"To us he is no more a person
Now but a whole climate of opinion
Under whom we conduct our different lives."
W H Auden, from his elegy to Sigmund Freud
In India, Sachin Tendulkar ceased being a person long ago. To a small group of friends and colleagues, he is human with all the frailties that implies. But to the vast majority he is merely a figure on television, indistinguishable from characters such as Superman and Batman.
The illusion is strengthened by the number of occasions he arrives when the team is in trouble and takes them to safety, whipping out his killer straight drive and unstoppable cover drive to deal with the enemy's vicious outswingers or off breaks.
When he does well his fans discover that life has meaning after all; when he fails occasionally they feel suicidal. Then he scores again and the wheel is set in motion once more. The cycle of birth and rebirth is never seen more clearly and more often than on the cricket fields of India.
Auden's lines say it well. Being a non-person means that your ambitions are not your own. Others decide how many runs you should make before you retire. It is always the next milestone that is important.
On the eve of the World Cup final, the ambitions have crystallised. All Tendulkar's fans ask for is that India win the title, and that Tendulkar himself scores his 100th international century.
Currently he has 51 centuries in Tests and 48 in one-day internationals. The next best combined aggregate is former Australia captain Ricky Ponting's 69. The adjective 'Bradmanesque' will have to be replaced by 'Tendulkarine' for the next generation.
In two decades, Tendulkar has been both symbol of a resurgent India, the coming powerhouse, and one of the first sportsmen to benefit from the changed economic climate.
Asked on his first tour of England in 1990 whether he found the endorsements a distraction, the 17-year-old replied: "I am aware it is the cricket that is bringing me these opportunities. If I neglect that, the other will slip away."
Now, a few weeks short of his 38th birthday, as he prepares for his second final (after 2003) in his sixth World Cup, it is easy to imagine that even his rivals will be hoping he gets a century. For Tendulkar is that rare sportsman, one who is worshipped beyond boundaries as much for what he brings to the game as a batsman as for his demeanour as a person.
"When fans call you 'God'," said the Sri Lankan great Muthiah Muralitharan, "it is difficult not to believe it yourself, but Sachin is the most grounded person I know."
The campaign to award the nation's highest civilian honour to a sportsman might reek of cuteness anywhere else, but in India there is no embarrassment in suggesting that Tendulkar be placed in the same category as the great leaders, scientists and social workers.
This could well be Tendulkar's last World Cup, but will it also be his last one-day international? It is a format of the game that he caused to burst into life again with a double century against South Africa last year and by taking India, the nerve centre of the game, into the final of the World Cup.
Like Alexander the Great, he has no more worlds to conquer, goes one argument. Tendulkar's injured body parts have been discussed more ardently than Cleopatra's nose.
Since he was a boy of 16, international cricket is the only thing Tendulkar has known. His idea of relaxation after a cricket match is to play more cricket matches. He is willing to bat anywhere. At international stadiums, neighbourhood parks, even in his drawing room in the days when his children were growing up and were pressed into service as bowlers.
Can such a man walk away into the sunset merely because he has achieved everything?