When Sachin is mentioned in the same breath as Gandhi

MARCH 3. In 1947, we had Mahatma Gandhi. Now we have Sachin Tendulkar. Gandhi rattled the English, and now Tendulkar does it in a different field.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

MARCH 3. In 1947, we had Mahatma Gandhi. Now we have Sachin Tendulkar. Gandhi rattled the English, and now Tendulkar does it in a different field. This is what a group of Indians have to tell some of their South African friends at a restaurant I visit in Sandton. The significance of Gandhi in South Africa is seen to be believed. He is revered and there is respect for his principles. His teachings have found a place in the hearts of the blacks, and of course the Indians. For these cricket fans I meet from Uganda, Tendulkar is a medium for them to express their proud association with India. They mention Tendulkar in the same breath as Gandhi. "I don't think any Indian has made you feel as proud of India after Gandhi as Tendulkar has,'' quips Anita Chandresh, a student of history and a big fan of the Indian stars - Gandhi and Tendulkar. The celebrations after India's win over Pakistan have spilled over into the third day and everyone seeks Tendulkar, who must be the most popular Indian in South Africa after Gandhi. Indians hardly have heroes in these difficult times, what with tainted politicians showing no vision. Tendulkar, as these cricket fans point out, has a vision and works selflessly to bring glory to the nation in his field of excellence. When I narrate the incident to Tendulkar, he blushes. "I'm just doing what I love. It's a team game and everyone is equally important in my opinion,'' is his humble response.

Some of the tourists and locals watching the sunset at Sea Point. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

March 4. It is time to return to Cape Town. There is something about the place that attracts the tourists. The weather of course is great and the fact that it is cricket time adds to the beauty of the place. The roads are decked up and the hotels report brisk business. The tourism ministry is delighted at the way the cricket fans have supported the event by arriving in South Africa in a large number. The Indians outnumber the others and it is an Indian carnival really. Supporters of Indian origin descend from African nations to watch their favourite stars and flock the Newlands to watch the Indians at `nets'. When we return, the underground parking lot is out of bounds and a helicopter hovering over the hotel catches our attention. The place is swarming with police and we learn there has been an encounter with an armed robber. The police chase the culprit over a distance of 40 kilometres and nail him in the parking lot of our hotel. A shootout leads to the arrest of the man who incidentally commits the crime in a stolen vehicle. He is reportedly an expert at the wheel, weaving his way in and out of the traffic, but then he runs into a supercop. " I'm very good when driving fast,'' smiles the policeman as he gives us an insight into the incident and then is off in a flash, his speed leaving us stunned.

March 5. The Indian team management plans an evening of interaction between the media and the cricketers. Manager Jyoti Bajpai is the man behind the event and is keen that none misses the party to celebrate the team's entry into the Super Six stage. It is actually a party to celebrate the team's win over Pakistan. The cricketers arrive in time and mingle with the crowd. Sachin Tendulkar is apprehensive because he has not seen many of them. He retires to a corner where he is mobbed by some of the regular scribes. I notice many cricketers are uncomfortable. And for good reason too. There have been instances when they have been misquoted even from casual conversations. There is distrust of the media, and of late, of the commentators too as the cricketers take strong exception to some of the remarks passed by Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is incidentally the most unpopular person as far as the Indian team is concerned, and some of his colleagues too. Ashish Nehra narrates how his house is invaded by the electronic media after the match against England. Well, the cricketers spend some time with the media and are hastily whisked away when the team management realises the players' discomfort with many strangers around them.

March 6. It is a relaxed day. The Indians and the Kenyans have finished their `nets' in the morning and we have the evening to ourselves. A trip to the Table Mountain is ruled out because of the mist. Even a drive to the Cape of Good Hope becomes difficult because of the heavy traffic. We opt for a visit to the Sea Point or the Sunset Point, a stunning spot and obviously popular with the tourists. Parking becomes a nuisance but we manage to find a slot even as we have to grab a table. Being crime free it is the most sought after tourist spot in Cape Town after the Waterfront and the sight of the sun sinking into the sea is simply breathtaking. In a flash darkness descends on the place and it comes alive with colourful lights. The line of restaurants offer a variety of food. There is nothing to satisfy an Indian palate but there is no harm in becoming an Italian for an evening as we pick the most popular joint at Sea Point.

March 7. At the end of the match at the Newlands, the army of volunteers, officials and securitymen undertake a silent drill. A march around the boundary to signal their farewell from the World Cup. It is the last match at the Newlands and their job is over. The volunteers have been a wonderful bunch in doing their work without any wages. The incentive for them has been to be associated with the event. Some lucky ones have enjoyed vantage positions and watched cricket but there have been others who have not watched a ball. Those with duties outside the ground. The security people too have been courteous in dealing with the fans and the media and it has been a pleasure indeed watching their work ethics. When I forget my cap and the glare hurts the eye in the front row of the press box, one securityman offers me his cap until the lights come on. The volunteers and the security people get a standing ovation as they bid goodbye and the giant scoreboard thanks them on behalf of everyone connected with the World Cup.

March 8. The World Cup is a national event for the South Africans. Cricket is the dominant theme at every public place, even the tarmac. A cricket field or scenes from a match have been drawn to make up the murals at countless places. At the hotel entrances it is often stumps with bats and balls welcoming you or volunteers in cricket attire bringing you the warmth of the sports loving people. Airports are vibrant with cricket being the major attraction_there are cricket books and magazines at shops in large number on sale and then there is the official merchandise, which has reported grand sales. Even as South Africa makes an early exit from the tournament the enthusiasm of the people does not diminish.

There is a tinge of sadness for a day or two but life goes on with the South Africans now backing India to beat Australia, the most unpopular team in this World Cup.

March 9. As in India, huge hoardings proclaim the staging of the World Cup. Plenty of slogans catch our attention at various traffic intersections. The most catchy one has been coined by the South African Airways, the official carrier of the ICC Cricket World Cup. "We have planned some early departures'' it says with pride. Ironically, the home team joins those who take leave but the slogan remains prominently displayed at Cape Town and Johannesburg Airports much to the dislike of some fierce supporters of South African cricket. "How can they be so insensitive to our emotions?'' hisses one enthusiastic youngster who claims to be a first-class cricketer. Well, even South African Airways would not have an answer to the early departure forged by Shaun Pollock and his men. This was something they had never bargained for!