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Sachin Tendulkar and Sathya Sai - the story of the little master and his 'little' Master
Date: 24th April, 2011
Venue: The Rajiv Gandhi cricket stadium in Hyderabad
Occasion: The IPL T-20 match between Mumbai Indians and Deccan Chargers
The stadium had been packed to its capacity as it awaited the start of a clash between the home team, Deccan Chargers, and a charismatic team which boasted of having the God of Cricket – Sachin Tendulkar – as its captain. Adding to the excitement and anticipation of the crowd was the fact that it was also the Little Master's birthday! A grand celebration, irrespective of the result of the match, was in order and a magnificent cake had been ordered to celebrate the cricketing God's birthday. Everyone was in a festive mood – everyone except for the little master himself.
Sachin Tendulkar sat alone in his room, a 'Do Not Disturb' sign hanging from the door. He did not care the least for his birthday. Actually, when it came to cricket, Sachin never gave anything else greater importance – least of all to his birthday. However, today seemed to be a day when his thoughts were on something that was BIGGER THAN CRICKET in his life! The God of cricket sat in contemplation of his personal God and Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. News had just spread that Baba no longer occupied the physical frame which had been adored by millions across the globe. The 'eternal' had dissolved into 'eternity' and Sachin had no idea how to react to it. He had been simply devastated and he knew that in the future he would never have the slightest predisposition towards celebrating his birthday. How could he when his 'Little Master' had chosen to exit the world on that very same day?
Finally, it was time for the toss and Sachin did indeed walk out onto the cricket pitch. A huge roar of applause rented the air as the nearly 40,000-strong audience sighted their hero on his birthday.
However, everyone could sense that he was not the same. No. It was not any lack in his professional ethic. He had shown perfect poise in taking the decision to play despite going through a phase of shock. And all that he said after the toss was,
"I always enjoy playing in Hyderabad and it is a lovely place to play, in front of a wonderful crowd," keeping his intense sorrow deeply buried in his heart.
I do not remember the result of the match that day. But this much I remember that my Cricketing God, Sachin Tendulkar, politely declined any cake-cutting or birthday celebrations that day. Though he seemed to do everything in his routinely passionate manner, he was visibly poignant. Everyone knew that Sachin, for once, was unable to allow even cricket to take him over! As reported in the national newspaper, The Hindu, the organizers at the match decided to switch off the music systems and also disband the girls' cheer squads from the venue as a mark of respect to the 'departed' Sai Baba. It was also decided to observe a two-minute silence at 3:57 pm across the stadium.
This was all part of the efforts by the cricketing fraternity to empathize with their God and hopefully cheer him up a bit. But nothing worked! As soon as the match was completed, Sachin and his wife Anjali were on their way to Sai Baba’s abode in Puttaparthi.
What happened the next day was splashed across all the newspapers in India - a visibly shaken Sachin wept like a child at the physical loss of his beloved Master. He did not speak even a word with anyone as he sat in silent communion with his Lord. Everyone wondered about this hitherto unknown part of the little master as he broke down, shedding profuse tears. But what seemed as wonderment for the national press seemed so natural for me and any others who had been witness to Sachin’s unforgettable journey with his master. It would definitely require a book to write about everything between Sachin and Swami but here, I would like to recapitulate a few moments which give a glimpse of that relationship.
The beginnings of a magical connection
It was way back in 1997 that the connection between the Little Master and his ‘little’ Master was forged. It happened via another little master and cricketing legend, Sunil Gavaskar. Sachin considers Sunil Gavaskar as his mentor and guide in ways more than one and it almost seemed like a play of destiny that Gavaskar brought Sachin to his Lord and Master, Sri Sathya Sai. The way Sunil Gavaskar became a staunch devotee and follower of Baba is an altogether different story, with its own thrilling narrative. It would suffice here to say that Sunil Gavaskar, by then, was convinced that Swami was the Lord of his life and he felt that the least service he could do to his favourite cricketer was to get him also to Swami and let him experience divinity.
The magical meeting and connection happened towards the end of 1997 when, out of the blue, Swami told two champion cricketer-devotees, Sunil Gavaskar and Erapalli Prasanna, to arrange an international cricket match in Puttaparthi! What seemed as a nearly impossible proposition indeed, happened on the 27th of December when the Indian XI led by Sachin Tendulkar took on the World XI led by Arjuna Ranatunga in the Sri Sathya Sai Unity Cup match. In the organising committee were EAS Prasanna, Sunil Gavaskar, Alvin Kallicharan, Clive Lloyd and Zaheer Abbas while a plethora of international stars participated.
They say that God chooses the perfect time and perfect situation to enter a devotee’s heart.
On the day before the match, Sachin strode into the Sai Kulwant Hall in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. He watched Swami, who wanted to ensure that the players were happy with the pitch. Sachin then rode next to the driver in Swami’s car with Ranatunga, Swami, and Gavaskar seated in the back. Sachin’s heart became the home for Swami on that blessed day.
After making a rousing 82 in less than 50 balls, Sachin led the Indian XI to victory and received the Unity cup from Baba’s hands. He also barely missed getting the Man Of Match award to Venkatesh Prasad. He would not have minded that because he won the greatest gift that day-Swami’s blessings - which were conferred upon him during intimate talks on- and off-field. Though we do not know what transpired between the little master and his Master on that day, this much is sure that Swami had made a grand entry into Sachin’s heart.
Life is a game, Play it!
When the Lord enters one’s life, all successes - spiritual and worldly alike - seem to come by, too. And that is what seemed to happen in Sachin’s career. The year 1998 proved to be the most successful year in Sachin’s entire ODI career spanning nearly 24 years. That year alone he made 1894 runs with the help of 9 centuries, a world record to date. He also made it a point to visit Swami and have his darshan whenever an opportunity presented itself. It was during one such visit to Swami’s ashram in Whitefield, Bengaluru, that he was blessed with an interview. After the interview, he spent a few minutes in the office of Sri B.N.Narasimhamoorthy, the then warden of the Brindavan campus of the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. What he revealed there, during a short chat was simply amazing.
“Swami knows a lot about Cricket," Sachin said, “He told me something that will remain etched in my mind.”
Naturally, the warden’s curiosity was aroused. Sachin revealed that Swami had told him that he was getting out unnecessarily because of his anger which led him to ‘go after’ a particular bowler. Swami advised him not to concentrate on the bowler but concentrate instead on the ball alone. That seemed like a whiff of fresh and fragrant air for Sachin and the world knows how meticulously he went about demolishing and demoralising opposition teams around the world with much greater consistency and perseverance after that. In fact, the great Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas Prasanna noticed this change in Sachin’s batting as he observed:
“In the early years, especially around the mid 90s, I had this feeling you could play around on his ego and get him out. He believed he could attack bowlers at any time and anyone who could bowl maidens to him stood a good chance. Things are of course different now...”
It seemed as if Sachin learned more about the game of cricket and the game of life every time he visited his Guru. And he visited Him in times of plenty and times of need alike. When he was unable to visit Him, he carried Him in his heart and his cricket kit. As another Indian cricketing great, VVS Laxman revealed,
“Sachin always carries a picture of Swami in his kit for each and every match. He also at times makes an altar and lights an oil lamp for Swami. At times, myself, Rahul (Dravid) and Sachin talk and discuss about Swami. Many youngsters too listen in awe and respect at such times. In fact, some of them also get a desire to have Swami’s darshan.”
One such occasion when the desire of the entire team got fulfilled was on the 23rd of November, 2005, during the 80th Birthday celebrations of Bhagawan Baba. The entire Indian national cricket squad made a “surprise” visit to Puttaparthi and wished Swami on His birthday. This was a moment when Sachin joyously held the mike and spoke a few words of love, reverence and prayer to Swami. The 200,000-strong audience in the stadium was thrilled. The whole team sat on the floor of the stage throughout the morning session which concluded with Bhagawan’s memorable discourse in which He emphasized on the divinity imminent in every being. Therefore, He said, one must always help the other and saturate oneself with love towards everything and everyone.
What happened after Swami left the stadium and as the cricketers were filing out from the dais is something that is unforgettable for me.
A huge crowd gathered behind the Shanti Vedika, the main dais, to catch a glimpse of its dear Sachin Tendulkar. The adoration he received was such that there was hardly any space for even a person to stand. I stood far and looked somewhat jealously at my classmate Chandra Bhanu, who by virtue of being part of the guest-serving team, was right behind Sachin. His revelation of the happenings were stunning.
“I simply cannot forget what happened as I was on stage taking care of the prasadam distribution. Swami had given laddus to the whole cricket team including Sachin and he held on to it like a precious possession. The Superintendent of Police (SP) of Anantapur was in charge of team security. In his over-eagerness to clear the swelling crowd and maybe impress Sachin, he almost was beating and pushing people out of the way. As the team walked on, Sachin stopped, came to the SP and said,"Sir, thank you for your concern. But Babaji just told us to love all and not hurt any one. Please do not hit those who love me that too in front of me! Just allow our cars to come and, I am sure, the people will themselves make way." "
Sachin was already putting into practice the discourse that all the others had apparently only heard and applauded!”
Sachin came down the steps and saw that an old lady was almost getting crushed in the crowd. He broke the security cordon, rushed out to her, extracted her from the crowd and, much to my thrill and tears, fell at her feet seeking blessings! The old lady gently patted his cheeks and her eyes brimmed with tears. No word dropped from her lips and it was obvious that her heart was full. Now, that is what makes Sachin a God of cricket - his sporting nature extends much beyond the playing field.
A constant visitor
Sachin has a very special place in his heart for his Swami. That is what made Him visit Swami amidst his frenetic schedule too. When India had to play West Indies in an international ODI match, Sachin pulled out time to visit and pay homage to Swami who was in Chennai to attend the Chennai Citizen’s Conclave and conduct the 10-day Athi Rudra Mahayajna. He offered six cricket balls and a bouquet of flowers to Swami. Swami smiled and blessed him with a touch on his forehead.
Swami too was in definite touch with the little master as another cricketer, Sadanand Vishwanath, reveals in CricketCounty:
"I visited South Africa with the Karavalli Cricket Clinic in 1997, around the time when the Indian team were there for a tour. During the Cape Town Test, Anil Kumble had given me about 20 passes for the game. We watched the proceedings on a day when Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin smashed hundreds. Interestingly, I had given him Satya Sai Baba of Putaparthi’s vibhooti the previous day in the hotel. Sai Baba had personally given it to me and I feel fortunate to have them passed it on to Sachin."
I am sure that Sachin didn’t have the slightest idea about such visits coming to an end so soon. And that was the reason for his unabashed outburst on the 24th of April, 2011 - because like millions others, he felt it was the day of ‘departure’ of his Guru. It was not long before he realized the truth - again like million others - that 24th April was actually a day of arrival of his Guru. It was a day when Swami had moved from the physical to the omnipresent; from the Yajur Mandir to the Hriday Mandir (temple of the heart). And today, Swami visits Sachin regularly! As a teary Sachin told Times Of India on the 13th of May, 2011,
“Baba might not be present physically, but I still connects with him in my dreams. That’s where I draw strength from. He will always be with me.”
His connection with Baba is vibrant. That was visible during his visit to a peepul tree in Jaipur. Amidst the busy IPL schedule, Sachin took time out from an ad shoot to visit the tree under which Swami had delivered a discourse in 1973 during His North India trip. As Sachin went near the tree, he became silent and quietly sat near the tree for a long time, deeply engrossed in thoughts.
I am not in touch with Sachin Tendulkar but I am convinced beyond doubt that Swami is an integral part of his life. His absolutely clean and wonderful behavioural record on and off the field show what a wonderful human being he is. It is no wonder that such a beautiful human being was blessed with this opportunity by Swami.
Today, as he gets ready to play his final international cricket match, a lot of hype and hoopla has been generated around the nation. People everywhere scream,
“There never was nor will there ever be a Sachin again.”
In the deep recesses of his heart, Sachin reconnects with his Guru. It was with pure conviction that he hears it say,
“There ever was and there ever will be Sai Baba again for He IS always with me.”
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© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya