Monday, August 13, 2012

Standing on the shoulders of giants...

As a kid, I was an average sportsman. Not exceptional, but probably average enough to make the team if I really tried, and that’s about it. I was never the athletic type. I could play decent enough but I don’t think anyone from my school days, would swear that they remember a special talent called Chirag Panjikar. I don’t think even my mom would say that.


But I was a sports fan. A fanatic, is more like it. I knew the games, the rules, and downright anything that was related, the championship records, the scores, patterns, you name it. Forget Maradona, Becker or Gavaskar, I knew my Greg Louganis from my Greg LeMonds, and my Daley Thompsons from my Morten Frosts. I was that kind of a sports fan.

But that’s not the point.

Sports were serious business in my school. And boys who represented the school in sports were the closest thing we had to rock stars. The kind, who were the heroes of boys from the younger classes. (Riklin Cup, 1990-91: Vincents 4 – Loyola’s 1, I remember it like it was yesterday..) And there were boys, who were real good. The kind of caliber, that opposition school coaches planned about. We had the best coaching in town, the best facilities, (definitely the best school ground in Pune, even today), the best talent. Talent that won our school the Inter School championships, 50 years in a row (That record is still going on). Hockey, Football, Athletics, Tennis, Basketball, (everything but cricket), was something that we prided our wins. Kids from other schools were in such awe of the kind of facilities we had, that I’m sure every year, we had at least 2-3 wins out of the opposition giving up just because they were playing us. We would take newspaper clippings of the inter-school events, and put it on the notice boards.

I could name these kids, but the list would always be smaller than the actual set of heroes from my school. I don’t want my failing memories, of 20 years ago, being the reason for missing out on not naming the sports stars from my school days. Some I am in touch with, some I am not. They’re all well settled now. Some are doctors, Ph. Ds, software engineers, one is a lawyer in Singapore. One, I think is a stock broker. Couple of them are in the army, quite high up now.

Pretty much the gamut of professional achievement has been achieved by these guys

Everything except sports.

Not one.

Zero.

Zilch.

The best facilities, the best talent, the best possible set up for a school setting, and zero professional sportsmen.

That’s the reality of our 6 medals, and that's why it’s going to be a slow, painful climb to the top of the Olympic medal tally.

Forget 2016, I’d say 2024 or maybe 2032.

Because sports, like art, is not a chemical formula that can be achieved overnight (unless you’re the Chinese, but even there, there are some suspicions of chemical formulae being involved). Making a living out of sports is a lot of toil. It’s about living in the insecurity that you may never be able to provide for your family if you’re not good enough, and still thinking that it’s worth the risk.

And you cannot do it without heroes.

Heroes, role models, guiding lights, whatever. The kind, who have been in your shoes before, and who can guide you that everything will be all right in the end. For every Saina and Sushil Kumar, there is a Gopichand and a Satpal Maharaj, who briefly tasted success, but couldn’t sustain it. Who, knowing your insecurities, can convince you that they have seen the light, and that you have what it takes to touch that light.

Someone who knows, what it was that kept them from reaching the top, and who will guide you to that one missing ingredient.

Someone that a generation of Indians never had – a generation that is today spending their lives in air-conditioned offices as engineers, doctors, army men, lawyers, because that was easier than hitting their collective heads against a brick wall.

Someone that generations of Indians going forward will have for the rest of their lives.
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