It was a bad day at the office. I left early. As I dragged myself back from work I was taken over by frustration and started cursing myself and my job. It was that feeling of ‘being trapped’ which many of us have felt sometime or other in our career - you know how it makes us feel helpless and miserable. Once in my room, I tossed my things on bed and sat on chair staring blankly at the window. I was in emotional turmoil and not knowing exactly what to do next.

I switched on the TV – ‘perhaps it would distract me’, I thought. The idiot box obliged and actually went a step further to provide a healing touch - for that day an artist was at work and he was in his sublime best. As Sachin hooked, pulled and drove the ball to boundaries I felt a calm settling on me. He had done this before and he was there again to come to my rescue. That day, February 24th 2010, is etched in the history as the day when One Day Cricket witnessed its first ever double century – that day is etched in my mind as the day when a revered man reiterated the importance of chasing one’s dreams and holding on a bit longer. That superhuman effort by the master blaster cured me (at least temporarily) of my pain – in the last 23 years, Sachin had made it a habit of curing millions like me. As this great healer bids goodbye to the form of game in which he is unparalleled, I attempt to retrace my bonding with him which started some 23 years back.

I started knowing Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar in the late 1980s. It was the time I was getting introduced to my first set of superhero friends – Krishna, Hanuman, He-Man (all thanks to Doordarshan), Nagraaj and Super Commando Dhruv. Superheroes have enthralled me since then – they represent courage, character, determination, righteousness and an ability to demolish the opponents despite odds. So when I saw a young Indian ripping apart Abdul Qadir, the leading leg spinner of that time, I felt certain similarity in his exploits and the ones carried out by my superhero friends. I was barely 5 or 6 then – I do not have much memories of that time but I could still recall that day when a supposed ‘David’ conquered the ‘Goliath’. The bachcha party was forced to move to terrace after a listless Indian performance when a sudden loud cheer brought us back to the TV sets. What ensued was a heroic battle which created a new hero for me and for a billion plus nation.

In the next two decades, India witnessed its heartthrob grow in stature beyond the realms of imagination. He continued adding new chapters to his legend without abandon. For me, each of his outings was like getting a new issue of a loved comic book. His is a classic superhero story – a guy who could easily pass off as your next door neighbor becoming a great force as soon as he enters a cricket field. And he gave us some wonderful, electrifying moments as he went on conquering the world, slaying the egos of the best teams of the time.

Those who have followed cricket passionately in the 90s would agree that he almost carried a messianic halo around him at least for all supporters of Indian cricket. This was probably the reason he would bring the country to standstill every time he came out to bat – students would bunk classes; workers would have a radio playing nearby; officers would take frequent breaks to know about the score; people would hurry back home or stand by a paan-shop or an electronic store playing matches. The nation would be in an apparent curfew – a rare phenomenon post ‘Mahabharata’ days. He would disappoint us sometimes but more often than not would make up for those disappointments with a defining knock or with a trickery or two with the ball – his humbling of feared Pakistani attack in 1992 World Cup; his wonders with ball at the Hero Cup semi-finals against South Africa; his upping the tempo in World Cup 1996; the blistering ‘sandstorm’ knocks in Sharjah against Australia; that emotional return from his father’s death pyre with a century against Kenya; the demolition of Shoaib Akhtar in 2003 World Cup; his amazing 175 against Australia recently and of course the unforgettable 200.

These and many more moments have defined the world of ODI cricket, have taken the format to the next pedestal and have ensured that the legend of Sachin Tendulkar lives on for eternity.

So, what makes Sachin the superhero I admire? Is it the way he had demolished the best in the business with his genius? Or Is it the courage with which he had carried the load of expectations of 1 billion+ people for last 23 years (and Talia Al Ghul/ Miranda Tate taunted Batman of failing the expectations of just 12 million in The Dark Knight Rises!!)? Or Is it the records which he had piled in his long career? Or Is it the humility with which he conducts himself in the public life? Or Is it the consistency with which he had performed over the years on the Cricket field? Or is it the single minded passion and dedication he had shown to the game we all love? All the above would find a ‘Yes’ as an answer from me and yet they do not capture the essence of his greatness.

Sachin is not a superhero because of his statistics (which definitely prove that he is the greatest ever to have played the game – those whining about his lack of ability to win matches would do well to revisit the stats and correct themselves) or because of his humility or dedication to the game of Cricket. Of course, these have played vital role in what he is today but there is an important element which is often overlooked by many. To me, Sachin is superhero as he was one of the important catalysts in bringing about a generational shift in India.

When Sachin arrived at the scene India was still a struggling nation unsure of its potential. As a country it was reluctant to go out and prove its worth to the world. Of course it was the world’s largest democracy; it had a thriving space programme; it had conducted nuclear tests; it had fought 4 wars and won 3; it was an eight time Olympic champion in Hockey; it had won the Cricket World Cup in 1983; its growth rate had started to improve slowly; it had world’s largest film industry and yet it did not have the confidence to say to the world that ‘I have arrived’. Sachin was one of the few people who led a nation to believe that ‘Yes, we can’ (long before Obama chanted the same mantra in US). So when he looked into the eyes of the most fearsome bowlers of his time and heaved their deliveries outside the park, he sparked a generation to believe that ‘they can be world beaters’ (The ones who die by the names of Sehwag, Yuvraj and Kohli should acknowledge that these players owe a bit of their world beating attitude to the master himself); when he stood at the crease for the Indian flag despite severe pain, he (in a way) preached the spirit of ‘fighting despite odds’; When he created new shots to demolish his opponents, he asked the nation to ‘adapt to the changing times’; When he stands humbly amidst all accolades, he propagates the virtue of staying in touch with own roots.

Sachin’s is the story of the resurgent India – probably the reason he connected with our generation like no one else did. A superhero is known by the lives he touches – this one brought us hope; united a diverse country with his art; instilled the courage to challenge the status quo and face the adversity; infused confidence to compete and emerge as the best; introduced ‘grit’, ‘determination’, ‘passion’ & ‘hard work’ as pillars of success; taught us that success breeds humility and not arrogance; and most importantly he inspired excellence in a country which had till then thrived on mediocrity. Sachin is my superhero because he makes me feel proud as an Indian.

P.S: Watching Cricket will never be the same again. Many would not watch Cricket altogether. Sachin’s departure was inevitable – however, the manner in which pressure was mounted on him to retire disappointed me. Now that he has said goodbye to ODI Cricket, we can settle down and analyze his true contribution not only to the game but to India.