Longevity is not about how long a life you live, it’s about how you live it. Its not about the number of years you live, its about the number of lives you touch.
The above could well be attributed to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. But how far is it applicable to sports, one may ask? Let’s take a look.
The recently concluded London Olympic Games have more or less been a success for us. From India’s perspective, it was more of a success than Beijing. We managed to win 6 medals this time around, as opposed to the 3 won in 2008, a 100% improvement. An achievement by itself. However, we missed out on a gold at London. Disheartening, when you attempt to compare the two. But do we sit back and think of that moment of joy when the country erupted in delight when Abhinav Bindra won his first gold medal at Beijing or when Gagan Narang won the bronze medal at London? 1 billion people rejoiced, we were a proud lot. For that moment alone, we owe these superstars a huge thank you. Their achievements have touched our lives in more ways than just one.
Saina Nehwal inspired a generation by her bronze medal winning feat, Mary Kom is the perfect idol for all women across the country, Yogeshwar Dutt instilled in every Indian a sense of determination and grit (his swollen eye is testimony to that), Gagan Narang inspired confidence, Abhinav Bindra displayed sheer resolve and strength of mind and Sushil Kumar was the epitome of will power, self belief and strength all rolled into one. Yes, these athletes have touched our lives in a number of ways. And for that, we must be eternally grateful to them.
The important question that arises here, however, is how long before these athletes are pushed back into pages of history and made to remain just there? How long before we forget that these were the heroes who once made us proud, who put the country on the sporting map of the world? Going by the nation’s past record, I don’t give it too much time.
She has been awarded the Arjuna award and Padma Shri. She hasn’t got her dues as she should have though. A leading publication wrote (and later backtracked and took their comments back) that she drank too much beer and had poor eating habits. Yeah right. Maybe if she had laid off the beer and eaten properly she would have got a Gold instead of a Bronze. This was before she was going to Sydney. After reading that she wasn’t even sure if she would be going to Sydney. Can you imagine having to maintain your composure and concentrate on training while reading such things about you?
Malleswari said “India is not short of talent, but there is no encouragement at all. Let me tell you something really odd. We won only one medal at the Sydney Games. Just one. And I have received nothing from the government. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called me in Sydney to congratulate me. He said that he wanted to meet me when I got back to India. But there has been no call from his office. The Sports Minister [Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa], who was in Sydney, said I would get a hero’s welcome when we returned, with a ceremony in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. But nothing has happened. Remember this is the only medal that India won at the Olympics.
“It is very strange. The public should explain why they are so crazy about a game like cricket, where there is cheating and match-fixing, but have no interest in an Olympic medal.”
(That’s pretty strange indeed. Check back in a few days for 100 reasons about it, echoing this view)
“People keep asking me why India does not win more medals. It is all very easy to talk about this sitting at big desks in air-conditioned rooms. But winning medals is not as easy. We go into the field. We get injured. We can’t sleep because of the pain. And then when this kind of thing happens (the publicity about the beer and food), we feel bad.”
“I feel bad – this is such a big achievement but there is no recognition. I am happy, though, because I have a good family life and that is enough. I tell myself that every individual has a duty to their country. I did what I could for my country as an Indian.”
She came to terms with the imbalance in give and take between her and her country. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav didn’t get the chance.
Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav
He was in the Maharashtra police force for nearly 25 years, there’s a sports ground in that police premises named after him and yet his name isn’t too familiar to all the policemen there.
He was severely critical of the coaches and officials who traveled with him to the Games. ‘They were more interested in shopping and visiting the casinos,’ said Jhadhav in one of his interviews.
‘Yeh log pagal hi honge’. That ad about Olympics rings true. “Pocket Dynamo”, as he was known, must have been mad to keep persisting in his dream. When people who are supposed to support you and pave the way for you plant thrones in your path, it’s easy and sensible to shake your head in disdain at the betrayal and just turn around. Walk away. Those with power to help him along his way failed to realize that he and they are on the same team.
He had to ask all around for funds to help him along his way. That’s the norm even today though. But he came within a point of never even competing in the Olympics where he eventually won a medal.
1952 Helsinki Olympics, he wasn’t deemed good enough. He didn’t qualify. He claimed that the officials intentionally gave him a point less than the winner at the Madras Nationals to rule him out of the Olympics. Good enough reason to hang your head and quit. But he fought as hard off the mat as he did on it. Undeterred by the nepotism, Jadhav appealed to the Maharaja of Patiala. The Maharaja arranged for him to enter in the Olympics trial where he defeated his opponent and went to the Helsinki Games.
He won a bronze medal in bantamweight category. That would be India’s only Olympic medal in an individual category for the next 44 years until Leander Paes won a bronze in 1996.
Why is the first deserving recognition we give to our heroes on their tombstones? One would expect the country to hoist him on their shoulders and parade him around. Oh yeah, all the pomp and ceremony was carried out but that’s all that was done.
His cousin Sampat Rao Jhadav recalls: “There were dhols along with a 151 bullock cart processions right from the outskirts of Goleshwar to the Mahadeva temple which is normally a 15 minute walk. It took seven long hours that day and no one was complaining. We have not seen joyous scenes like that either before or after that day. There was a feeling of pride and every villager was basking in that moment of glory. Khashababhau brought the small village of Goleshwar, earlier a dot on the map, to the fore. The whole world knew and recognised Goleshwar as the village which gave India its first-ever Olympic champion.”
All fitting for one who emerged as the 3rd best at what he does in the world. Sadly that’s all that was done. The chests of the entire town swelled with effusive pride, but the treasure chests remained locked. In 1955 he was listed as a police sub-inspector. He was not promoted for the next 22 years. At the age of 58 he died in a motorcycle accident.
His tombstone may read ‘Here lies Jhadav. He will be remembered.’ 10 years after his death he was remembered and awarded the Chhatrapati Shivaji award. 26 years after his death, in 2010, Sports minister M.S. Gill remembered him again and named the CWG wrestling venue after Jhadav. Would have been nice if he had been recognized and remembered while he was still alive. Hate to go into ifs and buts, but if he was awarded financially maybe he wouldn’t have been riding a motorbike. Maybe he would have been travelling in a car. Maybe he would have been alive to see Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
The Indian public at large and the media in particular, have a very short lived memory. We talk about India putting up it’s best ever show at the Olympics, we appreciate the effort put in by the medal winners, we throng them at the airports and bury them under garlands, we talk about them at home, in school, at work, all till a point that another big event takes place (read Indian cricket team beating Bangladesh in a Test series held in India). And our heroes are forgotten. New heroes take their place. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s like beating up a prize horse before a big race and then saying “Go horsie! Go win it now. I’ve crippled you and when you get back I’ll bang you around some more, but you better win it all now.”
We want winners, we need to treat them like winners. After they win, they need to be treated like winners. And when they are sweating, bleeding and scrounging money to train to win, they need to be treated as winners in the making.