A Star Is Born: Sachin Tendulkar On What Inspired Him
Born into a hard-working, middle-class family, he went on to become a cricketing legend
Son, life is like a book. It has many chapters. It also has several lessons in it. It is made up of a wide variety of experiences and is like a pendulum where success and failure, joy and sorrow, are only two ends of reality …
Often, failure and sorrow are bigger teachers than success and happiness. You are a cricketer and sportsman. You are fortunate to represent your country. But never forget that this, too, is just another chapter. Let's say a person lives for 70 years. How many years will you play sport? Twenty years; if you are good, maybe 25. Even by that yardstick, you will live the larger part of your life outside of professional sport. This clearly means that there is more to life than cricket. I am asking you, son, to be pleasant and maintain a balanced nature. Do not allow success to breed arrogance in you … As a parent, I would be happier hearing people say, 'Sachin is a good human being' than 'Sachin is a great cricketer' any day.
My father's words, which I often heard growing up, sum up my life's philosophy.
I was born to a close-knit Maharashtrian family in Mumbai's Bandra East and lived in Sahitya Sahawas, a cooperative housing society for writers. I am one of four children, with two brothers and a sister. Not only am I the youngest in the family but I was also the worst behaved.
My father, Ramesh Tendulkar, was an acclaimed Marathi poet, critic and professor, while my mother, Rajani, worked for an insurance company. Humility and modesty were their qualities and I owe a lot of my personality to my upbringing. Despite the trouble I often caused them, my parents never gave up on me.
My brothers, Nitin and Ajit, have always backed me in my efforts, especially Ajit. He is 10 years older and was a good club cricketer but decided to sacrifice his career to help me achieve my best. Ajit and I lived the dream together and he was always my most trusted critic and sounding board. I may have scored the runs, but he was always there with me in spirit, trying to put me right whenever I made a mistake. Ajit is not just my brother, but my closest friend as well.
Savita, my sister, gave me my first cricket bat. She travelled to Kashmir for a holiday when I was five and brought me back a Kashmir willow bat … When she got married, I insisted that my brother-in-law come and stay with us rather than Savita having to go away. I did not want to let her go.
Fun and Games
My early years were never boring. One of our regular tricks was to dig a deep hole in the sand and cover it with newspaper before further disguising it with sand. Then we would lure people to walk over it. As they sank into the crater, we'd be in fits of laughter.
Another was to pour water on innocent passers-by from our apartment. Feasting on mangoes picked from trees we weren't supposed to touch was also a favourite pastime. The fact that it was forbidden made us do it all the more and the complaints that followed did little to put us off. Finally -- and this is very embarrassing -- my friends and I would lock up people in their flats.
I was a good enough student: Never a class-topper, but not at the bottom either. The best time of the year was the two-month-long summer break. During the holidays, I'd hurry down from our apartment at 9 a.m. and be out in the sun, playing for the rest of the day.
The sweltering heat was never a problem and I'd be out playing till late in the evening … There were seven or eight blocks in the colony and sometimes I'd run seven or eight laps around them barefoot, just to burn up my energy.
Dreaming of a Bicycle
While most of my friends had their own bicycles, I did not and was determined to have one … It wasn't easy bringing up four children in an expensive city like Mumbai, but our parents never let us feel any pressure. Not knowing what they had to go through, I refused to go outside and play till I had a new one to show off. I just stood in the balcony and guilted my parents into buying me a bicycle.
It was on one of those days that I gave them a real scare. Ours was a fourth-floor apartment that had a small balcony with a grille. As a small child, I couldn't see over the top and I would try to get my head through the grille to look out. One day I succeeded in pushing my head through, but couldn't pull back out and was stuck there for more than 30 minutes!
Seeing my desperation and worried what I might be up to next, my father bought me a bicycle. I still don't know what money adjustments he had to make to do so. Nor was I concerned at the time. All I cared about was the bicycle.
Small and Big Battles
I had many adventures as a child, but one that stands out happened while playing at Shivaji Park, the breeding ground of cricketers in Mumbai. I was captaining my team in a match. I was 12. After our wicketkeeper got injured I asked my teammates if anyone could keep wicket. No one came forward so I stepped up, somewhat reluctantly, never having tried it before. I was uncomfortable standing in the unfamiliar position behind the stumps and soon missed a nick. The ball came at me fast and hit me smack in the face, just missing my eye. The cut was deep and there was a lot of blood.
I didn't have the money to pay for a taxi home and was embarrassed to get on a bus with a bloodied face. I asked a friend to give me a lift on his bicycle, and anyone who knows Mumbai will realize what a difficult task that is, especially with heavy cricket kitbags in tow. There was a busy flyover between East and West Bandra, which my friend found too steep. So I had to walk it, while people gaped at me in shock. A young kid with blood all over his face and shirt, lugging his cricket kit over a flyover wasn't an everyday sight.
When I got home, I was relieved to find my parents out at work. My grandmother, who was at home, put warm turmeric over the wound, an age-old Ayurvedic treatment for cuts and bruises. The injury healed faster than I expected.
That wasn't the only time I got hurt while playing cricket as a child. We played on half-baked and overused pitches, and our coach insisted we bat without helmets and learn to leave balls by swaying out of the way. Injuries were frequent, but they hardened us for the grind ahead and as a result I was never scared of getting hurt. It was all part of being a sportsman.
Turning to Cricket
Besides cricket and music, I was also a big fan of tennis as a child. John McEnroe, the legendary American player, was my favourite. As a 10-year-old I would mimic McEnroe's look and antics, growing my hair into a curly mop, and walk around wearing a headband. I was so fascinated by the battles between Björn Borg and McEnroe that I even thought about choosing tennis over cricket.
Ajit knew about my obsession with tennis but had also seen me play cricket. My natural bat swing had led him to believe that I might turn out to be a good batsman if groomed properly -- though he never forced anything on me.
He would give me a tennis racket and a cricket bat and take me to the terrace for a few hits. He threw tennis balls towards me while I took turns with the racket and bat. We didn't have too many balls and if they bounced over the terrace walls, I would run down four floors and fetch them (there were no elevators, and that explains the secret behind my strong legs!). It was clear I enjoyed myself more while playing cricket. However, what led me to Ramakant Achrekar's summer cricket camp in 1984, at age 11, had nothing to do with the sport.
The turn to cricket was prompted when my friends and I got into a spot of trouble. At the time, Doordarshan, the national TV channel, showed a classic film every Sunday. When most of the residents were engrossed in the film, we would climb up the trees. As luck would have it, that day we fell with a crash and were caught immediately. It was clear something needed to be done to channel my energy. Ramakant Achrekar's coaching camp, where many of Mumbai's top cricketers had learnt their game, was Ajit's answer.
- Try to play every ball that life throws at you. Some will beat you, but there will also be those that you hit out of the park.
- Welcome competition, because it's in challenging situations that you learn to improvise, improve and be the best you can be.
- Winning is most worthwhile when it is against a strong opposition. Value a solid contest and learn from it.
- Whether it's a catch or your goal, take the initiative to reach it and stay focused on your aim.
- Have heroes. Wanting to achieve even a part of what they have will drive you, both when the going is good and when you're down.
- Many people will play a part, small or big, in helping you to reach where you want to. Never forget them.
- Set small targets ... and you are more than likely to reach the big one.