Varun R. Iyer
Arguably the nicest man to have donned the India cap in the modern era has called it a day. As is the case with every romance, the end when it finally comes, leaves you in the lurch and a strange feeling of emptiness pervades. You feel incomplete, disconsolate and to put it mildly, shattered.
If the fans are going through such an emotional roller coaster, one wonders what the man himself be going through. For all practical purposes, he is the first cricketer of our generation to walk away into the sunset. You can never be prepared for such an event, no matter who you are. For many of us, the magnitude of the loss still refuses to sink in.
Tomes have been written about his courage, valor, dignity and the entire bouquet of qualities that Anil stands for. Innumerable references are made to the 14 over spell at Antigua , bowled with a broken jaw, but an unwavering resilience. This however is a tribute to the champion in the form of a humble exposition of how much of a difference he has made to the life of a nondescript Indian in a 10 X 12 sq.ft. room in Bombay.
Jumbo has been an integral part of life for as far back as the mind can travel. Much of a typical Indian childhood was spent either watching or playing cricket after school. The country is full of young fanatics who would watch every ball of a seemingly uninteresting India – Bangladesh / Zimbabwe / Scotland ( tick whichever is appropriate ) match, much to the exasperation of their parents. Many an evening has gone by where hours on building terraces have been devoted to endlessly dissecting Indian cricket exploits. Unfailingly, the conversation would veer towards AK. Fans would either squeal with delight or vigorously shake their heads with disdain , depending on whether or not , a Jumbo rocket ball had confined a hapless opposition batsman to the confines of the dressing room. Among the ones in the recent past, Jamie Anderson immediately springs to mind. Not once, but twice in successive matches, Jumbo sent his stumps for a walk and sent viewers into raptures in their rooms. The anticipation in the room when Jumbo had the ball in his hand was palpable, as another lamb would be led to the slaughter. You knew for sure , that the first ball he faced would be at a 100 plus kmph on middle peg. Before the batter could get his bat down in time, the ball would have struck pad, Kumble would be halfway down the pitch looking back at the umpire, his arms raised in a polite but strong appeal, his man Friday Rahul supporting at first slip, and the umpire’s finger would well on its way up. Every LBW b Kumble dismissal paints the same picture, a beautiful one at that. Everyday, children would beg for the sequence of events to transpire. And more often than not, Anil would humor them.
In this modern era of ipods, high speed internet and T20 cricket and Kumble linked the present to the old world, the India that was. Beautiful India in the 90s, Ads like ‘Ek – Anek ’ on Doordarshan, Prannoy Roy reading the news and Byomkesh Bakshi enthralling us with his sharp insightful detective work, a vengeful Shahrukh Khan in Darr, family outings to Nariman point to espy the tall imposing buildings, the luxury of a Fountain Pepsi at 2 am in the morning on trips to the Airport in a beaten down Maruti 800 to receive a software engineer cousin returning from the US, snuggling up in bed on wintry nights in beautiful pre-outsourcing-Bangalore. And then there was Anil. The moustached, bespectacled, soft spoken, engineering graduate. He was a South Indian mother in law’s dream. And one helluva bowler too.
For years, he along with his steadfast mate, the golden boy of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, provided us with succour. There is an old saying in my village , which is loosely translated as “ In your good times, do not forget those who have seen you through in your bad ones.” And see us through, he did. Time and again , when our performances abroad plummeted to new depths as teams shot us out for scores of 66 and 100, the country looked to him. Seething in fury, we would wait. Wait for the teams to set foot on Indian soil. For we knew, that there we would be delivered by from our suffering by our hero, our messiah . Designer pitches or not, redemption was ours. As the cameras panned across a dusty Indian ground, denuded outfield et al., on orange evening after evening, you could see it in the skies. The Gods would come together to watch, as the proverbial Karna , stood tall and majestic at the bowlers end. Silently, he bounce in , tossing the ball up once as he ran in, and then deliver the Maha Astra – the thunderbolt. Yet again the evil opposition batsman would be reduced to ashes. And the bells would toll, while a nation would weep sweet tears of joy.
The bell tolls again today. And an entire nation weeps copious tears. Some of sorrow, some of pride.