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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who says we can’t be Olympians?

It is annoying when everyone laughs at India going delirious over the only individual gold medal won at the Olympics, while China was picking up gold medals at will. One cocky Chinese tabloid even carried a front page headline story of how India, a nation of more than a billion people finally won one gold medal. Big deal is what I say. China squandered US$9 billion on training their billion plus countrymen and women and what do they get? Maybe a maximum of a hundred gold medals? We spend nothing and get one gold medal. That’s a definite win-win situation. And when skeptics sneer, let me tell you that we are a very sports-oriented nation.

You want runners? We have people who run for office year after year. You want gymnasts? We have balancing acts done by the likes of Digambar Kamat and Manmohan Singh, which are more hair-raising and awe-inspiring than any of the gymnasts doing their thing. And Messrs Kamat and Singh don’t even wear stretch lycra outfits, though they have been known to stretch the truth when it comes to SEZs and doing a number on the Left high up in the sky.

We have people doing steeplechase events on our pavements which are dug up and broken, leaping over large muddy puddles, racing to get that last bus, and hanging on by their fingernails and teeth to get to their destinations.

We have small children doing weightlifting carrying numerous, notebooks, textbooks, homework books, test books, rough books, atlases, dictionaries, waterbottles, snack boxes, crayons, colour pencil boxes, and other assorted items meant for learning readin’ writin’ n’ arithmetic.

We have water sports with ferries crossing and re-crossing rivers, in a macabre race, where the occupants take their lives in their hands when they cross the water in these rusty old buckets. We have races between barges and obstacle courses, where when they bang into pillars of bridges, while everyone else loses.

Marathons are commonplace for those who miss the last bus and have to walk home. Boxing and judo is a regular feature at every bar and marketplace. Target practice also a done deal with many making their next purchase after a mobile phone and foreign car, a revolver or rifle. Why, we even have doping all over the beach belt. Gangs roaming the streets of cities and towns become our version of team sports, with the cops as the referees and the common man the spectator.

These observations are merely to point out that if we put our minds to it, we could easily qualify for the Olympics, but we excel in one vital area.

We, the people of India, play a very important part in sports; all one billion of us. If sports took place and no one watched, sports as an activity would dry up and die. Spectators are vital to spectator sports and that is the role we play. You have the sportspersons and the spectators. We are spectators and really good at what we do. We are experts in all sports. We can sit back in our armchairs and cheer on the athletes. We know when they are playing well and when they are off-colour. We know when they have made mistakes and we criticize them roundly and loudly. If it is their job to perform, it is our job to watch. Being spectators is a national pastime in everything we do.

And as in any occupation one excels at, one does so through dint of long practice. We are spectators for any and every happening around us, whether it is great deeds or injustice or crime or corruption. We sit back and watch with deep interest and after it is over, we worship the main players or criticize them. That’s what we do. As a nation we excel in it. And if there were Olympic medals for spectators, we’d bag the whole lot ¬––¬ gold, silver and bronze.

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