The most obvious point to ponder, repeating in Olympics after Olympics, is that our large population — the world’s second biggest and soon to be biggest — means nothing if we are unable to marshal its energy to do something inspiring.

Narrow aspirations

India’s predicament, fumbling along in team events, and delivering more in individual events, as if distancing self from surroundings and chasing one’s dream diligently is the best way out, betrays the state of our nation.

A popular culture supportive of excellence for excellence’s sake, is required but missing. Instead, we are focused on a narrow spectrum of activity — typically minting money — for self worth. We drill that value into our children as well, making them renowned as 99.5 and 99.6 per cent — the marks they score in exams, without particular love for any subject. What they are capable of in totality is secondary. Academics merely as a prelude to employment and being well-settled, tops over all else.

A major car company’s ad on mileage brilliantly captures the Indian approach to buying cars. Replace mileage with potential earnings and you have the Indian approach to choosing activity.

Hopefully at some point, this narrow mercantile definition of life is cast aside.

Problem is the Indian rat race quickly teaches what is relevant and what isn’t. Sport is silly or luxury. Or it has to be cricket — moneyed and mainstream. Or you should do a cricket in whatever sport you choose! This is tough. Do we support the journey? Focused on family, our appetite to imagine beyond blood relations and household is limited.

An Indian team competing and losing is instantly subjected to ridicule. But when a team member is from one’s own family, community or home state, we quickly defend, even encourage.

If such things have to happen first in the household for a lesson to be learnt, then a million babies would have to grow up for households to value an agenda that is different from the regular. Not surprisingly, India is a generation behind in most sports.

Forget mainstream

Huddled in our tight-knit communities, we become critics of initiative quicker than we become people with initiative.

Saina Nehwal, settling for bronze, attracts comments from us for not trying. How many of us have competed internationally to judge her so?

Equally, it is our idea of local community as world enough that makes the ‘Olympian’ tag more valued than trying one’s best at the Olympics.

Annoying as his comment on the Indian hockey team may have been to us, coach Michael Nobbs was pointing to a well-known Indian weakness when he said the players seemed content to just have been at the London Olympics.

Doesn’t that remind of something else typically Indian? Nobody asks what you did as long as you have the attributes for being locally coveted, in place. It’s an outdated idea of eligibility lingering around.

Further, we must abandon the notion of a mainstream India. Excellence does not recognise majority and mainstream.

Look at Manipur. It has a population of 2.7 million people compared with India’s overall 1.2 billion. The small State is big in sports. Irrespective of the outcome of a bout, Mary Kom stepping into the ring fires the imagination. I will never forget watching her fight on TV with my friend alongside punching the air in excitement. I think we both loved that feeling of mainstream demolished.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 11, 2012)
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