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To retire or not to retire


Sourav or Schumacher, Madhuri or Mumtaz, celebrities just can't seem to quit while they're ahead. TOI Crest finds out why the spotlight is so addictive.

In the short novel, Shesher Kobita (1928), poet and author Rabindranath Tagore shocked his fiercely devoted readers by making one of the main characters speak disparagingly about him. "The biggest problem with Robi Thakur (as Tagore was generally referred to) is that the gentleman has been alive too long. . . Poets who live for 60-70 years only punish themselves by becoming too cheap," says protagonist Amit Ray. Through him, the Nobel-winning author underlined the need for all artistes to bow out gracefully and at the right time.

Sourav Ganguly isn't really the sort of artist Tagore probably had in mind. But, of late, timing seems to have been a problem with the former India cricket captain as well. Anybody who watched him closely in IPL 3 would admit, he was still every inch the warrior. But the relaxed grace of his offside play, once his signature, had deserted him. Undeniably, he was well past his prime.

Well past his prime - that's the operative expression. Artistes, like pedigreed wine, first attain maturity, then peak, before the inception of their inevitable fall. The 10 corporates who found no use for the Bengal southpaw in their IPL4 teams would say he had long reached expiry date. Timing was fundamental to Ganguly's batsmanship, not his judgment of career span. The fall, therefore, was written.

But how and when does a cricketer realise the right time to declare, how can a composer discover the perfect moment to stop? Shouldn't it be left to an individual to find out and decide for himself? These are questions with no simple answers.
It is generally said you should retire while people still ask why, and not why not. In India, nobody did it better than Sunil Gavaskar. After scoring 96 against Pakistan in 1987 on a spiteful track that would have been deemed unfit-for-play by the IPL generation, the Mumbai batting maestro waltzed into the sunset. It was Gavaskar's most challenging knock in an international career spanning 16 years and 125 Tests and yet he had reserved his best for the last. In popular memory that innings endures.
But it isn't easy turning your back on the spotlight after a standing ovation, especially when you know in your bones that it is possible to soldier on for a few seasons more. That's the temptation. Applause is addictive. No greater Viagra was invented for a performing artist or a sportsperson.

More than money, perhaps it's this craving that becomes their fatal attraction. Some develop a delusion of infallibility, an "I will always be the best" state of mind. Perhaps that's what made former Formula One champion Michael Schumacher come out of retirement and discover how the wheels have turned away. Bjorn Borg's comeback in the early 1990s was worse. The man who won five Wimbledon titles in a row lost 12 ATP tournaments in the first round before realising that time and tide wait for nobody.

A second coming is equally fraught with dangers for actors. In 2002, Madhuri Dixit quit showbiz as prima donna but her comeback venture, Aaja Nachle, vanished like smoke in the wind. Everybody loved pugnosed Mumtaz's wayward saris, especially during the rain sequences, before she left Bollywood in the 1970s. Nobody noticed her return in Aandhiyan (1989). Abhi to main jawan hoon isn't always a statement of fact;sometimes it is just wishful thinking. Fans are fickle. They venerate but they also crucify. And if they believe you have overstayed hospitality, they mock too. That's what happened to Kapil Dev as he tried to overhaul Sir Richard Hadlee's world record of 431 Test wickets. By the time the Haryana cricketer reached the summit, the national mood was more one of relief than celebration. It's the same with Dev Anand. Even his most loyal fans would admit that sitting through his later movies such as Censor and Mr Prime Minister was as excruciating as watching Dolly Bindra on Bigg Boss4. True, the actor has a democratic right to make films but then the viewers' too have human rights. Luckily for him, nobody has watched the films he has made in the past 10 years.

Not that age doesn't bring wisdom. Big B was smart. Circumstances thrust smartness on him. The reinvention of the angry middle-aged man as the affable talk show host is the greatest makeover of our times. He remains India's premier character actor who also romances horny teenagers and middle-aged women with attitude.

Sport, too, isn't always allergic to silvering. In 1977, 41-year-old Bobby Simpson was asked to lead Australia after every top cricketer barring Jeff Thompson had joined the Kerry Packer 'circus'. Simpson performed like a pedigreed thoroughbred as second-string Australia overcame India's first eleven 3-2 in an engrossing Test series. Every sport is full of romantic stories of major comebacks. None is more remarkable than 45-year-old boxer George Foreman's reclaiming the heavyweight boxing title he held 20 years earlier.

Which is why there are no golden rules of either retirement or comebacks. And why is why the Ganguly case is wrapped in grey. May be he was being greedy, maybe he just wanted to feel the adrenalin that an Eden Garden full house injects in you. May be would have succeeded;may be he would have failed. Nobody really knows;certainly not the fat cats in grey suits who signed his IPL4 fate. But someone should have read out Shesher Kobita to Ganguly all the same.

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