Everyone has a Tendulkar moment—Old Trafford, Perth, Kochi One-Day International (ODI), Sharjah, Sialkot, Abdul Qadir, Pakistan and the World Cup, Calcutta, Shane Warne, ….
Twenty-one years ago, in October 1996, in a tri-series for the Titan Cup, India was to face an unbeaten South Africa at the Municipal Stadium, Rajkot. I had been asked to watch the ODI in an official capacity since the company I worked for was one of the sponsors. To watch an ODI as part of work. What fun!
This was the seventh game in the series. India had won just one game till then. Australia had lost all. Batting first, India made 185, with Javagal Srinath top scoring with 53. The Proteas won in a canter. People booed.
As a small-time cricketer, during my under-15 days, I had had the fortune of playing alongside Aashish Kapoor. Aashish was part of the Indian team at Rajkot, and he had a good outing that day. So after the match, I walked towards the Indian dressing room.
It was possibly the last place to go after a walloping. But then, the prospect of meeting the Azhars and the Tendulkars, and even getting introduced as a cricketer, were very much on my mind. Almost upon reaching the door, I was shooed away by an infuriated Madan Lal, the Indian coach. Losing without a fight in India is an Indian coach's death knell.
My dream moment shattered, I slowly walked to the hotel, crestfallen.
The following morning, I reached the airport early to catch my flight to Mumbai. As I checked in, I saw Azhar. I glanced around to see if there was anyone else. I saw none.
Aboard the Dutch Fokker Friendship turboprop, I sat hoping against hope that luck would smile, and that Azhar would walk in and plonk right beside me. Next thing I knew, Azhar was seated on the opposite side of the aisle. Before I could steal a second glance, a few more broad-shouldered men walked past me; Salil Ankola, Ali Irani, and Sachin Tendulkar took their seats close to mine.
The next hour or so was bliss. Seven odd years of international cricket behind him, Tendulkar was the biggest star in India. So each movement—nod, cough, or sigh—and even the size of his wrist were watched and recorded by my starry eyes for posterity. The cricketers didn't read the morning newspaper. Most of them preferred a dose of filmy gossip.
And then came the crucible moment of my life.
I asked the flight attendant for a napkin. On it I wrote: Dear Mr. Tendulkar, Could you be my Postman for a day? And hand this over to Aashish Kapoor, who is known to me ... blah blah. I requested the pretty attendant to hand over the nicely folded napkin to Mr. Tendulkar. She did it with a lot of fuss, carrying it as if it were a paper bomb, and stumbling and stammering to simply say what I had asked her. She almost embarassed me.
India's proud batsman, it seemed, would have nothing of the letter. Perhaps he saw something sinister. My last glance before disembarking at the Santa Cruz airport confirmed that he had not touched the letter.
Disappointed and deceived by a fellow cricketer, I hissed a few expletives at Tendulkar's snobbish conduct. I kept telling myself that a piece of napkin could not have done anything remotely as bad as the cherry had done in Sialkot. Soon I reached office.
A few days later, the Indians managed to make it to the tournament’s final. On 4 November, two days before the big match at the Wankhede, at around four in the afternoon, my phone rang. It was from the Taj Mahal Hotel. Aashish Kapoor was on the other end of the line!
It turned out that the man with countless centuries had indeed been my Postman.
[Pradeep P. Suthan (1985) runs Yentha.com and One Idea (ad agency). This is a modified version of his article published at yentha.com.]