Olympic Dreams

We stand at a footnote of history. Sixty years of Independence, and we’ve done the impossible – atleast that which remained impossible for us. It is another matter altogether that, well, other countries have been doing it for quite some time now – and doing it with exceeding finesse. But let’s not allow these minor considerations disrupt the harmony of our celebrations – we’ve finally won an individual medal at the Olympics. And, in addition to that, we’ve also gone ahead and won two other medals – putting an end to the tradition of being one medal winners. Both these feats, as far as I can recall, haven’t been emulated in recent history by our great sporting nation.

And, as such, we must rejoice that India’s just won three medals at the Beijing Olympics, it’s first ever individual Gold, and, atleast in recent history, more than one medal won in all competitions.

Michael Phelps. United States of America. Eight Individual Golds Seven World Records. One Olympics.

So, do we need to get out of our euphoria, and take stock?

Well, no, not really. Actually, like the one-medal, we’ve also become exceedingly effective at our post-Olympics ritual of criticising and analysing – and doing repetitively for months, till some celebrity’s designer ‘saree pallu’ falls off on-stage, at which points the news channels shall promptly turn to broadcast this more important phenomenon – the sporting infrastructure and culture of our country. As such, I don’t really think that we need to elaborate on what actually goes wrong – everyone has some idea what does. There’s no infrastructure, no ‘state-of-the-art’ (which is used for every other trash can these days) training and coaching facilities, no room for sponsorships, and no support for livelihood – the list is endless. Now, this article is not to elaborate each item on this list – indeed Star News is competent enough for this – and say that which has been said so many times before.

Then, what is the article for?

This article is on ‘Taare Zameen Par’ – or rather, one particular scene from the movie…

After Abhinav Bindra’s feat, I was hearing this programme on AIR Mumbai – yes, it still exists – discussing his eponymous triumph. While “experts” were indulging in weighing Mr Bindra’s shoulders with adjectives I’m sure he’s no idea about the qualities that he possesses, some ignorant waffle called the studio. And, breaking the camaderie with amazing efficiency, he asked why is it that a nation of a billion has lost its head when we’d won one gold?

While the ignorant gentlemen will never know the damage that he’d caused to the ‘experts’, it did lead me to think? Why, indeed, were we celebrating? Upon graver thought, I realized that this triumph had more or less nothing to do with Mr Bindra. With all due respect, I think you’ll agree that not even 10% of the people in this country – not counting the 40% BPL – that had known of his triumph actually know what exactly is the sport that he’s won in, and if there’re some who’ll know the name of it, hardly any, am sure, that’ll know what are the intricacies of it. Again, by more or less the same argument, I can say that we weren’t really happy that it was Mr Bindra winning the medal that made it special – am sure he’ll agree that he’s not the most known of sportspersons in India.

This victory is like an aspirin for us. It is an excuse for us to break away from the monotonies of everyday life, and, even for a moment, allow us to celebrate as if we are a nation – a far-fetched notion. India won! And so we will celebrate – but why is it that we hide our heads in our Channels and Gucci’s, and run away in our Bugattis and BMWs when India breaks away in rebellion, when India sinks down in floods, when India parches itself in droughts, when India kills Indians?

No, we must celebrate India won. India – the country of one billion people, the country of one medallist, the country of no Indian.

But then, this isn’t where TZP comes in the picture.

This is where it does: Remember the scene in which Ram Shankar Nikumbh travels to the Awasthi’s in Mumbai, confronting his parents – particularly the father – about the predicament in which their son now lies. You’ll recall the father asking, what is the point of it all? ‘Kya faayda’, he asks. And there, my dear friends, is the downfall. There is our stumbling stone to success. Where do sports lie as a priority with today’s parents? How many of our parents actually take their children forth to sporting camps, and seriously persuade them to take a sport – apart from the intention to boast about the fact in dinner parties.

And so we see every year in our cities, scores of urban kids descend into these ubiquitous ‘Summer Camps’ – wearing more brands than Michael Jordan ever had a chance to endorse – and pop around with all the razzmatazz flaunted by hall-of-famers on the red carpet. Come the end of the vacations, a ‘rare talent in the world of sport’ is finally uncovered for the world – the same talent, who, no doubt, proceeds the next year to take up a different sport, announcing to all and sundry that he’s already such a pro in the previous one – dressed in all the different brands from the previous season. And thus, the cycle repeats itself – each year seeing the heralding of ‘rare talents’ and ‘exceptional athletes’, each year seeing an old prodigy turn to the more serious task of burning the midnight oil to crack the engineering entrances. Because, as we all know, what shall actually make a child’s future is the elite college he manages to get himself into, the prestigious institution from where he shall complete his MBA – one about which no one’s heard before – and then settle down in a nice little MNC. Then, get married, get kids – and spend the weekends with them in shorts at malls. Where, ultimately, they culminate their fun by improving their health and intelligence by consuming the healthy and nutritious stuff they serve at McDonald’s and KFCs.

And thus shall be born a nation of sportsmen.

As Nandkishor Awasthi claims in Taare Zameen Par, ‘kya faayda’?

Abhimanyu Jain

[Image source:http://melbourne2007.com.au/_content/wallpaper/00000026-wallpaper1024.jpg]