My friend, who lives on the 21st floor, called me within moments of my arrival at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on Thursday morning. “Don’t go to the taxi queue, I have sent my driver to collect you,” he said.
“That is very generous of you, but it wasn’t necessary,” I said, navigating my bags through the crowds.
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“You must come home first, there is something important I want you to see,” he said, while his driver walked up to me, collected my bags, and unloaded them in his gleaming Tata Aria.
“Sir still buys only made-in-India products,” the driver told me glumly.
“That is fine,” I said. “In my time we had only Fiats and Ambassadors.”
“Sir says the same thing. He is very happy you are here, he wants to show you something important,” the driver told me.
“I now have God in my house,” my friend said, even as I was entering his duplex apartment overlooking the Arabian Sea.
I had been out of India for many years, but I didn’t know my friend had turned religious. He said: “Not just one God, but all 10 avatars,” and he held me by my arm and took me to his private study where he kept his most precious possessions.
“And it cost me only $490,000.”
He clapped his hands twice, and I expected his butler to bring tea from his estate in Munnar. Instead, four burly men pushed a trolley on wheels, on which I saw 10 volumes of Tendulkar Opus, the 852-page, gold-leaf edged book, weighing 37kg, with a signature page mixed with Sachin Tendulkar’s blood, all neatly laid out in a row.
“You mean you have bought this book?” I asked.
“Yes, all 10 copies. And this has even got his DNA! You will naturally appreciate that we Indians don’t take good care of our gods. My friend Vijay Mallya is buying Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacles. He also bought a cricket team, so I bought Tendulkar’s blood. And I’ve bought all 10 copies, so that his blood remains in India,” he said.
“That is very noble of you, but Tendulkar is only a cricketer,” I said.
“There are gods and there are godmen, but then there is only one Mr Tendulkar,” he said, tears welling up his eyes.
“But why would you want to buy a book with Tendulkar’s blood? I remember you told me once that we should remember cricketers by their deeds. Your uncle remembered to his dying day C.K. Nayudu hitting sixes against the MCC,” I said.
“But did he leave behind anything that you could hold and feel?” my friend asked.
“Memories are different. I remember Sunil Gavaskar’s first century in Ranji Trophy against Rajasthan at the Brabourne Stadium,” I said.
“But where is the proof you were there?” he asked.
“I have the official scorecard and it has his autograph,” I said.
“Anyone can copy an autograph. But blood is blood,” he said. “This is only the beginning.”
“Means? Are you going to buy other cricketers’ blood?” I asked.
“No re baba, no; there is only one God. But I have other intimate souvenirs. Come, look at this,” he said.
“This is some hair and some foam,” I said.
“Exactly! I got Kapil Dev to come here and shave, and this is some of his hair and leftover foam. Look at this,” he said, and pressed the button, and Kapil Dev’s voice boomed through speakers: “Palmolive ka jawaab nahin” (There is nothing quite like Palmolive).
“Quite nice,” I said nervously.
“And look at this,” he said. “Do you see the handkerchief with wet blotches?” he asked. “I got scientists from the Centre for Molecular and Cell Biology to make sure that they stayed wet. Those are Sreesanth’s tears after Harbhajan Singh slapped him,” he said.
“I will build a museum where I will show these items. Scotland Yard is sending me shattered glass from Pataudi’s car accident. You know, someone has to preserve Indian heritage,” he said. “I have also got the shirt Saurav Ganguly took off at the Lords after Kaif and Yuvraj won the NatWest Trophy for India. And last week I bought Lalit Modi’s BlackBerry, from which he sent his Twitter messages,” he said.
“With all this money, why don’t you build a hall of fame where you can show cricket films, or the bat with which Gavaskar scored 221 at the Oval, or the pads that Gavaskar gave Tendulkar?” I asked.
“Those cricketers won’t part with such things, and a pad is a pad and a bat is a bat,” he said.
“But blood is blood,” I said.
“Now I have his DNA, so I have a part of his 47 hundreds, his thousands of runs. I have my God; I have everything. What do you have? Only memories?” he asked.
“I have Busybee’s typewriter,” I said, like Shashi Kapoor told Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar (The Wall).
Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com