I had written this entry four years ago on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of India’s Independence. Perhaps this is a good time as any to rekindle our unique sporting spirit…
SIXTY years mean a lot for a country. In a country that has a history spanning about 100 times that, it might appear an insignificant speck in the dusts of time, but if you are an Indian, you know what I am talking about. In these sixty years of freedom we have spent the first 20 coming to terms with our own identity, the second 20 trying to tell the world who we are and now the last 20 in sending the unequivocal message that ‘We Have Arrived’! Economically, politically, spiritually, philosophically-in all manners, we have ‘arrived’. But what about the sports arena where we have been labelled non performers over and over again, our post Independence medal tally at the Olympics (total of 60 years!) does not even match that of an Ethiopia or a Bosnia Herzegovina for one Olympics! Other sports too we have had fleeting success – hockey where once dominant, we are now a sideshow to the main draw; and cricket for which the word ‘roller coaster’ falls short of a complete description!
But let’s not talk about that. Rather, I will talk about the sporting sentiment that’s truly Indian. We might lose, and at times appear weak, but an Indian sports person is very different from what you see all around. What other country could win a win world cup overcoming regional rifts apart from the short shrift in talent and capability. And celebrate a bronze medal at the Olympics as the only medal! (Leander Paes in Atlanta 1996) Declare a holiday for an Olympic gold medal in hockey, despite a weakened field at the Moscow Olympics! (the 1980 Olympic gold) Go bonkers despite losing the final of a world cup by a huge margin (2003 Cricket World Cup). Take up watching an unfamiliar sport to lend support to an unheralded teenager who is taking her baby steps in the professional world (Sania Mirza in tennis). Produce humble, down to earth and adorable champions in a delectably touch sport. (Padukone and Gopichand in Badminton). Never lose sight that we honor the brainy champions as well. (Vishwanathan Anand is a household name!) Cheer and whoop even if a footballer of ours was signed by a third division English club! (Baichung Bhutia for Bury FC) Cheer and whoop for a team even if the action is happening on screen! (Lagaan and Chak De India)
Yes, that’s the Indian spirit. Win or lose, we remain a happy family all the time. No one is an outsider, and achievement is always welcome (we even understand when there is defeat) and everyone can earn the adoration of the public at large whatever the sport. Sometimes we get carried away, but what family doesn’t! The objective is to celebrate sport as it comes and shower unconditional love on those who live our dreams for us on the field. In a country that’s 60 years young, there is no point thinking what we did not achieve—because our greatest achievement is passing on our unique sporting spirit to the world. So, in the coming sixty—and beyond, may we achieve much more on the field, but never lose sight and savor of what we are as a nation off it! Chak De India! And may we celebrate the unique spirit forever!!