“It’s insane! Just simply insane. I would never attempt it.”
It’s close to 12 am on 14th of August, well past my usual bedtime. As the night awaits to creep into me, the muscles of my temple are on overdrive to keep the eyelids from shutting close.
I desperately wait for the name to be announced. I wait to live the moment, because this is not an ordinary night. It’s a night when history is about to be made, at least for our sleepy country.
It’s the night that Dipa Karmakar, a name unknown less than a month ago, attempts the “Produnova” manoeuvre, a death-defying spin in the air, to stamp her name in the annals of Olympic glory, a feat that no other in this billion-and-a-quarter country has ever dreamt about.
She isn’t making it, I almost know. She is 22-23, not exactly the prime years for gymnastics. She is also a first timer, competing against several world champions. She doesn’t stand a chance, does she?
It’s unbelievable when I see her name shine at the second place along with an overawed logo of the Indian tricolour, looking completely out of place in that unfamiliar territory. The name stays there until Russia’s Maria Paseka and USA’s Simone Biles, a 19 year-old world champion, land on the mat absolutely gracefully and nudge it to the fourth position.
“It’s insane”, Simone later says of Dipa and her valiant effort. Insane indeed! In this country, you are either insane or don’t bother with sports.
Her loss is heart-breaking. But heartwarming too. In a spell, I post messages on several Whatsapp groups, expecting many to be watching her perform. But the groups are oddly silent, even though many live in ‘awake’ time zones. Many of these groups usually go ballistic during cricket matches though. Expert opinions and match statistics are passed back and forth like suttas, and comments on the players fly thick and fast.
But sadly this is no cricket. Unlike Cricket, with hundreds of countries in the fray, your chances of winning in Olympic is naturally slimmer. We Indians don’t like that, because we love to win a “World Cup”, even if it’s played (mostly) by a pitiful number of third world countries. It’s like celebrating a kid coming first in his class, and ignoring someone who stood fourth in the country.
“Usey kuchh mila kya?” one guy finally responds. Nahin mila. She only came fourth by a gigantic 0.187 points. What a disgrace! Hah!
The sense that I get, at least in my circle, is that many don’t even care about what’s going on in Olympics. Why is India not winning any medal a foregone conclusion? Why should anyone live with that prejudice without seeing the pain of loss in the faces of our players?
The trailer of a mediocre movie like Rustom gets 15 millions views (not considering the additional millions of views of its songs and related videos) in less than a month. For the sake of comparison, the combined views of all videos on Dipa Karmakar on YouTube’s first page doesn’t even reach 1.8 million. Movies are totally different, did you say? But could her gravity-defying moves not have gone viral, given that she is the only one in the country, and among a few in the world to do so (in contrast, movies come and go every week)? Videos of Crime Patrol episodes and even the escapades of the tuition teacher with the neighborhood auntie gets far better views.
I am not saying this is enough data to prove my point, but hey, there are enough pointers. You can do your own research. The fact is we don’t care much about things outside our triangle of obsession: Cricket-Movie-Politics. Why then blame the governments, the ministry, the sports authority, the infrastructure or, if you are imaginative like Shobha De, even the players, when we don’t care ourselves?
Recently, the Chinese media wrote about the reasons for India not winning any medals. The observations were direct, devoid of any chest thumping (which they can anyway do, rightfully). They say that we have no awareness about the Olympics, we only try to make doctors and engineers, and we understand only one sport. Cricket. I think the observations are brutally, brutally honest and hits the bulls eye.
We love our Cricket because it’s the only game most of us can play in our backyards; It’s the lazy game we identify ourselves with. We “Excel” in it (if you can even call it so) not because we are very good, but because hardly anyone bothers with it. We excel because it’s suits our attitude for individual glory (Cricket is a team-game only to the extent of wearing similar looking tees and traveling in the same bus, looking all tense and biting your nails together at the pavilion, or standing at various places on the ground, yelling at each other, waiting for the ball to come you way!). We excel because we have found a weak spot in the world of competitive sports. And we excel because we are so happy about every single win that we go completely crazy, parading the winning team on marine drive and showering them with petals. In a sports deprived country, if we have to risk our studies, it has to be Cricket.
However, the unfortunate reality is that our hockey team with their Quarter-final effort in the Olympics has withstood far more competition in far more unfavourable conditions than our ‘World Cup’ (it already sounds so funny) winning Cricket team. Isn’t that very difficult to digest? But hey, that’s the truth, even if it gets you diarrhoea.
Sample this question: How many cricket-playing nations win medals at Olympics? Hah, you are joking, right? However, to be fair to the sport, Cricket gives us a reason to cheer for, not withstanding whether the rest of the world cares two hoots about the game.
It’s easy to accuse me of belittling the achievements of our ‘heros’, but then what about the many unsung ones who we don’t have any time for? My intention is not to belittle, but to disagree with the disproportionate share of attention and unjustified credit showered. What is even more disgusting is the lopsided hero-worshipping. Who is this God? Why the hell should someone be referred to as God? Especially the one who is so busy uploading photographs to his Instagram account that he finds little time to attend Rajya Sabha sessions! What a wonderful way to repay the love and faith reposed by the nation! Bollywood is another of our obsessions, what with the stars, megastars and superstars. Who are these? Super-humans?
We gobble up absolutely third rate and brainless movies like Kick and Ready and push Sallu Bhai to such dizzying heights that he conveniently mixes up info about the very contingent he is a brand ambassador of (let’s not even talk about shooting endangered animals and running over people). But I can’t really blame Bhai for that. It’s only natural, you see. You remember what you care about, and he represents as much of the country’s mindset as its mindlessness.
Why do we fail to see that these gods and demigods are not exactly a product of supreme human sacrifice, or the undying spirit of rising against all odds, but those who are either already privileged or are egged on considerably by the possibility of earning unimaginable sums of money? Even if they are role models, can’t we just praise them for what they do and spare them these titles reeking of our own genuflecting and servile attitude?
But there is hope. No matter how ramshackle, how corrupt, now inefficient you call this democracy, collectively, the billions of this country hold tremendous power. When we tilt towards a game, we shower it with untold riches. When we tilt towards an ideology, we create fortunes for political parties. A stone is a God only when you worship it. Isn’t it time that we also turned half our attention to the other heroes of the country? The Bindras, the Chands, the Sindhus, the Guttas, the Koms, the Karmakars and many many more.
When you see Sania and Bopanna defeat Murray and Watson, you don’t really think that the Indian team is there only for selfies (right Sobha De?). Only when you watch the games for yourself, you realize what it takes and how mindbogglingly intense the competition is, where the last drop of juice has to be squeezed out of the body to achieve that difference of ‘0.016’ seconds or ‘0.187’ points. When Abhinav Bindra shoots from his gun, he isn’t just merrily pulling the trigger. He says in a recent interview to Telegraph that it’s tremendously draining, both physically and mentally, when you aim for an Olympic medal.
To be able to perform at that level, where the whole world falls behind you by microseconds or micro-points, you need a very different order of support. A very different state of being. A very different mass mania rallying for you. A very different mindset at every household and a very different respect from fellow countrymen.
And if you can’t play yourself, I know of no other bloody way to promote sports in the country, than to watch it, read about it and talk about it. That’s the least one could do for our sportsmen/women. Because when you watch and discuss, advertisers bend over, sponsors come salivating, brands make a queue and money flows in. Infrastructure improves and people see a viable career.
When you don’t give a shit, you only play your little role in damaging sports in the country.
(I urge you comment on this article and let me know what your take is, whether brickbats or garlands.)