It was the summer of '99, by which time Sachin Tendulkar had turned a mature 26. A young man in the prime of his youth, but wise beyond his years, having already played international cricket for nearly a decade. The scene was the World Cup, India desperately looking for victories to keep their hopes of qualifying for the Super Sixes alive, when came the soul-shattering news from India that Sachin's dad, Professor Ramesh Tendulkar, had breathed his last.
Always extremely close to his father - a role model and an inspiration from the time he can remember - Sachin rushed home for the last rites, but was goaded by his mother and his family to return to England and answer the call of the team. Somewhat reluctantly, Sachin rejoined his mates, and paid the ultimate tribute to his father with a blazing 140 against Kenya, the century acknowledged with no more than a cursory wave of the bat towards the dressing room and a long, longing, heart-wrenching look heavenwards.
Since then, every milestone passed - and there have been many - has elicited that look towards the heavens. For, as far as Sachin is concerned, whatever he is today is because of his father, a role model not so much through words but with his deeds, with his actions, with his equanimity and his poise and his composure.
The father-son bond is a unique one, its early contours shaping the character as well as the personality of the son. They say personality is who we are and what we do when the whole world is watching, and character is who we are and what we do when nobody is watching. Even as he takes his first tentative steps, the son looks up to the father, blindly following in his footsteps to the extent that, by the time he is ready to make his own judgements, he is already his father's son in every sense of the term.
Some of Indian cricket's most glittering jewels have wowed audiences not just with their performances on the field, but also the dignity with which they have carried themselves. Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman formed not just the most potent middle order in Indian cricket history; they were also linked together by the values and ideals instilled in them at a very young age by fathers who were neither bossy nor overambitious, who didn't try to live out their dreams through their sons.
The passing away of Sharad Dravid the other day sparked a huge sense of loss and melancholy. A wonderfully warm person with a heart of gold, Dravid Sr was a regular at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, a tall, majestic figure who conducted himself with the same grace and composure when his son batted his way into the history books as when young Rahul was cutting his teeth at the first-class level.
Unlike Prof Tendulkar or Dr Shantharam - Laxman's father - who didn't always watch their sons in action, Sharad Dravid loved to see Rahul do battle. His wasn't ever a vocal, in-your-face persona; instead, much like his son, he tried to shun the limelight as much as possible, an intensely private person even in full public glare.
It was inevitable, given that his dad himself was a voracious reader, that reading came almost naturally to Rahul. "His reading habit comes from his father," Rahul's mother Pushpa had once said. "He was very particular even as a child to read books from which he will gain something." Like father, like son, did someone say?
I have had the pleasure of interacting reasonably closely with both Sharad Dravid and Dr Shantharam, exceptional human beings. It's no surprise that Rahul and Laxman are both chips off the old block; talking to the fathers, you can see how and why the sons have turned out the way they have. So, when Sharad Dravid said he was proud of what his son had achieved, or when Dr Shantharam calls Laxman an ornament to the game and says he glorified the game, they don't come across as boasts. They are just simple, honest acknowledgements of the accomplishments of their respective sons, said with justifiable pride but without the intention of trying to seek credit for what their offsprings have achieved.
Just how much of an influence a father can have on his son in his formative years, I can testify to from experience. My father is a cricket buff - a sports buff, actually - and in the days before television, the radio was our most prized possession. Early mornings in December-January meant Test cricket in Australia, late afternoons from May onwards was when the clipped British accent resonated through our living room. Saturday evenings were devoted to the BBC's Sports Special, hosted by the inimitable Paddy Feeny with Linda Spurr thrilling us with her Wimbledon updates and Peter Bromley, the horse racing correspondent, working himself up into a frenzy every time a race neared completion.
To start with, I understood neither the accent nor the import behind the words, though I was transfixed by the magical voices emanating from that small transistor. You can imagine my consternation when my father laughed out alive early one morning as Jim Maxwell, if memory serves one right, said on Radio Australia: "Dilip Doshi is escorting the ball to the boundary." My father broke that sentence down and patiently explained to me, all of 11, how cricket commentary on radio must allow you to imagine and visualise. It was a valuable lesson, and with all respect to Dilip Doshi, when I occasionally run into him, I can't but allow myself a chuckle.
Cricket history is replete with instances of fathers and sons both representing their countries, India themselves providing three such extremely high-profile instances - Vijay and Sanjay Manjrekar, Lala, and Surinder and Mohinder Amarnath, and Sunil and Rohan Gavaskar - not to mention Vinoo and Ashok Mankad or Yograj and Yuvraj Singh, among others. Particularly in the cases of Sanjay, Mohinder and Surinder, and Rohan, the pressure to live up to the surname was overwhelming. Sanjay and Mohinder coped with it quite admirably, though what they went through during their careers, only they can tell. But they didn't feel the need to disassociate themselves from the game or change their surnames, like Sir Don Bradman's son did.
The men who shaped both the character and the personalities of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are no more now. But both have left behind excellent cricketers who are, as importantly, extraordinary human beings. Neither Prof Ramesh Tendulkar nor Sharad Dravid might have held a cricket bat in a competitive game, but Indian and world cricket will forever respect, acknowledge and celebrate their legacies.