Sachin Tendulkar's big 40th birthday 'party'

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Media captionTendulkar began his international cricket career at the age of 16

India's cricket star Sachin Tendulkar turns 40 on Wednesday. The BBC's Rahul Tandon reports from the eastern Indian city of Calcutta, where Tendulkar will play a Twenty20 birthday game in front of more than 60,000 people.

For the past few days hundreds of people have not been turning up for work here in Calcutta.

Many employers must be thinking that some sort of mystery bug or virus has infected workers in the city.

It has - and it is called "Tendulkar fever".

If they were looking to find their missing employees then they should have gone to the ticket counters at the majestic Eden Gardens stadium.

There they would have spotted them, standing for hours in the long queues under a hot sun.

Sold out

These people cannot be feeling happy when they read signs announcing that the Indian Premier League game between the Mumbai Indians - for which Tendulkar plays - and the Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday is sold out.

But still they queue for hours in the burning heat hoping that somehow they will be able to buy a ticket so that they can watch Tendulkar.

For on Wednesday, the star batsman will turn 40.

Right at the front of the queue is Munar Kumar Yadav.

On Sunday he turned up in the early hours and queued all day. But he did not get a ticket.

So what did he do?

He arrived at three in the morning the next day.

When I ask him why he did that, Munar smiles and says: "Sachin is my God. I just have to see him on his birthday."

All those around him nod their heads in agreement.

Someone else in the long line then shouts out: "He is one of the few things that makes us proud to be Indian."

Suddenly the crowd begins chanting Tendulkar's name.

After a few seconds it dies down and I ask Munar whether he expects to get a ticket today.

He thinks carefully for a few seconds and then says: "If not today then I will try again tomorrow."

Standing in the queue are fans from all over India.

They have come from Bengal, Bihar, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. They all speak different languages. They eat different foods, have different cultures and come from different faiths. Their regional identities are stronger than their national one.

But when Tendulkar walks out to bat the differences dissipate.

'Huge void'

The fans all stop what they are doing and and suddenly more than a billion people are all Indians.

Image caption Some lucky fans with tickets for Wednesday's game

Calcutta-based sports writer Gautam Bhattacharya knows Tendulkar well and has written a book about the star.

He tells me that "when Tendulkar retires there will be a huge void not just in Indian cricket but in Indian society".

"Tendulkar's bat is a healing touch for India. When he scores runs there is suddenly happiness all around you," he says.

Every minute more people join the queues outside Eden Gardens.

The conversation is also getting louder.

Now fans are discussing when Tendulkar will call it a day.

Sahil Seth and Deval Jasani are both 19-year-old students.

But for the next few days they will not open their books. They are on the hunt for tickets. They are constantly on their phones trying to find anyone who has a spare ticket.

I ask why they didn't just watch Wednesday's game on TV.

They look at me like I am mad and then Sahil says: "That is because this could be the last time that we get to see Sachin at Eden Gardens."

Deval ends his phone call and adds: "Look he is going to be 40 and he has stopped playing international one-day cricket. We don't know when there will be a Test match here. So this could be it."

Image caption Fans queued up under the hot sun

"This could be the last time we get to see him. We just have to be there."

His comments trigger an animated conversation.

The man next to him in the queue says: "Don't listen to these youngsters! What do they know?

"Sachin will play till he is 50. He has to. Without him there is no cricket."

Suddenly the conversation stops.

People all around me are shouting and cheering.

A few hundred tickets have mysteriously arrived and are going on sale.

The police are desperately trying to control the crowd as it surges forward.

And still standing at the front of it is Munar Kumar Yadav. He is the first to get a ticket.

It is an emotional moment for him after standing for a day and a half in a queue to get it.

I ask him how he feels.

"It is the happiest day of my life as I have got a ticket to Sachin's birthday. It's going to be the biggest party the world has ever seen," he says.

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