Monday, November 10, 2008

Good night, sweet prince

When they posed for the group photograph, he was way off to one side. Smiling, possibly happy, but already drifting out of the frame.

Even earlier, when Harbhajan leaped in joy at the last wicket and the rest of the team converged on the pitch, he was alone, jogging in from the outfield, a smile on his face but his eyes hidden by those glares. He had a hand held up to high-five his mates. The only guy he could find was the next-to-newest member, Amit Mishra. He still smiled.

Oh, they chaired him off the ground afterwards. And Mahi had already made a grand gesture of asking him to set the field for a while after the 8th wicket fell. It’s a sign of the man’s enthusiasm for the game, or perhaps his love of being in charge, that he actually accepted the offer. I thought it was a trifle demeaning, he should have smiled and waved it off.

Then they left the ground. The curtain came down. He’ll come back to his home in Behala and then, perhaps, when we can’t see him, the smile will fade.

He may deny it, but there are regrets. Those last 15 runs that eluded him in the first innings. Hell, the 17 runs that were his for the asking in Taunton, 1999, if Azharuddin had not kept him from the strike for 14 balls in a row. And of course, closing the face of the bat too early to that wrong ’un from Krezja. But he was never a fairy-tale prince. Not for him the perfect climax or the unblemished record. Except for that first tour of England (where he didn’t get the third consecutive century on debut) or that ODI series against Pakistan in Canada in 1998, he’s always been the Prince of What-Might-Have-Been. Which may not put him up there in the pantheon, but damn, it makes a far better story. And he’s always given us the best stories.

It was never just about the cricket. There will be a few dozen articles and a couple thousand blog posts about how he gave Indian cricket Attitude, about his record as captain and his magic through the off-side. But for most of us, and especially in Calcutta, it wasn’t just about the cricket. There was the angle of the local boy making good. There was our glee at his in-your-face incidents. But what really endeared him to us was his fallibility. Hell, a Don or a Tendlya aren’t human. They are phenomena. THIS man fought against his own frailties, his lack of form, his failing reaction time, his leaden feet. He fought against perceptions, against half-truths, against his own hubris. He fell from eminence in a manner he hadn’t anticipated, he fought his way back, he toughed it out. And he found that just as panache couldn’t hold him on the pinnacle, not even performance could put him back afterwards.

He was never one to go gentle into that good night. But like they wrote on Cricinfo, after a while a man bears the marks of “every glove that laid him low, or cut him”, and it’s better to leave on your own terms.

It might be bathetic to label him our last tragic hero. Unlike his opening partner (Chhoto Babu to his Babumoshai) he was too human for deification. He was never larger than life, let alone large enough to be a superhero. Maybe he was even a loser in his last war. But then again, perhaps those lines spoken over the body of another loser might not be out of place – “This was a man … ”

13 comments:

bongopondit said...

Certainly among the best among the thousands of Dada tributes.

So long Dada, and thank you for the memories.....

bongopondit said...

Typo: the first 'among' is to be discarded.

greatbong said...

Excellent post JAP-babu.

What's In A Name ? said...

Its beautiful how you delineate his frailties even in his farewell post and make it sound evocative and somber.

One of the better tributes in cyber-world.

Priya said...

He may not be a super hero, JAP, but he sure is super human, and also a superb human being. Cheers to him!

R said...

veery nice !! *sigh*

Ottayan said...

Excellent tribute.

Tom Pinkerton said...

Oh *very* nice.

And this, 'The Prince of What-Might-Have-Been'...is just perfect.

Lazyani said...

Remember his first ODI as captain in Jamshedpur (where he got the MOM), Shastri ( once again!!!) in the post match interview asked Sourav that whether he would ask for a raise from his employers,The TATAs , as a result of his superb showing in front of them.
Sourav's answer was a rare mumbled and embarassed 'I am happy with my employers'.
That probably sums up his attitude -- aggressive on cricket and quiet off cricket.

Hades said...

Nicely done, sir. Especially the opening.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

BP, Arnab, WIAN, Ottayan, R, TomP - Thanks.

Priya, you miss the point. His appeal is that he was never superhuman.

LazyAni, Roebuck (surprisingly) said the same in his tribute. Called him "soft-spoken", even (which he is, in person)

Hades, you noticed. Thank you.

J.A.P.

progga said...

Completely off the subject, "Goodnight sweet prince" - isn't that the line Air India used when the guy who created the maharaja died?

the Monk said...

One of the best tributes to Dada I have read so far.