“Worst performer”! Worst performer, who? Sachin Tendulkar, that’s who.
The news was published in early August. A gentleman called Naresh Agarwal, a member of the Rajya Sabha, had questioned the continued absence of Tendulkar and Rekha, the actor, and asked for their resignations. ‘Go, Sachin, go when people ask why and not when’ – Mr Agarwal probably didn’t word it exactly such, but that was it, wasn’t it? Tendulkar would have heard it before – not too often but still – when he stretched his retirement to tot up 200 Tests and 100 international centuries.
It’s slightly old news now, but the story itself is not new. For celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar, or MF Husain, the revered artist who claimed to have spent most of his time in the hallowed precincts of the House sketching other members – it’s an honour bestowed to them, often for being sympathetic to the ruling political dispensation or, occasionally, because a political party wants to get them on board or use them to make a statement. They are not politicians and sometimes not even politically aware or conscious. Their (lack of) attendance and (lack of) contribution then makes headlines.
Still, never before would anyone have called Tendulkar the ‘worst performer’. In this case, it’s a number – in terms of attendance. Tendulkar and Rekha had the lowest attendance among the 12 nominated members. That, though, is what happens if you have been given an honour and a responsibility but treat it only like the former and ignore the other bit. Apparently, when he finally walked in on August 3 (selfies were most likely clicked with him by other members, perhaps Mr Agarwal too) and spent time sitting on his chair, he asked no questions and participated not a bit.
If you think about it, though, Tendulkar has only been doing what one expects of a celebrity of his stature. If anyone thought he would revolutionise the political system by being ‘involved’, it was obviously a misplaced expectation. Celebrities – Tendulkar, Rekha, Mary Kom – they are faces. Of fairness creams and freedom-day celebrations, of big corporate behemoths and traffic police adverts, or cars and chocolates and shampoos and what have you. Selling points. Brand Tendulkar. Brand Kohli. Brand Dhoni. Of course, the Rajya Sabha doesn’t need any selling, but you get the idea.
Speaking of fairness creams, one of the rare instances of a senior Indian cricketer speaking on an issue without any direct prompting came about the other day.
Abhinav Mukund, the Tamil Nadu and India opening batsman, used Twitter to talk about something that was at once deeply personal as a much larger and critical concern. Writing “not to garner sympathy” but “with the hope to change the mindset of people”, Abhinav said: “People’s obsession with my skin colour has always been a mystery to me. […] I have been subject to a lot of name-calling and I have laughed and shrugged it off because I had bigger goals! Affected young, I toughened up because this was never something that would pull me down. There were many times when I chose not to dignify these insults with responses. Today I am speaking up, not just for me, but for many of our country who experience ridicule based on the colour of one’s skin. […] Fair isn’t the only lovely or handsome guys!”
Anyone with even a passing idea about India is aware of the obsession with fair skin around these parts. After being quiet for many years – Abhinav is 27 and has been on the road for close to a decade – he has chosen to speak out, at the risk of offending (deeply prejudiced) people, without being paid for it, not as a face of something.
I had the opportunity to pose the question of responsibility to Suresh Raina the other day while we were talking about other things. We were talking about the Gracia Raina Foundation, his wife’s NGO that focuses on the wellness and care of underprivileged mothers and children primarily in Uttar Pradesh (for now), the home state for both husband and wife Priyanka.
I asked whether his job was limited to lending his name (and fame) and reaching out to contacts, and he did admit that that was it; he didn’t have the time to do more. What after that; doesn’t a celebrity need to do more than just appear? True, he said, and helping with contacts, but at the ripe old age of 32 and after spending time with Priyanka, he had started to try and understand issues that had never interested him before. The little he has seen has opened his eyes. More than a face then? “Looking at the women – they need to start working at home within days of giving birth. A child in one arm and she is cooking with the other hand. And the husbands drink and there’s violence. Unless you see these things, you don’t think about them. So maybe not right now, when I have to travel a lot for cricket, but it’s something I want to do more seriously when I have the time.”
Hope that happens.
Virat Kohli has spoken out often about one of his pet interests – his pet interest, that is, dogs, and apart from once rooting for a noiseless Diwali (he found a kindred soul in me there), he recently passively adopted 15 dogs at a shelter near Bangalore. Kohli has spoken out about the girl child too, and not for money, not as a ‘face’. He does a lot of that too, of course, and why shouldn’t he? Anil Kumble might have become the face for animal rights activists in some quarters, yes, but it has happened because Kumble has been a wildlife enthusiast for years and spoken about conservation well before anyone thought about exploiting his voice and image.
And they are not the only ones to do so, without prompting. Cricket is filled with people who have done the right thing, performed well on the socio-political front.
No one has to do the right thing and there’s every logic in a celebrity asking for his cut when someone wants him or her to promote something – a new mobile app or a social cause. But there’s no turning away from it, it does matter when people – Tendulkar or Abhinav, Kohli or Kumble – show that they care. They could change the face of a nation’s conversation. The upper house would have been such a good place to begin at least a few of those dialogues.