SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Cricket is not just a sport in India - it's the national pastime, and sometimes the national obsession. The most admired and adored cricket star in India announced his retirement this week. Sachin Tendulkar is not only perhaps the best batsman to ever play the game, he is considered an icon. And for once, that religious term might be accurate here. To get a sense of what his retirement means to India, we turn to Shashi Tharoor. He is so many things - an author, a statesman, and now a member of the Indian parliament. He joins us from his constituency in Kerala, southern India. Shashi, thanks very much for being with us.
SHASHI THAROOR: Thank you, Scott. Good to be with you again. It's been years.
SIMON: Help us appreciate what Sachin Tendulkar means to India.
THAROOR: Oh, my gosh. It's almost impossible to enter the American imagination with an analogy. Because he is certainly the greatest Indian to ever wield a cricket bat and possibly one of the greatest in the history of the entire sport worldwide. He's also had the most unusually lengthy career of any major sportsman. Having been such a gifted prodigy that he made his debut for India at the age of 16 and has continued playing until he turned 40 this year. He owns pretty much all the important records in the international sport. And what's more, he's done so well carrying the expectations of a billion people every time he strides out to bat. Six hundred million Indians are under 25, so there's an entire generation that has grown up knowing nothing of cricket but that Sachin was its god. The sport is a major obsession and his dominance of it was the first thing that revealed to Indians that we too can be world beaters at sport.
SIMON: So, this isn't someone who is just - and forgive a homey analogy for our listeners - this isn't someone who is just the Michael Jordan of Indian cricket. This is somebody who is the Michael Jordan times five, six or ten.
THAROOR: Probably yes, exactly. All - the Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig all combined. I don't know which other icons to come with from which sport that Americans relate to. And he somehow managed to be uncontaminated by scandal, by controversy in a sport that's been laden with examples of both. And his rise, in a sense, became tied up with or almost emblematic of India's own rise to ascension on the world stage. When Sachin Tendulkar made his debut for India in 1989 at the age of 16, India was still a developing country, a poor country, one with lots of problems, a semi-closed economy, that still called itself socialist. All of these problems. And then India liberalized in 1991 with the end of the Cold War and the major change in financial calculations and political philosophy in the country, and that coincided with Sachin's rise. So, India rose and Sachin rose, and he leaves just as our economy has also begun to tank a bit over the last year or two.
SIMON: Shashi, what happens to a star of this magnitude in the retirement? Any idea?
THAROOR: Well, amusingly enough, my government nominated him to our Upper House. We have an Upper House that's weaker than your Senate.
SIMON: You know, Shashi, let me simply interject: very few things are weaker than our Senate at the moment, but go ahead.
THAROOR: Well, it's constitutionally weaker, let's say. It doesn't have the power for confirming any appointments, as your Senate does. So, it's a weaker house constitutionally. There are half a dozen nominated seats for very famous and distinguished figures in the fields of (unintelligible) or academia or even cinema and the arts or whatever. And Sachin was given one of those seats even before he had retired. So, he's actually a member of the Upper House. And given the hold he has on the admiration and the allegiance of the Indian people, he could speak on any public issue with a moral authority that very few could rival. So, I think if he wanted to use that position as a member of the Upper House, as an Indian equivalent to the Senator, and to apply himself to issues that matter to it and to speak from that bully pulpit, he could have a significant impact on public life in India. And it depends as to whether he chooses to try and have that impact.
SIMON: Shashi Tharoor, an author and member of parliament and minister of the Indian government. Thanks so much for being with us.
THAROOR: Thank you, Scott. Great pleasure. Take care.