The Largesse of King King Chozhan

[This is a part 4 (or is it 3? Or 3.5?) of the series. Parts 1, 2 (1.5?), and 3 (2.5?) can be read (not that you necessarily want to read it) herehere and here]

Moving on from the short pitstop that was, the own town, the brave contingent of two (and the trusted Sopana Sundaran) moved valiantly on towards the final stop in what we can now call the the Grand Chozha (not the hotel in Madras) triathlon. Not that we did any running, cycling, or indeed swimming (though there was to be a bit of floating in water later on — translate into tamil to completely capture the essence of that; but, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves) but still, this was quite the achievement. Not merely ticking things off the list but actually spending a decent amount of time at the three temples. Not three yet, however. Two were down. Number three beckoned.

The time was around 4 and we had an hour to go before reaching Thanjavur. That quintessential existential question that strikes many a traveling soul right around tea time struck us:

To tea or not to tea?

Well, to tea, of course, but to tea would involve the following sequence of actions:

  • Sequence
    1. Getting out of car
    2. Locking said car
    3. Entering tea kadai
    4. Drinking tea
      • Contemplating eating of biscuit
      • Settling for (settling for, it seems!) bajji
    5. Stepping back into car (after unlocking, of course)
    6. Motoring on.

We decided against it. God was more important (read: laziness) and we motored on. Onward ho, and all that. The big temple, was, soon, upon us. The steed was holstered, so to speak, and the road was crossed. The car park was left behind and the temple was proceeded towards.

At first glance, the temple does not seem to befit its name. There is one arch / doorway in sight and, honestly, it is not all that imposing.

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This person (below) and this person’s friend seemed to welcome you.

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You enter the double gateway and, well, you are transported. Into another era. Immediately, the mind boggles, about how life might have been, or indeed probably was.
Red stone. Calm. Pious. Religious, even. Straight lines. Straightforward. Simple.
The area is so damn (blasphemous, I know, but still) crowded but the sheer vast expanse of the scale of it all just makes the populace melt away. Literally. It is hard not to just be intimidated by the scale of the thing.
Officially called the Brihadeeshwarar Temple, most people, simply call it the “Big Temple” or “Periya Kovil.” While I can see why, I still think there is merit in replacing ‘big’ with something along the lines of ‘ginormous.’ It really is that majestic.
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Once you are mentally past the vastness and the expanse, and the straight lines, and the general sepia tint, you start looking at the intricacies. Now, building a monument on scale, with architecturally precise rendering is a feat in itself. However, adorning it with carvings and sculpting intricacies out of solid rock is just something else. The mind never ceases to be blown.

Drawing water from wells without electrical assistance in today’s world seems to be neigh on impossible (not that there are many wells or indeed much water in the few wells that exist but you get the point). Imagine then,  the painstaking efforts and years of excruciating work that must have gone into every single one of these pieces of art. There simply is no other way to put it. Art. Words shall now stop. Below, are a few thousands of them — words, I mean — to behold (picture = 1000 words and all that).

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Gods. Demons. Apsaras. Elephants. Rings (replete with the small gap that lets the light through). Pillars. Pillars in said pillars. War scenes. Elephants caught in the act of tossing human bodies nestled in their trunks. Genius. Just. Pure. Genius.

And then there is the Caucasian in the bowler. I can see you eh-what-ing. Understandable. Eh, what? was indeed my reaction as well, the first time I heard / read about this somewhere.
I do not know where, or indeed when, but I heard about this one carving that is most out of place in this most carefully crafted premises. Amongst the elephants and the apsaras and the gods and the demons and the pillars (including those within other pillars), and the horses,  is a caucasian. Not just any caucasian but one who has, on his person, some fancy headgear. A bowler hat, to be more precise.

 

The caucasian’s origin is most interesting. The romantic explanation — and one that I believe should be true — is that the Chozha trade reached such outposts in the far west that they interacted with the velaikaarargal, so to speak, and this was, essentially, nothing more than a real-life depiction of one of those white men. While this is not outside the realms of possibility, it does seem as unlikely as there being a carving of Raja Raja Chozhan in a church somewhere in middle England.

 

What seems the more likely  and (unfortunately) less interesting (read: more boring) explanation is that in the early 19th century, there was a sculpture that fell off a Gopuram when struck by a survey instrument. It was around that time that Colonel William Lambton was entrusted with mapping British India, so to speak. When mapping Thanjavur, in 1808, he had, apparently, remarked that the land being as flat as it was, he used the Gopurams of the temples that adorned most villages to complete this land survey. Apparently, on an occasion, the theodolite that he was using fell onto a lower level of the Gopuram and damaged it, necessitating a re-scuplting. Perhaps he undertook it upon himself to get the repair done out of a sense of moral responsibility. Perhaps, he was held by the locals at, er, gunpoint (metaphorically, of course for the locals in all likelihood did not wield guns) until they restored their beloved temple. One way or another, he seems to have carved out a niche for himself. Literally and figuratively.

 

(Completely off-topic but incredibly succinct: Colonel Lambton. Wrongs the sensibilities of the village. Villagers rebel. Hold him until completion. Only thing missing seems to be Muniskanth. Thanjavur might well have been Mudasupatti.)

 

This has been one of the most fascinating mysteries of the temple that I had always heard of but never seen. This had to be seen this time. And it duly was. Behold. Below.

 

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After all of this, and the whole lot of admiring the architecture and the whatnot, our man — my dearest co-conspirator and generally nonsense fellow — thus far surprisingly well-behaved on the trip saw something. Rather, someone. Just one look at that face, and I knew. That scene in Sivaji where Thalaivar sees Shreya for the first time in that temple and that “thaaye mani vannam….” background music. (When a draft of this post was shared with above-mentioned co-conspirator, all he had to say was this: ” ‘Thaave mani vannam? I fully expected the ‘Sivaji, close the mouth waterfall.’ ” Good man.) That. I could hear that. Our man was smitten. And, of course, architecture, what? Raja Raja Chozhan, who?

 

She walked across (well, glided, he would say) and we walked across. She rounded a pillar; we rounded a pillar. She went into the sanctum sanctorum; we went into the sanctum sanctorum. She quickly did a U-turn and went out without seeing the some 30-foot long Shiva Lingam; we… no. no. Pillars are one thing, blasphemy, entirely, another. I would not have that. I put my foot down (best foot forward and all that) and we went into see the 30 (or is it 40?) foot high manifestation of the, er, human body part. (Code of the Woosters and all that.) The black guard reluctantly came along (but only after issuing death threats in case she was gone by the time we had come out.) The line was not all that long and we were out in almost no time, and sure enough. She was still there. Our man went and settled at a vantage point not afar her (and her entire clan, it seemed like) and we simply sat there for a bit. I, drinking in the onset of the dusk and the wonderful play of colours that it brought, he, er, sight seeing.

 

It was time to leave. It might have been slightly difficult to tear our man away but the departure of she helped raise his planted bottom from the spot. Onward ho. And thus, the triathlon was done. The tape was, in a manner of speaking, chested.

 

As if on cue, serial lamps. Sound checks. Thavil. Mridangam. Saxaphone. Maha Ganapatim. Good exit music, one would think.
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Back in the hotel, it was time for the, ahem, uncorking of the proverbial champagne, so to speak. Only, in this case, we were being a whole lot more modest and were looking at simply un-lidding a few beers brfore comprehensively downing them. I have always remembered Pl.A  as being one of the few places that had a decent bar. With that in mind (outdated, yes but one does not expect things like this to change in a town like Thanjavur), we walked up to the reception and asked the chap there. Duly, we were notified that the bar was closed. What?! No. Way.

“Why, sir? How?”
My incredulity was betrayed by my tone.
“Sir, neenah foreign ah?”
His nakkal was betrayed by his tone.
“Dai,” was what I wanted to say. “Sir, please tell me” was what I said.
“Sir, you are from foreign?”
Again. This time, my fact contorted. Not the restricted upper lip twitch as exhibited by Jeeves but the entire facial contortion as expressed by Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.
“Ille sir”, he continued, “only people in foreign don’t know this rule. There is no liquor allowed 500 meters from a National Highway.”
The pride was well and truly wounded. After the travails of the closed bars on Madras’ Mount Road (Anna Salai, if you will) there was a thing or two that I knew about the Highway Rule.
“Sir!” The tone was curt.
“Of course I know that. But where is there a national highway here?”
“Sir, this is a state national highway.”

Wait, what? A state national highway? What the hell was that? A state highway that was a wannabe national highway? I did not know. Honestly, I did not care. The mind was exhausted and the walls seemed to be closing.
He then proceeded on giving me a 101 of how they had tried putting the entrance at the back so that the 500 meter rule could, by the letter of the law, be followed. By the spirit of the law, you ask? Ha! I see what you did there. Pun indeed intended.
While this primer on highways and entrances to bars was being dished out, the mind was already racking the old memory cells trying to ascertain the presence of a TASMAC in the vicinity. This train of thought, however, was suddenly interrupted.


“But sir, you want what?”
“Beer.” Still preoccupied with mental maps.
“Beer only, no? We have stock sir!”

Dai! Rascal. If only that had been said at first, much Va Quarter Cutting / Idharku dhAnE aasapattai Balakumara level emotional turmoil might have been avoided. However, now was not the time for outrage Now was the time for the stiff upper lip.

“Two Carlsberg, Sir. Super cooling.”
The command was issued and the march towards the room was put.Calm was kept, and Carrying On was done.

 

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That having brought back the Ganges

[This is a part 3 (or is it 2?) of the series. Parts 1 and 2 (1.5?) can be read (not that you necessarily want to read it) here and here]

Rose water (generously) sprinkled, seat belt fastened, (polarized) sunglasses donned (we are definitely cool like that) the drive began. It was not really a long one but since it was the first time that our chariot was being helmed by self, the first few minutes seemed jittery. However – and in hindsight, I am happy to report that the stallion performed admirably – not one hiccup. Or should that be stutter? The point, either way, is made. It was smooth sailing, sailing analogy notwithstanding.
Now, of the three Chola temples, I had visited two already. The one we were going to now was the only one that I had not, and, truth be told, was the one I wanted to the most. Why? This.

I had already alluded to that being-mesmerized-by-the-expanse-of-the-Chozha-empire (wikipedia map) and that was precisely why. Gangai Konda Chozhapuram: that-Chozha-City-that-had-been-made-with-the-Ganges-that-had-been-brought-back. Imagine that. An army marches on. It conquers all in its wake. It marches and marches. And Aprils and Mays (ha ha! Sorry.)

It marches and marches. It starts at the Kaveri. It reaches the Ganges. It has conquered rivers in between but this one, this river, is something else altogether. The motherlode, so to speak. And just as nonchalantly, this has been captured as well. Well, not as a well, in the sense of the word that alludes to a watering hole (not the TASMAC variety). I digress.

The magnificence of the Ganges has been all but made insignificant. Because, it has been captured, so to speak. But now that the river has been captured, what does one do? How does one let the mothership know? This was, after all, about a millennium before the advent of the whatsapps and the iMessages of the world. Instant communication happened only within earshot. Everything else took time.

And thus was the quandary of the marching army. Now that this mother River has been conquered, what does the army do? Then, one could scarcely call one of the all-too-ubiquitous water lorries of Madras to transport the water along the Golden Quadrilateral back to Thanjai, no? What then? Well, the next best thing. Take a bit, despatch a few, and proclaim victory. And in proclaiming victory, build a city in its honour. That’s what!

And so a contingent was sent back. They traveled all the way back. There was much what-ho-ing on their return, and many a back was slapped.The Emperor was hailed as the conquerer of the Ganga and a city was sanctioned. There is, of course, the other thing about the king, having received the news and sanctioned the new city, sending the envoy back (in the days before frequent flyer miles were a thing, unfortunately) and asking them to build a city there in honor of the capture. This, of course, is Gangai Kanda Chozhapuram: the-Chozha-city-that-has-been-built-on-the-Ganges’-capture.
(I have heard that there is a city or a semi-city of sorts that exists somewhere in the North Eastern part of India. I have never looked it up for, if it were untrue, I would be disappointed. Perhaps I shall look it up one day, and it will indeed be there, and I will indeed visit it. Until that happens, though, onward with our current story)

Now, all of this is, of course, entirely made up. Some of it might even be true. I know what you are saying. I could have googled or wiki-ed this quite simply. I could have but then again, this is my story, no? Plus where is fun in that, what?

After that long-winded detour that I just took (see, what I did there?), I will get back to the present day. We went to GKC. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, after all. And it is ruins. The mind boggled. We got there. But first, a word on the road. Awesome. There. That one word is out of the way.

There was a small sign that asked us to turn off the road for the temple and we did. First hurdle, parking lot. Scarcely had we turned the engine off and gotten off the car that we had a chap in our face waving a parking ticket.  ₹30. We looked up. No shade. Nonsense! What are we paying for? We routinely shoo-ed the chap away and mumbled something about paying once we were ready to leave.

And with that, we left our footwear in the car, put our best foot forward and stepped on to the stones. And almost immediately, we jumped. Now, with all the description and the build-up that has preceded this bit, you might think that that particular leap was with joy. Not. It was with heat and good God was it hot! There was a carpet (red, indeed — well, brownish but was perhaps red once upon a time) but that seemed scarcely to be of any help. We motored along (on foot, of course) nicely and nipped and tucked into the grass like a cat on a hot tin roof.wherever we could to reach the gates, so to speak.  (I always wondered what business the said cat had on a tin roof, let alone one that is hot but that thought is for another time.)
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That first view. Magnificent. As soon as you enter, there is this expanse of grass that just stretches all around. And then there is this wonderful temple at the centre.
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It does take the breath away.

It also leads one to wonder: ruins? Where? 

It is then that one has had the time to drink in the expanse and let that settle in does one start noticing the devil. Well, not to be blasphemous and suggest that the devil resides in the house of God, as it were, but I merely mean the devil that lies in the details. One starts peering into what appear to be oddities. Now, the Chozhas were master builders. They had impeccable senses of proportion and symmetry. One glance at the Periya Kovil (or Dharasuram, for that matter) is all that it takes to know that. With that cognitive bias, when one views the temple here, something most definitely seems off. Initially, it does not seem apparent what is (blame the sheer dwarfing scale of the thing for this) but one gets that nagging feeling of something being off.

As one walks around, the signs are everywhere. Half built arches here, randomly discoloured murals there, and unfinished statues everywhere. When one completes a lap, so to speak, one understands why they are indeed ruins. It was almost like someone took up this task and said, right, let’s get a move on, lads, we haven’t got all day. And then the clock struck 4 whereupon he remarked, right then lads, let’s have ‘em structured finished. Never mind the edges or the half done ones. We drop arms at sundown. And sure enough, sundown came and arms were dropped (apparently, from some of the half-finished statues as well.)
Hence, Ruins.
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When one is done, one only wonders … what if.
I guess this is indeed what one must wonder for, well, what if, indeed. For, ruins, they are, ruinous, certainly not.

On our way out, we were met with some fauna (both herbivorous and carnivorous) and were led out in a rather sedate manner.
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An incredible (and incredibly refreshing) couple of lime sodas (salt only) were downed and heading out was done. The car was approached. The parking lad was talking to his friends a bit away. Glances were exchanged. A run for it was made. The car was started rather quickly and the ol’ heave-ho was given to the place. 30 bucks saved. Mildly cheap but, well, cheap thrills.

It was almost lunch time and we headed towards Kumbakonnam and Sathar’s for lunch. After an excellent (the true effects of which would be felt the next day) lunch was demolished, we headed to the big one (literally). Thanjai. This would complete the triumvirate. The focal point (well, triangle) of the trip would be ticked off the proverbial list.
But as we mounted the steed and chugged along, on the way, Google Maps threw up one most familiar and absolutely unavoidable town that we would quite simply have to pass through. It would require a small diversion by then again, missing this was simply NOT an option. And thus, we made one pitstop en route Thanjai.

Two words: Sondha ooru…

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The watch tower and the fallen empire

On exiting the Darasuram temple, we walked back to the car. A note on the car. It was our own Sopanasundari. It was a Figo. Not the Luis variety but one of the Ford ilk. Back to the story. It was a sweltering day.
This is a time for a bit of a rewind. When we wanted to park the car, we went all around the temple (thank you, Google Maps) searching for parking. When no obvious spot was forthwith in its appearance,  we just figured that we’d just put it under some random tree on the side of the road. It was right in front of a small shop of some sort but they old lady sitting in the shop did not look one bit bothered so, well, we did not, either. Bother, that is.

 

As we finished this parking expedition (by this, I mean, of course, the hitching of our steed, not the expedition in the park that said friend undertook in the park-esque lawns of the temple) and started walking towards the temple, we saw something that looked like what was once something that was not ruined. We decided to visit it on the way back.

 

Back to the present. We visited it. It was a gateway of some sort. Or so it seemed.
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I’m sure that Blue Bell spoken English was not what this was a gateway to but looks like it seems to be now. The British did indeed invade India and were quite zealous in their spreading of the English and the whatnot but I doubt that even they used a crumbling gateway to lead the locals toward an English education. Replete with a blue bell, of course.

 

We entered and looked around. It seemed to be a temple of sorts. By ‘of sorts’ I mean, it was a temple. There was a large-ish patch of grass all around and the wall on the left was a new cement one. The one on the right, however, was straight out of a post-war-view-of-the-city scene of a movie. It was all over the place. Bricks strewn around. We looked at it and wondered what this could have been. We wondered for a bit and then made our way back. After all, GKC awaited.

 

When walking out, however, something was odd. I looked to the left and saw something. Something that looked like a staircase. Only, it was not a staircase in the conventional sense of the word. It was more of a few bricks jutting out of the wall, forming a staircase moving up.

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This certainly was a watch tower of some sort. Being opposite the temple, this was probably the tower that was the entrance to the city of Darasuram (?). Or perhaps it was where the guards of Darasuram were on the lookout for messengers — both friends and foes — who came carrying news, Naturally, curiosity was piqued. Climbing was done. What awaited us was nothing short of spectacular.
I will tell you, nay, show you what we saw. But first, a bit of a history lesson.
Chozhas — circa 1100 AD.
British — circa 1900 AD.
British Empire — circa 2017 AD.
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A wise man once remarked:
show a man a TASMAC and he shall find his beer bottles. Show a man a ruined spot and you shall find his empty beer bottles.
Truer words have seldom been spoken

 

It is, of course, most ironic that in these most Chozha of ruins, it is the British Empire that appears to have fallen.

 

On that ironical note, Paneer soda was put. Sopanasundari was started. Self driving — by that I mean that I was driving, not that the car was driving itself — was done. Ruins awaited.

When the seagull follows the trawler….

Ever since I saw the wiki article on the Chozha dynasty, I was mesmerised. The map on that page — which shows the extent of the conquest — is beyond belief. This, my seeing the article, and not the conquest, was about five years ago. It must, of course, be noted that this was past my stint of 4 years in Thanjavur (if you would call 17 KM away from Thanjavur, Thanjavur, that is). Nevertheless, I did rue, instantly, not visiting the temple more often (I daresay I visited it a grand total of 3 times in four years during those years of intense study (ha!) at the not-so-Thanjavur-based Thanjavur college). But, more importantly, I was determined to do the triumvirate — Thanjavur, Darasuram, Ganaga Konda Chozhapuram (henceforth referred to as GKC, because, laziness).

So, when friend finally confirmed India trip (after struggle of job hunt in the yoo yess) and plans were put and then re-put and then re-re-put, tatkal ticket was put (we are last minute, like that).

Train arrived. Early morning. Prodigal son returned (Thoo!.) Thanjavur was upon self. Outcoming from the station happened. One number of tea (standard fair tea-kadai-based tea — no sugar, double strong. Always.) was put. Google Maps (unthinkable in previous stint) pointed 300m in one direction. Pl. A hotel was reached. Said friend was woken up — at 5 AM. Pleasantries exchanged. Dress changed. Sleep was done. Then get up, get ready, and the sundry.

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Breakfast was had. You might wonder why breakfast gets its own mention here. Because, we are pakki like that. Also, the breakfast was not half bad, I tell you! Not half bad.

Car started, Said friend driver. This fellow navigator + iPod operator. Go.

First stop, Darasuram. An hour and a bit’s drive. Superb roads. Reached well in time. In time for what, you might ask. Well, you should not. Well in time. It is rhetorical. Take it. Don’t question it.d1

As I had mentioned (Actually, upon further reading, I see I have not) I happened to go to Darasuram earlier in the year — in January. A friend — not the aforementioned one but one from the aforementioned stint in the not-quite-Thanjavur-but-Thanjavur University (ha!) — was getting married in Kumbakonam. Darasuram was the highlight of the trip. That and a bar called soma banam but that is not for this story.

Now the. Darasuram. Phenomenal. The scale is not massive. It does not dwarf you like the Periya Kovil does but my does it wow you. There are two shrines, essentially. The main one of Lord Shiva, in the avatar of Airavateeswarar and the adjunct one of Periya Nayaki Amman. The pictures speak for themselves but the majesty of the temple is just something else. Right from the beautifully manicured lawns to the impeccably maintained temple premises, the temple really is a gem. Add to that, the fact that there is hardly anyone there and it is just the perfect start to exploring the Chozha architecture, without getting overwhelmed by the massiveness of the Periya Kovil or getting saddened by and wondering of the what-ifs of the ruins of GKC.

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After a whole lot of mind-wow-ing and the whatnot, we were ready to leave when we met this most enterprising of tour guides. A boy all of 10. A little bit of recent history. Right when we entered, and said friend was off wandering the manicured lawns, this boy walked up to me as I was observing the caged steps and said “this musical steps. You put coin and it roll and all different music. It came in sixth book.” That last sentence did catch my attention but I though nought of it since said friend had returned from stroll and we were ready to enter the temple. Once we had done an entire round (clockwise, mind you — we are religious like that) this boy approached us again.

“Did you see the elephant and cow?”

“Elephant yes (see picture above; in the mind, careful scrutiny is happening: lion, horse-like creature with lion-like head, even crocodile-like creature, yes), cow?”

“Yes, elephant and cow. One side elephant, one side cow.”

Now is the time to look all cool.

“Of course! But which one are you talking about?”

“This one here, near this pillar?”

“There’s one here? I saw that other one”

Dodged a bullet. The boy knew I was full of it but his enthusiasm overwhelmed his cynicism and he took us to this carving and we finally saw it.
Looked at from one side, it is an elephant, and from the other, a cow.

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He was not done, of course. He took us to another. “See this, goat fight. This one has one and that one has lost. See this fellow? He has won and so he is celebrating. See the fellow? He has lost so has his head in his hands. This also is in sixth book”

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First thing’s first. Incredible craftsmanship. The boy described it succinctly. The carving was exquisite. In spite of the centuries of wear, the story was there for all to see. If, of course, you are looking for it. We looked at it because this boy asked us to.

Next, I just had to ask, “dai! what is this sixth book?”
“Sixth class book, anna!”
So, that was the sixth book. At least one mystery was resolved there. I now know what a “sixth book” is.
“So, who are you and what do you do?”
“My grandmother works in that shop at the entrance and when I am off school, I come here to mind the shoes”, he said.
“School, ille?”
“Inikku Saturday, anna!”

We stepped out to see that our footwear had been moved to the safe confines of the territory of the young man’s undertaking. We rewarded the young man with a few rupees that made him most excited. Surely, such entrepreneurship must be encouraged. Such enterprise. I would like to believe that the boy really was that enthused to share his knowledge and did not really do it for the money but when money is indeed given, he has the right to feel elated and maybe he will look for more people to tell stories to and if they do give him money, great but if they don’t, he is not really going to hold anything against them because, you know what, he is a child. He is not yet cynical.

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We saw the young lad’s elation and were happy to leave on a good note when we overheard the two idlers — who seem to be minding whatever rubbish they were peddling as wares : “see, man! the boy has gone and gotten money from them!!! Periya aal” The snark in that voice. Sigh. Not for nothing did Naipaul name the book — India: a million mutinies now.

4152 words.

The office had moved. A new TV had been installed. This was two months ago.  The TV was a prop, essentially. No one turned it on. Ever. There was no set top box attached to it. Neither was there a PS3 or and Xbox or a blu-ray player. Like I said, it was a prop. What a waste, I often thought when I walked past, for, to get to my seat from the entrance, I always needed to pass that central bay that housed the TV.

And then there was two weeks ago. The Tata Sky HD box appeared, as if right on cue. I wondered why. The West Indies test series – the one that I was vehemently in denial over – was to begin the next day. ‘Ha!’, I remarked, to myself. What a farce.

I was opposed to this series. I do not know what I am using the past tense here. I still am opposed to this series. Actually, I am not so sure now. When this series was announced, I genuinely was pissed off. Not so much that there was this dummy-obligatory-Sri-Lanka-esque series that was being held but more that the South Africa series – one that I had, after a very long time – actually been looking forward to, was being shortened.

I, as I am sure countless others, was really looking forward to seeing how this new Indian team actually handled themselves when properly tested. Bah! At any rate, I was not really ticked off by fact that this whole new series was being created so that Sachin could play his 200th in Mumbai. That was alright. After all, he deserves that much, at least.

What really really irked me was that he announced his retirement close on the heels of the announcement of this series. Now, this was pathetic. It really was. No, not because this whole farce of a series was being scheduled to commemorate him but because my only thought was that he was, surely, beyond this. Wasn’t he? Sigh.

I was angrier that he opted to play these two tests. Let me make one thing clear – I still think Sachin can cut it in South Africa. I still think Sachin is needed. Just his presence makes a difference. It really does. So when this is the case, I was so god damn angry that he decided to retire after Mumbai. I mean, this was, almost admission of the fact that he was not good enough. Really? Sachin, you’re not good enough? Your body has really had that much that you cannot play two tests in South Africa? I refuse to believe that.

That is the reason that I believe that this retirement and all the hoopla that surrounds it is not his choice. I think that it is being forced onto him. I really do. Yes, he has not been the Sachin of old and maybe he should’ve retired a while ago but this, surely, is not right. No, not in my eyes.

So all this being said, I decided to ignore all before me. As far as I was concerned, this test series was like the moon landing. It never happened. I did not read any tribute. I had the Cricinfo Sachin page open as a tab for two weeks but did not once read anything in it. Why did I not just close the tab then? Honestly, how could I?

The party rolled in to Kolkata. India bowled. Predictably, West Indies failed miserably. India began batting. A couple of wickets fell. Sachin came in to bat. I wanted to watch. No, I did not. Yes, I did. I’m fickle that way. In any case, I did not. Not even a replay. I heard that the LBW decision was a dodgy one. I did not care. Or so I thought. I watched one stray replay of that LBW – in real time, not in slo-mo – on a news channel. I knew that it was not out. I did not care. Only, not.

The only two moments I witnessed of that entire first test were Rohit Sharma bringing up his century and then Ashwin bringing up his. India would win. Of that, I had no doubt. Hence, I did not care. I learnt from somewhere that they were planning all sorts of things with 199. Someone told me that it was 199 million rose petals or something of the sort. I knew that that would never happen but this is India and in India, and when it comes to going over the top, one cannot discount anything. Ever. (Later on, I learnt that the plan was some 199 kg of rose petals which, if still absurd, was a lot more plausible.)

And so the lull in between the two tests. We now, of course, had two extra days of ‘Sachiiiiiiiiiin…… Sachin’ and the whatnot to bear on TV. To compound that, there was no football either, so nothing else on TV. I really did not want to watch any of those tributes and stories and histories. I really did not. Bloody hell, man! Why should I? Inevitably, however, I did end up watching a stroke when flipping through the channels. Of course, when I was on channel 202 on Tata Sky, surely, I could comfortably skip past 403,404,405,406,413 and the whatnot that showed the Sachin shows. Of course, I could just keep pressing the right arrow for when I did, I would still remain on 202 but would know precisely what was coming on the other channels and hence could avoid ‘inadvertently’ watching those shows. And yet, I ended up putting on one of those shows. For no more than a couple of seconds. But those couple of seconds would yield one stroke. Just the one. I could bear to watch no more. I scanned the other channels for anything else. There was nothing else that I wanted to watch. I still would not let myself tune into those channels. I’d rather switch the TV off. I did.

The second test approached. There were even fewer tickets for the public in Mumbai that in Kolkata. This was another of my several reasons for hating the very idea of this series. I was determined to boycott the test. This was just wrong. And then the test became ever closer. The tab still lay open. Chrome installed some update. The browser restarted. With it, refreshed all the tabs. The Cricinfo20 tab that lay dormant was now updated. I had to steal a glance. I did. I saw the range on the page. I read the Osman piece on Tendulkar vs Pakistan. Secretly, I outraged. I read another couple. Something stirred. I was embarrassed with myself. I was a hypocrite. No question, now. The strange thing, however, is that I simply did not care any longer. I am a hypocrite. So be it.

And so, it slowly dawned. Sachin was really going. That part of me, that non-hypocritical one, still asked the most fundamental of questions – so what? And so, the test started. Dhoni won the toss. He chose to bowl. Good. Or not. I did not care. The West Indies started well. That was good. I always have had a soft spot for them. I really hoped that they put up a fight. It looked like they would. And then the inevitable happened. They collapsed. I walked by the TV on my way to pick up some coffee. The only ball I saw of that West Indies innings was the second ball that Sammy faced. That was enough to disgust me no end. Walk away.

And then India started batting. Vijay and Dhawan were going along quite well. I saw one straight drive that Dhawan played. It went straight to the fielder but it was a thing of beauty. He then punched one brilliantly through the covers. Vijay then came on strike. A couple of outstanding shots. Good. The pair would bat through the day, I hoped and went back to my seat. Even the Cricinfo match tab that is usually open was closed. I had  no access to the score. I couldn’t care less.

There was, suddenly, this noise building up next to the TV. Maybe one of these chaps had reached a fifty. No. it was not that. It was not a noise of applause. It was not one of appreciation. There was something else in the air. It was anticipation. I quickly opened the Cricinfo tab. It said that India were two down. Sachin was heading down the stairs. I rose from the chair. I sat down again. These moments, literally, were excruciating. Sachin. Mumbai. One last time. Me. Hypocrisy. The sham of the series. My pride. All those pent up feelings. I could not let myself down. Sachin. One last time. Mumbai. Adidas. MRF. Power. Whites. Helmet. Crotch adjustment. Looking up at the sun.

I was in front of the television. There are some things that are bigger than you or your ego. Sachin is one of them. I looked around. There was a smile on so many faces. I looked at the TV. He was taking guard. They cut to the guard of honour that the Windies had formed. What was that feeling inside? Emotion? Sentiment? No. Pride. Yes, that’s what it was. How was it that I could take any pride in his success, I wondered later on, on reflection. I did not have an answer. I still don’t. however, I did take pride. Immense pride.

I looked at the scene. There were, perhaps, 50 people there. There were 3 chairs, only one occupied. All the others had just come to watch Sachin bat for a ball, maybe an over. And then they had to get back. After all, the world does not really stop for Sachin, although, briefly, it did. So there was no one on those chairs. In retrospect, more of the standing, I think, was the tension. I believe that people could not bear to sit. I know that I could not. And then there was that first ball.

A wild slog. Under edge. A single. No duck. A huge sigh of relief. I could feel the tension lifting all around me. As for me, no. I did not breathe a sigh of relief. I smiled. I knew what that was. It was a release. It was evident. The first one was out of the way. It was a signal. This was not going to be a builder’s innings. This was going to be an innings that was Sachin’s alone. It was for Sachin. This was an innings that was less for the country and more for him. It was for everyone who ever mattered to him. It was for everyone who did not matter to him. It was an innings. That’s all it was.

He was off the mark. People started going back to work. I did not really have work to do but then the righteous self that was still a small part of me wanted me to go for I could, maybe, still claim some moral high ground later on. I decided to watch for a few balls. I still stood. I stood more in fear of sitting for, sitting would mean not getting up; not until Sachin got out. So I stood.

And so I watched. Nine sedate balls. And then the tenth. Shillingford bowls. Off the pads. No chance. Tendulkar takes guard again. Short. Back foot. Point. Four. This was excruciating. Last ball of the over. Pitched up. Driven past mid off. Four. I sat down.

Then Gabriel bowled. Sachin leant into it. Cover drive. Four. South Africa popped into the head. India were 36 for 5. Or so I think. It was Azhar and it was Tendulkar. It was Donald and then it was Pollock. Or so I think. I usually am above average at remembering these things but maybe I’m just growing old. I do remember a Tendulkar century. I remember a cover drive that was an echo of this shot. I don’t remember how much Azhar got that day; I don’t remember how much Sachin got. I don’t remember how much he struggled. I don’t remember when he played that cover drive. I don’t even remember if it was the same one. However, the cover drive brought back memories. It just did.

Sedateness. Singles. Dots. More singles. Samuels fires it in. Down the leg side. It is helped on by that oh so deft turn of the writs, the bat and the whole being. Fine leg. Four. A lap sweep. That’s what came into the head. Not one. The many. I could not remember the bowler or the opposition. All I remembered were all those sweeps.

Another punch through point. Another four. More memories. Bowlers of much more calibre – not offence meant to Samuels – being dispatched. Simply. With the minimum of fuss. Rocking back onto the back foot and the ball sailing past point. Sydney. The lack of the cover drive. Contrapuntal.

And then it came. It had to. Sammy bowled. A poor delivery. An immaculate on drive. Sharjah. Desert storm. Only, not. Captain’s trophy. That’s what. Captain’s trophy was Jaga’s invention. A two wicket tournament that pitted the captains of countries against each other in a world cup format. Each captain was, of course, given two chances. India’s captain at the time was Ganguly. Only, in Jaga’s book, and in mine, it was Sachin. It always was. Captain’s trophy was the T20 of book cricket, so to speak.

Jaga was the most amazing cricket fan that I knew at the time. Age has mellowed him but I do not have a greater cricketing friend than him. He had this cricket book. In fact, he had many. Every game of every tournament was neatly detailed. Whole hosts of cricket world cups were played. Every game had a page of its own. The page was neatly divided down the middle. We used small notebooks, for the sole reason that carrying a 15cm ruler was much less cumbersome than a 30cm one. Each side had the opposing squads. All the names, including the initials (for the space crunch meant that the whole name could not be fit) and then empty space next to them to write down the score. Only once all this was done did the game really start.

Captain’s trophy had only the captains competing but it was properly and meticulously detailed. Sachin was the only one who could captain India. Of course all sense of fairness and propriety went out of the window. It had to be Sachin. It just had to be. And so, I shamelessly copied Jaga and played captain’s trophy after captain’s trophy. And I shamelessly cheated when Sachin got out. Those of you familiar with book cricket will know that if a page open was such that a page came loose in your hand, it did not count (we even counted them as no-balls and awarded runs, well it is a batsman’s game, what?) and, more importantly, a batsman would not be out if that happened on a ‘0’ page. I do not know how but Sachin had the uncanny knack of getting out off no-balls. More than any other batsman. I wonder if I had anything to do with that. On second thought, perhaps not. Of course I believe that. Ha!

That one on-drive reminded me of that one on-drive took me back to class 5 and class 6. Of all those atrocities committed in his name. When it came to Sachin, fair play did not exist. In my book. Literally. I even remember how, when playing India games, if a wicket fell and Sachin came in (he was always at 2 down for me for the fear of him getting out too soon and the team losing morale as a result) and the resulting page open resulted in a ‘0’, Sachin would be neatly side stepped and the next batsman would have a 0 nicely written against his name. Sachin, it was said, came in at three down in that game. I really wish Jaga has one of his many many cricket books with him. It really would make for interesting reading. Unfortunately, I do not have a single one of mine. Sigh.

Stumps. 38 not out. I waited until he was safely back in the dressing room lest someone run him out or do something of the sort. Of course that is not possible for the rules of the game don’t allow it but this was the last innings. One could not afford not to be too careful.

The next day’s play started. I was in office early. This time, I took my seat. I was, however, full of dread. We have the daily call with the person on-site at 10 AM. Sachin survived a couple of overs. When I say survived, I mean negotiated with relative ease. This was not going well. I was going to miss the action. And then whatsapp – god bless that! Tanay, the chap who is at the client’s end and with who we have the call everyday pinged me. ‘Let’s have the call at lunch. Or after Sachin is out.’ God bless Tanay.

And so it continued. 39 not out. Four. Four. Just like that, 47 not out. Single. Dot. Dot. Something. Didn’t matter. And then, four. Straight drive. Apt. Nothing else. Just apt. everyone around me clapped. I could not. No. I could not allow myself to. My heart, however, did skip a few beats.

And then it continued. Another couple of fours. It was becoming routine. Tino did his Best to try and ruffle Sachin with short ones. He glared at him. Sachin playfully brushed him away. The mind went back. Caddick. That six. Shoaib. That four. McGrath. All those hits. Olonga. Ha! What happened on the field with Tino was nothing. What happened in the mind with history was something else.

And then there was another on-drive. Again, one from the past. Perhaps one for the past. At that time, I did not know it; no one did. It was to be the last.

And then it came. Big stroke. Slip. Gone. Silence. Sammy could scarcely believe what he had done. And just like that, it was over. I wish I could describe the feeling but saying anything at all will be disgracing it. That, ladies and gentlemen, was that.

Everyone on the ground applauded. I could not bring myself to. Upon reflection, I now see myself. Sitting, slumped on that chair, grasping both ends tightly for support. I saw that entire walk all the way into the dressing room. Someone walked into bat. I think it was Virat Kohli. The mind did not really register. It cut to the picture of Sachin condemning himself and practicing that stroke over again.

I looked around me. Some people had left. There were still about 5 people around the TV. They had that look of anticipation on their faces. They were genuinely excited to see Virat bat. They wanted to see Pujara reach a century and then go beyond. They were genuinely looking forward to an Indian cricketing future – a future sans Tendulkar. The times, they are a changing. I got up and walked to my seat. I couldn’t help but think that if I were watching at home, I would’ve switched the TV off. Somethings, I believe, never change.

And so I went back to my desk and sat there. I did not know what to make of it all. I took out my phone and sent a text to Jaga, ‘What happens now, da?’ ‘Don’t know machi. Still dazed… not able to think about what next,’ was the reply.

I’m in a terrible rut. I have not been able to write – even by my very mediocre standards – anything at all for a few months now. A few bits of a 140 characters but even those, few and far between. Jaga has been too. He hasn’t written much over the past couple of years himself. We made a pact. I would write one on Tendulkar. He would write one on Tendulkar. This rather rambling, long-winded and pointless account is my end of the deal. I do hope he fulfils his end of the deal for that will make for some fantastic reading. I promise you that.

I did not watch a single ball of the match after that. India would win, I knew. Tendulkar would not bat again. I knew. I saw the score sporadically on Saturday morning. 5 down. 8 down. All out. India had won. Post match presentation.

Ravi Shastri’s booming voice, ‘… India have won but, more importantly, a great career has come to an end.’ That one line encapsulated all that I found wrong with the series. I was angry once again. I did not care who the god damn man of the match was. I did not care what Dhoni said or what Sammy did. I walked away into the kitchen to look at something that I had left on the stove. And then Shastri announced that Sachin would now talk. All that anger, all that pissed-off-ness was gone. The crowd went beserk and then Sachin started talking. I sat down on the floor. And then I listened; listened as he thanked his father; his mother; his sister; his brothers; his wife; his children. And then the power went off.

Anger. Frustration. Pure and raw emotion. A couple of swear words. The power did not come on. I went back into the kitchen. I was numb. And then the power came back, 15 minutes later. And then Sachin came on the TV. He was still talking. I could not listen. I did not want to. I decided to catch the entire thing online at some point in the future. I still have not watched it.

In retrospect, I think that that speech represented my Sachin; my personal Tendulkar. At first, I watched, riveted to the screen just as I had done as a lad. And then as I grew older, football replaced cricket and I began ignoring cricket (though I always did see Tendulkar bat whenever I could but not with the fervour of yore) and then as the years rolled on and bowlers who had no right to get him out began to do just that, it became too excruciating to watch.

The speech ended. I missed a good deal of it. Sachin was standing there and talking to a motley crew. And then they carried him on that lap of honour. And then he again stood there, all the time guarded by a security detail. And then he shed that detail. He walked. He walked towards that Wankhede pitch. He reached it. I thought that they were showing a replay of him inspecting the pitch before the start of play. He reached that pitch and then he bent down. I still thought it was a shot of how committed he was until his last day. And then he touched the crease and then got back up again, doing a ritual reserved for a temple. A lump formed in the throat. That, was it. That, right there, that little gesture, was, is, and will always be Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Cricketer.

Epilogue:

In about 70 years time, in a post apocalyptical world, long after the Earth and all Earthlings are long gone, an alien race will, by some chance, happen to land on Earth. They will scan the planet for signs of life. They will find none. They will, by chance, stumble upon a computer terminal. Miraculously, that terminal will be connected to what we know today as the internet. In that terminal, the Google homepage will be open. The cursor will be on ‘I’m feeling Lucky.’ The alien clicks on that cursor. A page of google results (all 4 billion pages) of Sachin will be thrown up. The aliens carefully read every one of those pages.

They read about his batsmanship – not that they understand what that is – , his humility, his grace, his elegance and how he gave hope to an entire country, an entire race, and how he became more than just a human being, how he became a demi-god and then a God.

They read all this and then they come to the inescapable conclusion – Sachin Tendulkar is an urban myth. It was a myth that was concocted by the oppressed world to give it hope. No one, they – the aliens – believe could be this good. No one man could mean this much to these many. It simply is impossible. It was a myth. It had to be. The aliens leave. In denial. Many of us live today. In denial.

Elvis might have left the building. Sachin has not. I don’t think he ever will.