Tuesday, September 2, 2008

No illusions about being Indian, please!

I like this kid - Abhinav Bindra.

Suave and smart, articulate and really, really cool. Maybe this is what it takes to excel in shooting an air rifle better than anybody else in the world at ten metres. I think snipers do get fairly accurate at much larger distances but fact is, Abhinav Bindra got us a gold medal and taken India where nobody has taken us before! Cheers to the kid!

What amazes me is that this guy isn't falling for any of the patriotic hogwash that is bound to follow an achievement like his. There is very little of him being "Indian" any more than him being himself. The other two boys who brought home bronzes are a little more available to the "Indian" tag but not Bindra. He deserves all the praise that is being lavished on him, but I think he deserves it more as an individual who has risen to the pinnacle of his quest and not as an Indian.

It has taken him a great deal of personal investment, helped along by infrastructure he didn't have to depend on the government for. It isn't every day that someone realizes he has an opportunity and has all the ammunition necessary (pun intended) to carry it through to fruition. This kid, we hear, has all that he ever wanted to pursue excellence, and would definitely not be on the streets if he failed. Well, kudos to all the forces that brought him about.

The one area where India did contribute to his success is the economy. People take risks during economically sound periods. A career in sports is a big risk in India, and it is not surprising to see our biggest success also coming at a time when our economy is at its most robust. We can no longer expect the old Soviet style and Eastern Bloc systems coming to the fore in sports. Those days are gone. These days, sports is money and money will follow excellence in sports.

There are a lot of people crying hoarse over not enough importance being given to sports other than cricket. What exactly do they mean by "giving importance"? Who gave importance to cricket before Kapil Dev and his team brought us the World Cup in 1983? Those were not the days of sponsorship and media frenzy. And yet, one show of brilliance started it. That is what it takes - the feeling that our athlete or sportsperson can beat anybody in the world. It is that winning feeling that we want to associate with. We want to have a reasonable chance of winning in order to support our sportsperson.

I love Sania Mirza but she frustrates me. If she gets a chance to dominate with her forehand, she will crush most opponents. If her allround game is called upon, she might give it a few shots and then lose without looking very bad. I am glad tennis is still a very individual sport and people cannot take it up en masse to emulate Sania's achievements, however humble at this point. Yet, there are a lot of Indians inspired enough to give their kids tennis lessons, and a shot at glory. Let's not fool ourselves, none of the parents are grooming their children to win the Olympic gold for India. They would rather see their kid win Wimbledon or US Open or one of the other biggies and get into that six or seven figure income bracket in dollars of course!

What have we as a country given Sania? Threats from idiotic Muslims asking her to pull out of the sport! It is a good thing Sania hasn't given up anything, in her game, or her persona. She remains a lovable athlete in our midst, and if she gave up her inconsistency a little bit, we would adore her even more! But that will come. And I don't mind that she looks good, carries herself well, and is cocky and arrogant when she needs to be. Just love that about her.

To assume that India as a country should play some part in the success of our sportspersons is in itself assuming that our sportspersons do not have to carry most of the load to excellence. The truth is, they do. It is not the country's job to foster excellence in anything! It just doesn't know what it takes! You think we would be a "developing" country if our country took steps to excel? Is there one thing the country, the system, the government indeed can do, that can possibly be called "excellent"? All it takes is people - individuals, with knowledge and sharpness to be in the right place at the right time, see an opportunity and make the most of it.

We need examples of individual brilliance, and that is what cricket has provided us with. When Sachin Tendulkar whacked Shoaib Akhtar for that famous six in the '03 world cup, we gasped for several reasons, but the most important was that our hero was standing up to another top performer and clubbing him. He was making a statement of intent, and that is something most Indians are not very good at, especially with our mouths shut.

We love cricket because we have a reasonable chance of winning each time our team steps onto the field. Our boys play well because they are good at the game, and they really do not have any worries about their families starving if they don't perform. The pressure they feel is purely professional. We can't quite say this for most of the athletes in other disciplines. Rather than complain that we don't do enough for other sports, let us be thankful that with cricket, we have an example of what is possible.

Abhinav Bindra said that the biggest problem in Indian sports is negativity! He chose to say this soon after he won gold. It is the biggest truth about India in general. We are not a positive people. We love to trash our failures rather than forget about them and go on towards success. We love to destroy other Indians for failing, when we ourselves are scared of success. When you have success behind you, success of any sort, like your dad's fortune to support you for example, you don't have to deal with this negativity. You can buy the insulation needed to stay away from that.

The best thing you can buy to excel at anything in India is insulation. Make sure you do not come under the influence of anything too "Indian". Don't carry that baggage. You will be just fine! Look at any of our superachievers!

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