I've been wondering for a while about the nature of mentorship. The role that it plays in shaping us, in crafting the clay. Sachin, in his eloquent farewell speech at the Wankhede, spoke graciously and with deep gratitude of the different mentors he has had over the course of his career.His father, who told him to never take short-cuts, to aspire, work hard and dream big. His brother and their shared dreams; of how his older brother took care of the prodigy with precocious talent and unimaginable potential, and helped focus him. Of Mark Mascrenhas and how his infectious enthusiasm enabled Sachin to go about perfecting his art without the added burden of also constantly keeping in mind having to provide for his family.Lastly of his coach, Ramakant Achrekar and how he kept the young Sachin grounded, never letting him get beyond himself and loose sight of the fact that even the greatest must keep working, practising and honing their craft. Together, these are all reasons attributable for Tendulkar's incredible career and his stupendous achievements over the course of a quarter century.
I've read two pieces recently that put into perspective the mentorship structure that existed around Tendulkar. One each about two of his contemporaries - his best friend and school chum Vinod Kambli and Anil Gurav. The Gurav story is scarcely believable, sounding almost as though it were lifted from the pages of some bollywood potboiler. In fact, it reminded me of J.R.Moehringer's prize winning piece about the boxer Bob Satterfield. Gurav was a club cricketer known for his explosive game who slipped through not just one, but seemingly every crack that opened up beneath him. Both men talk about tough times growing up - evidently Gurav has had an even more of a rough and tumble existence than Kambli, one that was lived on the margins of society. Kambli's tale is much better known - another teenage prodigy alongside the little master, forever twinned to Sachin through their school boy exploits. Two test double centuries, a career average of 54 and washed up at the age of 23. There is a part of the Kambli story which is essentially his own failure to perform (he was in and out of India's one day team till 2000) and his inability to own his failures and be accountable. In his article, Dileep Premachandran is rightly exasperated with Vinod Kambli, who often threw it all away with the end in sight, simply unable to put his head down and deliver on a fraction of what his potential merited. Kambli seems to complain, often and loudly, that someone else, somewhere else took something away from him, prevented him from achieving his goals, forgot about him and didn't treat him right. This is not an unfamiliar lament.
That this is an issue far beyond cricket or sport for is the thing we miss out on. Everyone needs a mentor. A parent, a coach, a teacher, a friend. Someone who stands guard, instructing you, helping you plan your path, helping to know your own mind and your own actions; not just leaving you to your own devices to figure out which way the wind blows. Mentoring is about teaching kids how to succeed, and not just succeed in a sport or in a given endeavour, but to have the skills and abilities to face life. Some people acquire them on their own without the aid of a mentor, others develop them organically over time, some quicker than others. At the the end of the day, those who have had someone take an interest or ask a question are the ones who don't seem to fumble quite as much. Fumbling isn't necessarily a bad thing. The problem is though, that when one does fumble, recovery doesn't always follow. Some fumbles are just the first stopping off point on continuous downward spirals.
There is something poignant about the player who overcomes the odds, triumphing against adversity and defying all expectations in punching above his weight. Someone like Allen Iverson. That skinny short kid whose skills both on and off the ball drove through the NBA like the sharpest of nails shattering a glass pane, his screaming drives to the hoop a thing of beauty. That Allen Iverson took the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA finals. That Allen Iverson won the rookie of the year award, was an 11 time all star, league MVP and four time scoring champion. That same Allen Iverson also managed to spend the last 4 years of his career bouncing around, broken to less than a shell of his former self before finally officially retiring earlier this year. We say, 'see where he came from and what he was up against'. We say 'look how he achieved everything he did in spite of himself and his surroundings'. And then when he fails, and he falls, we roundly lambaste how he couldn't handle success and he he ruined his life and belied our rose-tinted narrative of a troubled sporting phoenix rising from the ashes.
We use family values as code-speak in India. It means a lot of things. Commentators, writers and the public alike speak about how Sachin's 'family values' enabled him to succeed in life and sport. What are those exactly? Andre Agassi in his brilliant autobiography (ghosted by the same J.R.Moehringer) speaks of the tortuous and tormented relationship he had with his father growing up. His angry, ready to bust a gasket and shoot a bad driver dad, was tennis, and tennis was him. Agassi played it for pleasure and for punishment both, it was simultaneously his reward and punishment. He found his mentor when he met his long time trainer and lifelong friend Gil Reyes, until which time Agassi contends his life could have unraveled at any given moment. Now Sachin has seemed to have had all the right support from the moment he set off, loving and supportive eyes to watch him and hands to shield him. Did Vinod Kambli have the same? I'm not quite sure. Shamya Dasgupta persuasively argues for the need to provide guidance to young players across the board regardless of background and class. Perhaps it can be different for the next lot of Vinod Kamblis and Anil Guravs. Maybe Kambli would never have been as good as Sachin, or as good as Dravid and VVS and Saurav. Many maybes and we'll never really know. He's stuck there. Still the fastest to a 1000 runs. Two double centuries and an A+ average of 54. Maybe they would have been the second coming of Vishy and Sunny, but who is to know (and having our golden generation certainly helped us in forgetting).