For various reasons, the word ‘legacy’ has taken deep root in one’s mind over the last few days. Legacy is one of those fascinating words that conveys a lot, and yet conveys very little. Various dictionaries link it with bequeathal, lending a financial touch, but when you veer away from the seriously structured definition, legacy takes on a deeper, more human meaning. It is an emotional rather than a physical entity, sensed rather than seen, felt more than held.
When we talk sportspersons, say, we don’t necessarily identify their legacy with the sheer volume of their work alone, no matter how impressive the numbers might be. Cold stats will show that Sachin Tendulkar ended his career with 100 international hundreds. That Roger Federer, still an active virtuoso, has an unprecedented 20 Majors in the open era. That Michael Schumacher, sadly a pale shadow of the magnificent figure behind the wheel of a Formula One car, signed off with a whopping seven world titles. That Mithali Raj, the peerless India Women batter, has scored more One-Day International runs than anyone else, and is rewriting the record books with almost every run scored.
But are these the only reasons we will remember these champions by? That they are exceptionally gifted athletes who overcame odds and adversity and pressure and competition to establish themselves as the creamy layer? Do their influences extend merely to matches and titles won? Were that to be the case, theirs would loosely be restricted legacies.
That there is more to these sportspersons than unalloyed excellence in their chosen spheres is what elevates them to the unique category of torch-bearers, of trail-blazers. They have laid down the marker and set the standards that the chasing packs will strive to emulate, but they have also shaped careers and lives and destinies of millions across the globe, both as athletes and as human beings. And, with the passage of time, as human beings and then athletes. Sport allows them to break into our consciousness; what they do when they get there is what will remain their identity, almost independent of their glittering sporting achievements.
The Tendulkar legacy has now been temporarily transferred from the father to the son. Such is the burden of carrying a famous surname that Arjun will attract a lot more attention and scrutiny than if he were not a Tendulkar. There are perks aplenty of being the son of Sachin, but when you put yourself out on a public platform in a team sport especially, those perks can rapidly disappear. The young man’s inclusion in the India Under-19 team to travel to Sri Lanka next month has been greeted with understandable interest and equally understandable cynicism. Is he in the Indian team because he is a good enough left-arm quick? Or has the Tendulkar at the end of his name hastened his elevation?
And is it mere coincidence that inarguably the offspring of the two greatest batsmen to come out of Mumbai – and possibly India – are both left-handers? Rohan Gavaskar’s father is the first in so many lists that it will be impossible to document them with justice. The little big man who instilled respect for Indian batting in hostile attacks across the world might himself have been taken aback that while he batted left-handed once in a Ranji Trophy game on a spiteful surface at the Chinnaswamy to keep a marauding Karnataka attack at bay, his son batted left-handed as the norm, not the exception. Once papa Sunil had stacked up 10,122 Test runs and a then all-time high 34 centuries, Rohan was pretty much resigned to being the ‘other’ Gavaskar.
That’s where Arjun finds himself at now. How do you top what the senior has done? Alright, so unlike Rohan, Arjun has taken the other discipline – bowling – as his primary vocation, but he will still unfairly be judged against the glorious deeds of the ‘billion dreams’ man. He is the envy of millions simply because he is that man’s son, but am I glad that I am not in Arjun Tendulkar’s weighed-down-by-lead shoes.
Aspiring sons trying to live up to the on-field legacies of famous fathers isn’t a novelty in Indian cricket, though when those famous fathers respond to Gavaskar and Tendulkar, there is an entirely different edge to it. They also have off-field legacies – humility and respect, particularly — to strive to equal.
Few have left a more soul-stirring cricketing legacy than AB de Villiers, that freakish genius with an unfettered love for the unusual, a free spirit if there was one. I can’t think of anyone else who has entertained so many for so long over the last decade with such felicity and command and consistency, and yet not triggered a single negative thought in any one. Few have been respected like AB, fewer still command the love and the adulation from all quarters that the recently-retired magician from South Africa does.
His batting deeds are uniquely AB, impossible to replicate for their audacity and innovativeness, for their mind-bogging conception and unimaginable execution. Bowlers who have been properly schooled – and we are talking top bowlers, not just run-of-the-mill trundlers – have stood paralysed in their followthrough, bemused and hapless and helpless but seldom angry and agitated and abusive. AB did that to you, and I think when history defines his legacy, that will certainly find prominent mention.
As will the fact that through all his nonchalant decimation of quality attacks, he hasn’t shied away from displaying his human face. De Villiers’s shock retirement announcement last month affected several people adversely, but none more so than Leo Sadler, a 14-year-old from Pretoria who ‘cried out heartbreaking’. “His heart is in pieces,“ Elsabe, his mother, told a local radio station.
The radio station swung into action and requested AB to meet the distraught fan, our hero was more than obliging, and the pieces of Leo Sadler’s heart came together to form a whole again. How wonderful.
My latest gravitation toward legacy was precipitated by the recent passing of my mother, an extraordinary lady of courage, resilience and warmth, a reservoir of love and goodness. Over the last few days, I have been overwhelmed by narratives of the lives she has touched, the wisdom she has shared, the affection she has bestowed on everyone who crossed her path. Her legacy is the cocoon of love and security in which she has enveloped our immediate family, and her extended one. She has left the world a better place, even though my world is in darkness without her luminous presence.