Sunday, November 24, 2013

sachin's speech


I've been exegeting Sachin's retirement speech. It provides such insight into an Indian worldview, often so different from those ones associated with 'the West'.

A full text of the speech can be found here.

[NB: For those who may be unaware (!), 'Sachin' refers to Sachin Tendulkar. His name has the fame that 'Roger' has with tennis, or 'Tiger' with golf - except that in Indian culture, much more is going on with Sachin than mere sport].

But back to the exegesis...

The priority of family
Father. Mother. Uncle & Auntie. Eldest brother. Sister. Other brother. Wife. Children. In-laws. Each receive a paragraph. Taken together this covers almost half of all that he says. Remarkable. Then when he gets to his team-mates, they are referred to as his 'family away from home'. Even his words for his manager have the same reference point - 'more like my family'. 'Family' is the prevailing motif in this speech. It is the primary means of self-understanding. These are the ties which bind people together the strongest. It is towards these people that the deepest gratitude is directed.

The integration of religion
A longtime missionary in South India, Lesslie Newbigin, is credited for raising the alarm in the West about the way religion has become a matter of private choice. But in India, religion remains more easily in the public world. Sachin's religion leaks into this speech. It is expected. It causes no offence. References to prayers and fasts find their way naturally into the stream of words. And it rings true for him. One of the great mistakes of Western-styled pluralism is that it diminishes the role of religion. The world's problems are never going to be resolved by downplaying the role which religion plays in public life.

The appeal of character
Humility. Grace. Warmth. It is not uncommon for people to say that while Sachin was a great cricketer, he was an even greater human being. I love the fact that he had a little list in his hand of all the people he wanted to thank. And it is challenging for Christians to be reminded that it is, primarily, a Hindu faith that nurtured this character (even though some rush to possible Christian influences). Plus I love the way he refers to his coach as 'sir', still offering him respect - even though he never heard the words 'well done' emerge from his mouth. In a land and a sport so closely linked to corruption, Sachin has walked a different track.

In training preachers over the years, I've emphasised the importance of the manner of the preacher. The manner is often a window into the character of a person. If you haven't done so, just listen and watch Sachin here for a bit. It amazes me how this quality has been retained amidst all the worship that has come his way...



The inescapability of hope
Back to Newbigin for this one. On his transition from India to the UK in retirement, Newbigin was struck by the contrast in the hopefulness of the kids on the streets of Madras with the hopelessness of the kids in the malls of Manchester. I'll never forget reading that line. And while it is changing, with much more of Manchester coming to Madras these days, there is something about Sachin's life and career that breathes a little light and hope into India's masses. It is there mingling with the worship. This past month it emerged that 68% of Indians still defecate outside in the open - and this at a time when India is trying to organise a mission to Mars. Oh, the irony of it. Even more ironic is how the fatalism in the Hindu worldview, so easily the antithesis of hope, can't stop the masses dreaming of better times. The writer of Ecclesiastes had a phrase for it. God has planted eternity in the hearts of every human being...

The endurance of eloquence
The manner may be soft and disarming, but out spilled some memorable lines. One media channel even offered the ten best quotes in the speech. Referring to his wife, Anjali, as the 'best partnership I had in my life' is a classic. So also is 'My life between 22 yards for 24 years ... has come to an end'. I actually missed the live event completely (grrr!) - but found myself reading the transcript to Barby from the newspaper the next day. It was hard to stop. It was good to be impacted by words being used well. A retiring All Black captain in New Zealand couldn't hope to speak with such eloquence - and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't bother Kiwis if he didn't.

The limits of influence
With that character in place, you'd expect Sachin to be the classic character-led leader who the troops easily follow into battle. With that capacity to raise the spirit of a nation with a word and a smile, you'd expect Sachin to be able to lift the morale of a team. With his embrace of his team as family, you'd expect Sachin to have an effective 'first-among-equals' leadership style. But history will record Sachin as a failure during his time as captain of the Indian cricket team. There is something more to leadership and he didn't have it.

postlude 
After the speech Sachin headed off with his family to Mussoorie, where Barby and I grew up. This press release mentions Sanjay Narang, with whom we went to school. Sanjay bought Barby's childhood home. Three years ago we popped in for a cup of team with all the children. Sanjay has developed it significantly - well, that is what Barby tells the children, who listen to the unconvincing tale! The photo in this press release looks like it was taken at this home Barby associates most with her childhood. Pretty cool. The setting and the angles look to be just right...

nice chatting

Paul

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