'Ponting' fingers at Sachin!

Chetna Keer

India, Dec. 3 -- The sun sets on a legendary career Down Under. And it makes the day for the Indian media.

For, legendary batsman and former Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting couldn't have chosen a worse (or better) moment to call it a day, as far as the Indian news mills were concerned.

Ricky's retirement lent resonance to a refrain rustled up recently by the media in India. The tidings emanating from the Aussie turf came as grist that further fuelled a fixation of the Indian news mills, which had for the previous week suspended or sidelined matters of more pressing national concern to engage in an earth-shaking discussion. The Great Indian Sachin Sanyaas Debate.

That in our celebrity-crazed culture-scape the God of Indian Cricket commands a cult following is like stating the obvious, akin to saying that Blackberry is an emblem of the e-Gen.

So, all things Sachin are sacrosanct. Even if Sachin sneezes, it calls for collective concern and consternation, aired and articulated by the celebrity-cult-thriving-and-driving paparazzi thus: cricketing legends, who may or may not have seen Sachin sneeze, being called into TV studios to spout sound bytes on whether the sneeze had something to do with the Mumbai breeze.

Even if Sachin is under the weather, it could spark off a national debate on these lines: Does the blame lie on his lack of form or on an alimentary condition that calls for enterovioform?

That's the general drift of the paparazzi fixation with Brand Sachin. So, in keeping with the cult coverage that the God of Indian Cricket commands, our media mills switched into an overdrive the moment the second Test against England saw India pummeled at the hands of Panesar, Pietersen & Party.

All pressing concerns were put on the pause mode, as the TV studios spiritedly staged the debate of earth-shaking significance: Sanyaas of Sachin (SoS). It was the hour not of just breaking news, but of shaking news.

Debates on FDI were made to pause. The chat shows consumed by celebrity fixation went slow on the common man's cause. Concerns on corruption and India Against Corruption (IAC) chief-turned-Congress-and-BJP baiter Arvind Kejriwal's exposes could wait. This was the moment of bat over bait.

That the media-mounted Great Indian Sachin Sanyaas Debate had all the makings of a Rs. 100-crore Bollywood blockbuster was evident from the filmi flavour headlines screamed: Sachin vs "Son of Sardar".

The "Son of Sardar" (SoS) in this case being English spinner Monty Panesar, the man who became the talking point for taking Sachin's wicket. And the 100 crore in this case expected to come from eyeballs, not footfalls.

The tamasha news lost no time in drawing parallels between cricketers and cine stars. The media debates sounded no less than the box office reviews of rival flicks "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" and "Son of Sardar".

Obviously, Sachin saviours scripted the chorus, "Jab Tak Hai Balle Mein Jaan". This reached such a crescendo on some channels staging the slugfest between Sachin saviours and slighters that the decibel levels rose as fast as had the rate of wickets in the Mumbai Test.

So much was the space devoted to the coverage of the retirement refrain about the God of Indian Cricket that even "Ram" had to be content being on the fringes of the collective deification.

Lest it be thought that "Ram" had some stake in cricket (as a divine sponsor of an IPL team etc), it is best clarified that the Ram who was the affected party in this case is the one who has as much to do with party politics as with a case.

That the God of Cricket scored over Ram in this battle for TRPs was obvious from the fact the TV channels preferred to give prime-time space to this God's 'sanyaas' than to talk of Ram's "banvaas."

This Kalyug-style "vanvaas" being none else than Ram Jethmalani's temporary banishment (suspension) from the BJP (which, incidentally, has maintained an Ayodhya agenda even in Kalyug).

This was on expected lines. But what was not so much expected was that a nation, and a media, given to deification of this sporting icon, was now articulating arguments aimed at demolishing that very icon it had helped mould and mount.

In aggressively airing the counter-point, in decibels that could even put the trademark Arnab Goswami's vocal chords to shame, certain clone chords on other channels were trying to drive home the message loud and clear: Sachin is not above question.

In what may have caused collective consternation to a nation of Sachin worshippers, those very TV anchors who had toasted "Ton-dulkar" a while ago were now abrasively airing anti-Sachin sentiments.

Without getting into the merits and demerits of the debate, it can be said that the only silver lining to the over-the-top, obsessive staging of the Sanyaas of Sachin (SoS) script was that it proved to be an epoch episode in the cultivation of the celebrity cult.

For, it turned out as much to be a debate of deification vs demystification!

The writer is a Chandigarh-based columnist

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.