The little master makes history

A legend? An icon? 

In India, he is God.

And on Friday, God made India very proud. Even the prime minister said so.

The nation of 1 billion-plus erupted in celebration as cricketer Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century.

Never mind the unveiling of the budget Friday. It was all Sachin on Indian television. 

Never mind it was a workday. Companies probably suffered huge losses.

Twitter exploded with kudos for the batsmen known as the little master. As did Facebook. And Bollywood.

“God’s special creation .. Sachin Tendulkar !!” tweeted megastar Amitabh Bachchan.

Journalist Barkha Dutt weighed in with this:

“Nice to see a nation steeped in negativity and self flagellation finally breaking free from it all and actually feeling good. Thanks 
Tendulkar reached the elusive 100th international century against Bangladesh in an Asia Cup match in Dhaka.

“It hasn`t sunk in but I have definitely lost about 50kg,” he said afterward. 

He began playing at the age of 16 and thrilled cricket fans for 23 years. That in itself was a feat. His first century was at Old Trafford in 1990. Last year he reached 99 and Indians watched each subsequent match with high hopes. They pinned everything on the man with the demure stature, mop of wavy hair and uncanny swing of the bat. 

They waited and waited. There was even a joke about the a chunk of India’s car accidents happening because  drivers were trying to catch a Tendulkar make his 100th on a roadside stall television.

But today, Tendulkar made history. 

As my Facebook friend Rajiv Chatterjee said:

“I know his stats look great and I know he has achieved feats which will probably never be repeated again. But that is not the real reason. The real reason is that he has shouldered the dreams of a billion for 22 years which is more than what any mere mortal can. In a country where a lot of people cannot afford a square meal a day, he has represented hope of better times. Every time we had a lot of reasons to cry, he has given us something to smile about. Religion in India has more often than not divided people than unifying it. But one thing has always been common … both Ram’s mother as well as Rahim’s wanted their sons to be exactly like Sachin Tendulkar. Years later, I will really look forward to telling my grand children that yes, I have seen God with my own eyes…he used to bat at no. 4 for India!”

Why not saffron, green and white?

Every four years, when the world crowns a new football champion, I root for Brazil. I grew up a being a Brazil fan — my father told me Pele was the greatest athlete ever.

As I grew older I wondered why my homeland wasn’t able to field a team to play in the World Cup. After all, when I was a young girl in Kolkata, I watched my cousins and friends kick the ball around with bare feet on a dirt field in the neighborhood park. Even now, every open field sports a goal net or stumps and bails.

So why then can’t an emerging global power, a nation of 1 billion plus, compete in soccer?

Why is India ranked a miserable 133rd out of the 202 football playing countries. Yes, India ranks even below war-ravaged nations like Rwanda and Sierra Leone. I suppose our only solace is that Pakistan and Bangladesh come even further down the list.

Many theories abound on India’s poor performance.

Some say India’s soccer program is run by people who are corrupt. They are more interested in lining their pockets than they are in athletics. The head of the football federation is, for God’s sake, the aviation minister!

Others say India’s real love is that other sport that Americans have yet to embrace, the one that involved the stumps and bails: cricket. Or that club football has never attained the kind of professionalism it has in other countries.

India last qualified for the World Cup in 1950. But the barefooted team never made it to Brazil to play because they couldn’t afford plane tickets to the other side of the world.

A football fanatic friend of mine says India can’t play anymore because it has fallen behind the curve. For many years, players insisted on bare feet when other nations were speeding ahead with fancy spikes, special grass and other new technology.

Instead, in my hometown, millions of people are crazy for Brazil. I remember watching World Cup games in 1998 — the crowds lining the streets were awash in yellow, blue and green. They cried openly when France defeated their team in the final. I felt as though I were on the beach in Ipanema, among Rio de Janeiro’s Cariocas — not in a middle-class Bengali neighborhood of Kolkata.

So I am forced to root for a country other than my own again this year. I have to reserve the Indian flag for that other World Cup, the one that involves the stumps and bails. India plays host next year. Maybe they will even nab their second Cup win.