying to be special, and the other half trying to be like everyone else'. Perhaps that will be your challenge. But even in the unlikely event that your name does eventually fade from the memory, there may well be another cricketer with the name Tendulkar on the back of his shirt soon, and you will be thrust into the spotlight again. What then?
I apologise if this is in poor taste. Maybe it’s none of my, or anybody else’s, business. This is, after all, your life we are talking about. You have earned the right to do with it as you please, and no-one will fault you for it.
Still, the possibility that you might read this was enough reason for me to write it. With the comfort of financial security, and shorn of the relentless expectation of cricketing perfection, you can now take fresh guard. Whichever new road you end up going down, I hope it’s not one that leads directly into the sunset. The crowds in the stadium may not cheer for much longer, but outside, far from the bright lights of the Sachin Tendulkar stand, lies an incredible opportunity.
A nation awaits.