As sports fans, we live for the moments. The moments of nervous anticipation before the start of a Test match, the goosebumps after an unexpected goal, the rage at a wrong decision, the sorrow of defeat and the exhilaration of victory. The player almost becomes an irrelevant, dispensable medium between us and these emotions. We connect with these intense moments to an extent that it becomes a part of who we are.
When we are in a state of despair, we retain hope, for haven’t we seen the Test match at Eden Gardens when an artist and a sculptor scripted the most impossible of victories. On the day of our biggest presentation, we imagine a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova on Centre Court at Wimbledon, moments away from glory, and suddenly the burden is lifted. When that annoying aunt of ours tells us of how delightfully talented her son is and how it’s impossible to achieve things without extraordinary talent, we replay in our minds Novak Djokovic’s 2011, and that restores our faith in human will and grit. Every sport, long after the matches and trophies, will be cherished for the moments it leaves behind in the memories of its ardent fans.
Days away from the Olympics, amidst all the articles on the Indian hopes, and rendered jobless by a power cut, I sat down to recollect the moments that Indian sports had left behind for me…
I think of cricket. Flashing across are pictures of World Cup 2011. I remember that day, every single detail, the celebrations and the frenzy. People who could otherwise barely stand each other were hugging, exchanging pleasantries; their individuality forgotten in a moment that belonged to the nation. There are pictures of five wonderful men, all of them now retired or in the twilight of their careers, showing the world how to live a sportsman’s life. The promise of the youngsters, the Eden Gardens, the hundred centuries and the ten wickets in an innings… it’s an almost overwhelming mix of memories, but my heart is glad and warm. There are also the whispers of money that destroyed our trust, of team-mates slapping each other… but amidst all the glory I find it easy to forgive the glitches. Happy and satisfied I move on…
I think of hockey. Distant heart-warming stories of the conversation between Adolf Hitler and Dhyan Chand come rushing back. I think of the times when we were invincible and brought back eight gold medals to our eager shores. Black and white pictures of newspapers carrying headlines like “The Colony beats the Colonizer”, “The World’s Greatest Centre Forward” take their rightful place. Suddenly there’s a blur as the warmth is replaced by the disputes, scandals and a lack of medals. The heartbreak of the Beijing Olympic Qualifiers is still fresh in memory, undisturbed by our cricketing success. There is disappointment, I blame the politicians, the organizers… angry and saddened I move on….
I think of athletics, the field events. The ‘Flying Sikh’, the ‘Golden Girl’ and recent exploits by our shooters, boxers and weight lifters briefly make me glad. I glance towards the newspaper that’s lying idle in front of me, only to catch a report on how our athletes could not get a pair of shoes while our bureaucrats were busy booking hotels and organizing their itinerary in London. There are dope tests everywhere, even a gender test. Disgusted, I blame our organisations, the politicians. Almost unwillingly, I move on….
Tennis. I sense there might be happiness here. After all, Vijay Amritraj and Leander Peas are legends of the game. Mahesh Bhupati and Sania Mirza have created more than a flutter in the sporting circles. Somdev Devarman, Yuki Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan, irrespective of whether they possess grass court shoes or not, hold immense promise. I am happy so far, till ‘grass court shoes’ triggers the memory of the incident. Two countrymen refusing to play with each other. I can almost feel the pain in my heart. A sport that I loved dearly all my life disgraced by the pathetic egos of two individuals. However great the two men, however rich their exploits, I cannot get myself to forgive them. I feel betrayed. I curse the players, the AITA and the sports ministry before I move on….
There is a little voice in my head that I particularly dislike. It tends to come up with pointed questions that make me uncomfortable. It’s stirring again and I don’t like it at all. I try to ignore it, to think of something else. “What have you done about it?” it asks me, loud and clear. I knew I was going to hate this.
Now I wonder why I haven’t gone back to those sites that I bookmarked to read about shooting and archery events at the Olympics. I wonder why I haven’t opened Abhinav Bindra‘s “A Shot at History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold” ever since Flipkart dutifully delivered it to me. I am completely aware that Vishwanathan Anand has made our nation proud like few others have, that he is a true World Champion, yet I wonder why I have been putting off reading those two articles on him by two delightful authors (Nirmal Shekar and Rohit Brijnath). Can I name 20 players who have played for the Indian cricket team? Twenty? I can name forty to fifty of them. Can I name 30 players on the ATP tour? Sure, give me sixty seconds, you sure you don’t want WTA also? Do I know twenty names in our Olympic contingent? Twenty? Without Google? Nope.
There it is. I can blame and shout at our politicians and the organizers all I want from the comfort of my couch, and that is not going to make any difference to the medal tally at the end of the Olympics, not even the next one. But maybe, just maybe, if a number of us could get ourselves to support them with the same passion that we support our cricket team, the organizers and the politicians might realize they can’t push over things, for we are watching. Can you even imagine our cricket team not getting their shoes ahead of an Australian, heck, Bangladesh tour?
I will go back to those websites today and learn everything I can about shooting and archery. I will make time to read those two articles on Vishwanathan Anand. Before I devour my new copy of ‘Rafa’, I will finish Bindra’s. If, in the coming days, I have to choose between the Sri Lanka tour of India and an Indian at the Olympics, I will gladly choose the latter. Hope you can join me.