The Great Indian Olympic Dream
1.27 billion (the count would have gone up by the time you complete reading this statement) hearts & prayers are with you tweeted a celebrity while Sindhu was playing the graceful Marin. Which means 42% of the BPL families (who earn less than Rs.100 a day) had the princely heart and the 2% Uber-rich(lets spare Abhinav Bindra) had the time to really root for our Olympic team at Rio. Really? Let’s be honest about it. It is the 50% middle-class which remains fixated to the idiot-box. Because it is us (the middle class) that gets sandwiched between the hope exuding rich and the hopeless below-poverty-line. You have the license to disagree with me, but not the spate of badminton academies that would come up soon & mad rush of kids to join them (read it as parents who join their kids). Thanks to Sindhu. Does that ensure a medal! glory! cash reward! victory rally! government job! bed-to-bathroom media coverage! and a portfolio of brands to endorse!.
A more close observation would reveal that, for some middle-class Indians, their child playing a sport is an advantage(sports quota), for some its self-regard and the majority sing the ‘Just to keep fit’ anthem. Not all parents splurge money on sports academies to churn out a champion out of their ward. Don’t be surprised to hear Type II diabetes, ill-defined friends in the housing community, working parents finding hard to spare time, fear of isolating the child as the major reasons. (Do eaves-drop at your neighbor to know the reality). A big applause to those really far-sighted parents who invest their money, energy, time and greatly their dreams. They stand-out. The passionate one’s shine and such numbers are hard to come by. The remaining play the sport religiously until the day it can find a mention in their resume as ‘Hobbies’. A badge of honor to those souls who continue to play the sport of their dream even today (for reasons best known to them). Shut the clap-stick and shift the scene to China. In China it is the trump card for the disadvantaged families who consider it a ticket to get out of poverty. In plain terms it is the middle-class kids from China’s agrarian south who make it big in the Olympic stage. The irony has its own lessons and reasons. For most of these poor Chinese kids walking the city streets is a distant dream let alone living there. These kids from the disadvantaged middle-class families during their formative years get twisted and contorted like pretzel cookies to prove their agility and grace. Such talent gets groomed locally until they reach junior level (age 10-12). At the strike of adolescence these kids get grouped into 5 categories viz. international master sportsman, national master sportsman, Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3.
Kids who make it to the first 3 categories get into sports boarding school (which is predominantly the government subsidized public schools). They train in these schools for another 5-6 years before they make it to the Olympic roster at the age of 18. They slog in these sports schools for 12-15 years getting tangled in this monotony not for glory, but for a simple pragmatic reason:a better life for themselves and their family. While fetching an Olympic medal is life altering, falling short could mean a shattered life. There is no glory. No victory rides from airports. No media glare. No brand endorsements. Its just an opportunity to lead a life worth mentioning. A gold medal may fetch you Rs. 25 lakhs and a silver Rs. 16 lakhs (official pay by the sports ministry which is one time).If one had picked some lessons rightly in the classroom, then a decent job to see their life through. Now you understand why their athletes strike that ‘poker face’! If confusion is the common denominator of the Indian middle-class, nebulous future of the middle-class is ‘Made in China’.
I hate Shoba De’s works and more so her looks (Oops! Does that amount to body-shaming?). I hate Shekhar Gupta’s optimistic Olympic takeaways more so his cacophony after a BJP win. But I appreciate the underlying sentiment. What has come of this 1.27 billion nation? The Chinese state general administration spent Rs. 4000 crores on sports and training in 2014 while India spent Rs. 750 crores. With more than 6 lakh gyms and outdoor sports centres open to its citizens, take a bow 95% of Chinese school children meet the National exercise standard (kick that fat-ass cousin of yours who is currently meddling his X-box joystick). This has nothing to do with their medal hungry Olympic contingent. Athletics & sports has become a way of life. We don’t have to ape the Chinese model. We cannot in-fact. What PV Sindhu and Shakshi Malik has achieved is tremendous. There is 15 years of hard-work behind this glorious moment. Add the adjective ‘mediocre’ before her education(The top 5 google search on Sindhu has a question about her caste but not her education). These are classic instances of talent-identified-early. That is where the narration should end.
If you want to build a medal hungry Olympic contingent then the search should start early and from the bottom of the pyramid/lower middle-class section that is ready to take a chance at his/her one-way street. The State and the administration should initiate this exercise nation wide. Don’t expect an Indian parent to discover such talents. We are the proverbial miner who dug 99 feet before leaving the gold that was lying 1 feet below. A consolation word to the confused middle-class(confused between arts & science, between 2bhk & 3bhk, petrol & diesel car, engineering & medicine, boy & girl child) is, we will continue to flash the thunder on the lines of sindhu’s and malik’s. But for now can we gather a movement for adding spell-bee, computer programming & cricket to the Olympics?
PS: For those wondering why I did not pick Uncle Sam (USA) as a yardstick, Imagine a glance at two-slices of bread with jam, four boiled eggs, bananas & milk for breakfast. Seasonal vegetables, chicken and good bowl of rice (yes you read it right! GOOD bowl) for lunch and rotis with a bowl of rice (of course a GOOD bowl again) for dinner. Huh! Shift your imagination to three fried egg sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise, two cups of coffee, one five-egg omelette, one bowl of grain, three slices of French toast and three chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, Lunch includes pasta, two large ham (gastronomes call it ‘Pork’ and those grimacing faces call it ‘Pig meat’) and cheese sandwiches and 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks. Pasta, steamed vegetables and grilled chicken for dinner. Even our dwarfed diet does not stand a match to the gargantuan portions of calorie loaded diet of US athletes. Spare them.
For now PV Sindhu! Hurray! Shakshi Malik! Hurray! Dipa Karmakar! Hurray! Olympic 2020! Disarray!