My mother doesn’t talk about sports. Not that she is not informed or interested, but I seldom see her getting excited. So, last night, when she called me, I was pleasantly surprised by her tone. She was genuinely happy and thrilled.
“Lagbhag haraa hi di thi” was what she told me.
The kind of excitement I am talking about is when parents talk about their kids getting a 90 percent in boards to their neighbors. There was a sense of pride in her excitement.
When I came home later and took a dip in the sea of social media, I found out that my mother was not the only one to feel that way. From Amitabh Bachchan to Rajinikanth, basically, everyone except Shobha De is a fan of PV Sindhu.
At the time of writing, India stands with two medals, a bronze that was won through a wildcard and a silver that could well have been a gold.
So, Statistically, Rio was not so fruitful. In every other way possible, though, this has been the most important Olympics in the history of Independent India.
In the 1979 Cricket World Cup, India finished one better than the worst. Only Canada followed. BCCI was not the mogul that it is today. Other than the cricketers, not many were as enthusiastic about the game as they are now.
Hockey was a craze at that time. India was winning gold medals after gold medals, trophies after trophies and hockey test matches between India and Pakistan were selling out stadiums. In every sense, it was hockey that bound the nation in one thread, hence justifying the tag of ‘national game’. That was a reason, perhaps, why even in movies, the goons carried hockey sticks and not cricket bats.
Then, almost like a dream, out of nowhere, in 1983, a group of men, led by Kapil Dev defeated the mighty West Indies to stun the world. This was new. This was different. We had done something, at something that we had never done before. Also, coincidentally, Hockey started fading. India stopped bringing medals, winning trophies and being the best.
That was a turning point for sports in India. Cricket was this new source of hope and rejoice for the people. Even though we were not the best and mostly lost to superior teams, we had started to make a name for ourselves. Within a few years, a phenomenon happened that gave this popularity a concrete shape. The phenomenon was called Sachin Tendulkar. He was just perfect to be the face of this change. He was a little teenager who would stand in front of fiery bowlers of the west and hit them left and right. In a real fight, he might not be able to stand a chance against Holding and Ambrose but when he held his bat, suddenly he became a superman. Suddenly, bats made of plastic and wood became favourite gifts to be given on birthdays. A Sharjah final became a national event much like an Independence Day celebration. Cricket moved from stadiums to drawing rooms. Millions of kids like me would spend hours playing cricket, under the sun, in the rains, despite the resistance of parents, despite flunking exams and bunking classes. Not all of us became Sachin Tendulkar of course, but a Virat Kohli was born, a Rohit Sharma could dream. Cricketers started breeding in every household.
For any sport to prosper in a country, much like cricket, we need icons the entire nation can root for. Someone, we could point at and say, “Okay, this is who I want to become someday.”
We don’t win medals because there are not many aspiring athletes in the country. Aspiration needs inspiration. Inspiration needs icons.
We complain about the quality of politicians in India but no one wants to be a politician himself. Perhaps because n past three-four decades, our country has failed to give us politicians we can look up to.
Most wrestlers and runners come from extremely poor backgrounds of Haryana and Punjab. The poor in this country doesn’t have enough to read, eat and wear, how can we expect sports amenities for them? Whatever they do, however, they reach the top, is a matter of sheer toil and hard work on their part.
Sports like swimming, golf, shooting and tennis are not accessible to everyone. They are expensive sports. Best athletes still come from Railways and army or don’t come at all.
As far as the middle class is concerned, we only play cricket and football. Besides, we are just too busy becoming engineers and doctors and getting into DU. We play badminton in winters to heat up ourselves and that is pretty much it. Hell, eighty percent Indians don’t even know how to swim if ever they were drowning.
I find little difference between putting sports as a hobby when you can only play cricket and putting cooking as your pastime when all you can make is Maggi.
During my time at KIIT University, I would see the KISS (Kalinga School of Social Sciences) students, tribal girls, and boys, playing hockey, practicing archery and weightlifting. It filled my heart with joy.
I never see a school, no matter how big a name it carries, having a hockey pitch or an archery academy. They all have cricket academies though and basketball courts. Schools and Universities have enough funds to build and maintain all-sport facilities within their premises. But no one is interested, parents, kids or institutes.
This year at Rio, despite the lower count of medals, I am hopeful. Some icons are being created in unusual, unheard sports. Dipa Karmakar is one such name. Indians, for the first time, watched gymnastics outside a circus arena. We didn’t only clap but we plucked our fists in excitement.
Same happened with Sindhu last night. She was just…there!
The entire nation sat together and prayed. Then, much like Sachin in his nineties, they missed it. The prayers were not heard. A billion hearts broke at once. But the billion hearts broke together. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Apathy is.
We are slowly moving out of it. It will take time, though. And icons. Medals will come.
More power to the girls out there.