Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Contrasting Indian Heroes

If you are a cricket fan, there is no need to repeat the incomparable (some would say, unbelievable) statistics that India’s Sachin Tendulkar has compiled in a 24-year career that began when the little master was a mere 18. If you are NOT a cricket fan, that is, an American (not naturalized!), well, there is no point in repeating Tendulkar’s record either. It will make no sense to you.
However, most of the world has taken note of the retirement of the great one. It was - surprise, surprise - front page news in my local San Jose Mercury News.
What has been the hallmark of this unassuming man in all the years he has been under the relentless spotlight was his humility, a quality that will undoubtedly continue to characterize him as he settles down into a normal life. 
It was on full display in the emotional speech he gave after batting for the last time against West Indies in his hometown of Mumbai.
(Ask yourself, in which other country would fans fast - that’s right, give up food for a day when their hero was batting, so he could score another century? Only unconditional love and respect can compel fans to do that.)
Class. Grace. Courage. Persistence. Plowing on when adversity strikes. These qualities sum up Sachin Tendulkar. For the Indian government to honor him with the highest civilian award of Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) was perhaps the most obvious coda to a life lived so well both on and off the field.
There is another momentous match going on India now as well: the world chess championship between defending champion Vishwanath Anand and the 22-year old Norwegian “Mozart of Chess,” Magnus Carlsen.
The match is taking place in Chennai (formerly Madras). Anand is also an Indian, so a billion Indians are gripped by the progress of this hero of theirs as well.
But other than their Indian origin, one will be hard-pressed to find any similarity between Tendulkar and Anand. 
This became glaringly obvious during the press conference following the Carlsen victory in the 6th match (Carlsen leads Anand 4-2 in the 6 games played so far).
Obviously Anand was in a sour mood. After all, he was playing white and his blunders were obvious to chess players around the world. 
Yet his responses to reporters’ questions showed the wide gap between him and Tendulkar in the grace department. 
“I will do my best in the remaining games,” he said response to a query about his chances of defending his crown. When another reporter asked him to elaborate on what he meant by “I will do my best,” Anand snapped at the reporter: “Do my best means do my best. Don’t you understand English?”
In a previous question, Anand was asked about Tendulkar and the adulation that Indians were showering on him. He was vague about it but then added, “I have other things on my mind.”
Vishwanath Anand makes his home in Spain. He is undoubtedly up there with the best chess minds the world has ever produced. Anyone who has won the world chess championship five times and who has been the undisputed champion since 2007 surely ranks among the best. He may yet regain his poise and beat Magnus Carlsen to retain his title.
But when it comes to grace and humility, Tendulkar, who would never dream of living abroad, is ahead of Anand by miles.

Two Indian geniuses in their respective fields but only one is also a towering human being.

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