As I landed in Mumbai on an extremely hot and humid day of August 1999, I had not thought that I would recall it with such fondness even after 14 years. The man who turned my business visit into a lifelong memory is none-other-than the living legend - Sachin Tendulkar. As he bids adieu to cricket, I recall my first and only interaction with him with nothing but respect and overwhelming sense of nostalgia. People may have a lot to talk about when it comes to cricket and Sachin, but as I was never a cricket buff, this is perhaps the only thing I can talk about the game’s best ambassador.
In Mumbai to conduct some random interviews for a show, I called an ex-colleague of mine who was then working with the BBC and asked him to meet me. Since he was also running short of time he suggested that I should come to the BCCI Headquarters the next day where Sachin Tendulkar was supposed to hold a press conference after taking over as the captain of Indian Cricket Team for the second time.
Since I am not a great cricket fan, nor can I call myself a sports journalist…I decided to reach there after Sachin’s press conference was over. On arriving, I saw Sachin Tendulkar and Harsha Bhogle standing outside and chatting. Suddenly the idea of interviewing Sachin came to my mind and I went to them and introduced myself. Sachin heard me very politely and asked me to wait till his chat with Harsha was over. After waiting for almost 5 minutes he came over to me and asked what I wanted. I said I wanted a small interview with him, if possible. He made no promises but gave his residence number and said I must ring him the next morning. Knowing the snob factors that cricketers are usually associated with in this cricket-frenzy country of ours, I was almost sure that the Tendulkar interview would be a figment of my imagination.
Next morning, I sheepishly rang up the number expecting an expected reply. I was told that he was not home and I should call up later. I called him up again at around noon, he was not there…again! No luck with my third call as well. Knowing that the interview was almost impossible now, I left my hotel number with his attendant at his residence. To my surprise, at around 9 pm or so when I was relaxing in my hotel room, I received a call and the person who was on the other side introduced himself as Sachin Tendulkar and wanted to speak to me. Can this be true? Had I had too much to drink? NO! It was indeed the master himself! He was ready for an interview and asked me to come to his house the next morning. Ecstatic, as I was, I decided to call all my colleagues to get ready and reach on time.
I was excited, nervous and was unable understand what questions to throw at a man who has tamed the best bowlers of his time. He, however, had only one request: No questions about his personal life.
Then, the master-blaster used to stay at Sahwas Society, a humble abode for middle-class Mumbaikars. I don’t exactly remember but he had two flats there, painted in distinctly different colors, perhaps a way to distinguish them from the other flats in the block. A boy sent by Tendulkar came down and asked us to fix our camera in the nearby park to which I humbly objected as it was very difficult to interview him in the park. I thought I would start the interview and too many people would gather around and it will become impossible to carry out our interview in presence of so many on-lookers. To my surprise, I was told that when Sachin is around nobody comes close to him as no neighbour wants to disturb him. Aha! So this is the kind of respect this little man commands from his neighbours! I wish I had such neighbours, I grinned in my mind.
Anyways, Tendulkar came down with his characteristic full-face smile and nonchalant demure. As we shook hands, one could feel the hearty warmth in his grip. He sat down and I confessed to him that I was a bit nervous since I knew nothing about sports and my maximum questions will be on his personal life. He pondered for a while and agreed to go ahead and see how the interview shaped. We had a good interview thanks to his cooperation and his non-starry attitude. He came across as one of the humblest people I had ever met. He answered most of my questions, but ducked a few as he wanted to keep parts of his personal life away from the media glare. But despite his unwillingness, he replied to most of the questions on his own personal aspect as well. Then, he got up, shook my hand again and asked me a question that I have always been afraid of. He muttered: How is journalism as a career? And do I enjoy my job? Bouncer!! But I ducked it with a smart reply saying the profession is good as it allows me the opportunity to interact with greats like himself! We both smiled and he left.
We were ready to pack-up and I asked my cameraman to take some random shots of his house so that we can use them while editing. While we were busy filling in the compulsions of television journalism, he came out in his blue shorts and white T-Shirt, tennis racket in his hand and a bag hanging from his shoulders. He walked towards me and requested not to take shots of his house. I agreed. I had to agree! How can you turn down a request from the captain of the Indian cricket team who is loved, admired and even worshipped by millions, not to forget he had already indebted us with a beautiful interview.
He walked away, sat in a car and drove out. I had barely turned my back when I heard the slamming of brakes. I turned back to see what had happened. It was him. Sachin stepped out and started to walk towards us. A cold chill ran down my spine. I thought he would get angry at us, as we were still standing outside his house. He came close and requested again to respect his privacy and stop shooting. I assured him that we had stopped shooting the first time around. I don’t blame Sachin for the lack of trust. Media, as it was even then, had certain elements of mischief associated with it.
Sachin being the humble human being, he had at least trusted us the first time around. To my mind, any other celebrity of his stature would not have taken the risk and would have ensured that we leave the premises before he/she left.
Impressed at his humbleness and nonchalant attitude, I packed up and left. The impressions from my interaction with Sachin had endeared him to me and I had given him the top spot in my list of “celebrities worth remembering” without much ado. As a journalist you do hundreds of interviews…only some remain with you when you retire…This was surely one such interview that I would carry into my retirement.