“When were you first aware of Sir Donald Bradman?” I ask.
“It has to be at home,” says Sachin Tendulkar. “I must have been around five years old.”
I’m interviewing the Indian cricket great for the documentary, Bradman and Tendulkar, for ABC.
Tendulkar was born in 1973 (yes, he will turn 50 in three months).
“And because both my brothers followed cricket, and [my] sister obviously, I had no choice but to listen to their conversation. Parents followed a little bit. Not much,” he says.
The Tendulkars lived in the Sahitya Sahawas colony (community) in Bandra East, Bombay (now Mumbai), home to writers and poets.
“But it was actually both my brothers, Nitin and Ajit,” he explains.
“They both used to discuss various batters. And during those discussions, obviously, Sir Don’s name was discussed.”
They talked about Bradman’s famous batting average of 99.94 because there wasn’t much else to go on in those days.
“Then I remember my neighbour, Mr Gowariker,” Tendulkar says.
Sachin Tendulkar was a playful child with good mates, including a boy called Avinash Gowariker, whose father was a cricket lover.
“So I had gone to his house and that’s when his father was talking about Sir Don,” Tendulkar says. “And he said, ‘I’ve got something really, really precious, a handwritten letter by Sir Don.'”
It was 1979 or 1980. Sachin was seven or eight.
“I’m going to show that letter to you as well.”
Tendulkar takes the letter from its envelope.
“I don’t think anyone has seen this letter. You can see,” he says, pointing to the sender’s address. “2 Holden Street [Kensington Park, Adelaide]. This is where I met him in 1998.”
Bradman’s writing is friendly but brief. He tells Mr Gowariker he regrets never playing a Test in India (Sir Donald played a series against India in Australia but retired the following year).
The letter also makes mention of Bradman’s son, John, studying law, because Mr. Gowariker was a lawyer.
“It’s a precious thing.”
Tendulkar believes the letter reveals Bradman’s character.
“It speaks a lot about the person that he was,” he says. “You know, playing cricket is important. Yes. And then my father also always told me that [by] playing cricket, people would love you.
“But, you know, what happens beyond cricketing years is also equally important or possibly more important, and that is where the person that you are comes into play.
“This is a reflection of that, you know, that Sir Don cared about his well-wishers, his fans across the globe, and acknowledged their support, their good wishes.
“I mean, now, 52 years down the line, we are showing that letter, we are sharing this with everyone. And that speaks volumes of the kind of person that he was.”
“Very few people would understand Bradman’s fame,” I said. “[But] you know what that feels like.”
“Absolutely,” he says. “It’s a package deal. And a number of people asked me, ‘What about your privacy? Do you get any privacy?’ I feel, you know, it’s a blessing.
“People love you. They wish well for you. I wouldn’t compromise on anything. I mean, I think whatever I’ve received so far in my life, it’s a blessing from above.
“I think without all that, life wouldn’t have been the same. It gave me the strength to go out and give my best for the country. And then that’s all I wanted to do as a child.
“So there are a few people in this world who love doing something. And people actually love watching what they are doing. So for me, that combination worked brilliantly.”
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Someone else who understands fame, albeit a different kind of superstardom, is Tendulkar’s boyhood friend Avinash Gowariker, now a renowned Bollywood photographer.
My documentary crew and I visit him in the old Bandra East colony.
“So this is where it all started for Sachin,” I said.
“Yes, absolutely this building,” he says. “And you know, Sachin always says that he’s been very grounded.
“And this is the place which contributed immensely to his journey. The 28 years that he spent here is what made him what he is today — the friends, the families and everyone together.”
Avinash Gowariker expands on the story of the letter from Sir Donald Bradman to his father.
“[It arrived] in 1970, just before I was born,” he says. “My father was a great cricket enthusiast; he used to live in England in the 60s.
“And he has watched the game with a lot of love and passion. And he’s loved it.
“He had reached out to Sir Don with a simple letter, which I would call a classic fan mail. My father was a lawyer and he had beautiful English. And he was a very emotional man.
“So I guess what he wrote, I don’t know what he wrote — that I don’t have — but my father must have written something emotional to Sir Don that he thought of, you know, replying back to my father.”
“It’s just a very, very prized possession of my father. And I’ve kept it [and] the same emotion with me.”
Avinash Gowariker never wanted to sell the letter.
“Somebody, somewhere told me that there was a museum being made on Sir Don, and they were willing to buy the letter off my father, but my father didn’t part with it. It’s too precious for me.”
The Bradman Museum was opened in 1989.
Like Tendulkar, Avinash Gowariker sees more than the words on pages.
“What a warm, simple, sweet man he must have been,” he says.
“Right at the peak — he’s Sir Don Bradman — to write to somebody, a simple fan in India, to write such a warm letter — this is what these guys are about. That’s why they become legends.”
Bradman and Tendulkar is available to stream via ABC iview.