Act 1: 15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, one cool Swiss man.
On a hot summer day, when cooling off at home was the best option, or basking by the glorious River Rhine was the fashionable thing to do in Basel, I made my way to a specific restaurant / café in town. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else if anybody paid me a million Swiss francs. There is nothing special about this place, it’s just another restaurant around Barfusserplatz that serves coffee, drinks, sandwiches and crepes. But this place is close to my heart nevertheless.
Cut to India in early January, me and a bunch of my close friends in Bangalore were watching the Australian open finals. Federer was beaten and broken in a heart breaking, gut wrenching epic against Rafael Nadal. As a hard-core Federer fan, I had a grudging admiration of Nadal’s powers. There were a few voices including me that said, Fedex will be back, and Rafa cannot go on forever with his style of play. Our voices were feeble, as we felt our hero going down. But that’s not how the man himself saw it and that is the stuff that separates the champions from us.
On my first weekend in Basel, I was at the club where he grew up playing tennis and I had goose bumps all over me. Later, on a hot Sunday afternoon in Mid may, I made my way to the crepe shop where the pair were in another final showdown, this time at the Spaniard’s home turf of Madrid. Federer went on to beat him, and I scented something was brewing. From then, I have been to that shop every time Federer plays and he has won every time. He went on to win that elusive French open, and that incredible Wimbledon finals where he wrote another record of 15 grand slam titles. For the records, I did not watch his US open finals there, and you could say that’s why he lost!
What is it that makes an Indian man, who plays a little tennis at the amateur level, go crazy over a racket wielding Swiss man? Sports, arts, cinema, and music transcend all barriers of race, culture, sex, and age. I am every bit a huge Federer supporter as anybody from Basel, and its all down to that man’s aura, incredible longevity in a fact paced game, and the will to push beyond all records and keep going higher.
15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, a bunch of challenging opponents including that mountain of a man – Rafa, 237 consecutive weeks and may more as world number 1, playing top-notch tennis at the age of 28, when he should rightfully be changing nappies and giving commentary by most yardsticks. Phew, that’s my all time favorite player there even if he did not have any of those records, just for his style of play.
Act 2: The man with many faces, who is one of India’s lest celebrated cinema jewels.
A few months earlier there were a series of shows and events organized across the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu, to celebrate one man’s achievements. It’s a state where heroes are made and brought down on a daily basis, and where benchmarks for excellence in arts / sports / politics are shockingly low. Its pretty easy to whip up a media frenzy and create a hype around anybody, but on this rare occasion the entire state and knowledgeable people from across the country, stood up and took notice, and gave this man every bit of attention he deserved.
Tamilnadu is where I am from, and though I have not lived there for a while, I am a proud Tamilian. Of the few living people who make me proud of being a Tamilian, Kamal Hassan is pretty much one of the biggest names.
Kamal Hassan is a sworn atheist and communist and you can see that in most of his movies; I don’t have any issues with atheism as long as atheists don’t try to impose their views (which is akin to religious conversion and ideological extremism), and while Communism is a good utopian idea, when it goes wrong, as it often does, it goes terribly wrong. In spite of these difference of views, millions of people like me would watch every film of his, and we would watch many of his films over and over again. I grew up watching his films, went on to watch many more films of the world in different languages, and spanning genres. Without sounding patronizing to a man from my part of the world, I can say he is one of the best movie makers the world has seen.
Here are some select, lesser acknowledged facts that support my case: An acting, movie making, writing & singing career spanning 100s of films over 50 years; 7 entries to the best foreign film at the Oscars; 4 national awards; 19 film fare awards; an entry in Time magazine’s list of “Top 100 films ever made”; an incredible variety of characters, most notably a short midget, an autistic person, a woman, and 10 different roles in the same movie; all of the above are Indian records, and span movies across 5 distinct Indian languages; a Padmashri award to boot.
Act 3: The boy genius who is still a cheeky little boy at heart, but a towering giant of a man in stature.
A few days back, Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar passed a very rare milestone, in a career full of milestones. He has been playing for twenty years since the age of 16, and it’s a phenomenal achievement by any yard stick. The tributes have been pouring in from every nook and corner of India, and cricket lovers across the world have taken notice. Sachin is NOT one of my favorite cricketers, for highly subjective perceptions (such as playing for records, not finishing too many games with a win as he should have), and his style of play from an aesthetic point of view. None of these are hard facts and each one is free to have his perception. But a career of 20 years, 30K odd international runs, 87 centuries, countless man of the match and man of the series awards, wickets, catches and victories, are hard numbers that can never be ignored, or even matched.
He has too many well cherished records for me to list here, but there has always been a section of naysayers who doubt him. I have been in that list, and I can tell you that we all make the mistake of not acknowledging that he is judged with a very different prism from the rest.
I mean there is even a xenophobic zealot accusing him for saying that he is an Indian first and a Mumbaikar later. Give me a break guys. Let us for once, forget all the scrutiny of his words and actions, the detailed statistical analysis of his career, and just celebrate Sachin for what he is!
In spite of the various opinions on his place among cricketing legends, I put him right up there with the very best in the world in any field when it comes to passion for your job, career longevity, single minded focus to excel, and carrying your celebrity status in the most ideal manner possible.
The takeaways (I know this sounds like a consulting jargon, but let me use that for the lack of a better word…)
The most obvious common factor to these set of people was that they were destined to achieve greatness by virtue of being gifted with an abundance of abilities. Not everybody is as lucky, but if I choose to ignore the element of luck, I can think of a few unique traits that we all can try and adopt from them (results not guaranteed, but the effort is worth it!)
- Choosing the field you love, and doing it for as long as you are meeting the highest standards in it
- Allowing yourself to learn & grow, in an environment where you focus only on what you love doing, and let everything else remain a lower priority
- A certain stubbornness / pig headedness that appears arrogant, but is actually based on tremendous self-awareness
- An oceanful of sheer sweat and blood
- Constantly re inventing yourself and keeping yourself contemporary, and up to any new challenge
- Carrying the attention, and scrutiny of your success with humility and ease.
- Staying young at heart
- Being tremendously competitive without ever being disrespectful to opponents / peers
I must say the above is a bloody tough list to follow, but I find it useful to have it noted somewhere nevertheless. Sometimes, we can learn so much by watching the lives of others unfold in front of us…