A billion people, including Sachin Tendulkar himself, face their moment of truth on Thursday. As the little great man of Indian cricket plays his last Test match, an entire nation is ready to bid an emotional farewell to the cricketer who has given them unbridled joy for well over two decades.

In his privileged company, I have had a first-hand experience of how just one man can hold a nation's breath; how he can even put a smile on a billion faces with the magic of his willow.

I usually keep my emotions in check. But then, there so much happening around 'Paaji's' farewell Test which keeps reminding that this one is indeed a very special occasion for a very special person. Sachin Tendulkar - and Amitabh Bachchan - were my childhood heroes.

I got hooked on to cricket because of Tendulkar. So, personally, it has been an amazing fairytale for me and I feel blessed to have got an opportunity to share the dressing room with Paaji for ten long, illustrious, years.

Millions yearn to wear the India colours. There are those who perhaps would be too happy to wear the India cap at least once. Then there are those who hope to play a bit longer say 25-30 Test matches.

And 100 Tests is a rare milestone even for the best of players and it brings a huge sense of satisfaction and delight. But for someone to play 200 Test matches, in a glittering career for almost 25 years, is simply mind-boggling. It is also a tribute to Paaji's skill, endurance and most of all his passion for the game.

Playing cricket has been Paaji's pilgrimage. All along, he has been totally devoted to the game. Like most cricketers, I too am amazed by his child-like enthusiasm for the game.

Right through his wonderful journey he has been extremely fit and focused and conducted himself with great dignity. He is an institution by himself; all those cricketers who took a leaf out of his book - and there are many of them - have gone on to become better at their craft.

Much like a beautiful early morning dream, everything about Sachin Tendulkar is notably good and he leaves people yearning for a bit more.

He has his own impeccable ways of doing things. He has kept himself in great shape right through, wears that lovely smile, oozing confidence that rubs off on to others. And seldom has this man spoken a word in anger. He is just too happy to let his bat do all the talking.

At times of crisis you always need your best support system to fall back on; a kid would want his parent around, a wife would want her hubby by her side and vice-versa. In much the same way, having Sachin Tendulkar in the dressing room was a great comforting thought for all of us. He has been our 'go-to' man for every problem.

I guess, I never ever had a normal conversation with Paaji simply because of the respect I have for him. Despite knowing and playing with him for a decade now, I must confess, I am still extremely shy, in fact in awe, of him; As far as I could, I would rather avoid him. Of course, the only time I overcome these mental blocks was once I stepped onto the field. There, everybody is equal for me.

Simple, humble, unassuming; Sachin has been a heady cocktail of a cricketing genius, great sporting ambassador for the country, a good mentor and a true friend. He was the boy who brought boys' dreams to life.

He was the son every parent so passionately desired. In that famous movie, 'Mr. India' is an invisible man but Sachin Tendulkar might as well have been a true 'Mr. India' in flesh and blood. Such has been his chemistry with an adoring nation. To his die-hard fans, Sachin is India and India is Sachin.

As the story goes, after Rahul Dravid gave up captaincy, the selectors were keen to give the job to Tendulkar who politely refused and instead backed me for the job.

I feel humbled by the fact that he suggested my name. I felt happy that he reposed his trust in me. Honestly, even if I had not been given the job, the fact that my childhood hero had confidence in me was itself was a good reason to make me feel extremely proud.

I guess, a part of me will be gone too once Paaji leaves; such has been his overwhelming influence on my psyche in the ten years that I have known him. But then, as they say, all good things do come to an end sometime, somewhere.

I am sure, he will continue to spread warmth and sunshine wherever he goes and be exceptionally good at whatever he does. Thank you so much Paaji.

You were a gift from the heavens. You were India's pride and joy. There won't be another one like you. We all will miss you. And the memories will linger.

Sachin Tendulkar More Stills

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