Monday, June 27, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life -17

Jottings : Slice of life -17
1936, Berlin Olympic Games. One of the most poignant and controversial moments of sports and athletic history was enacted between the days of August 6th and 9th. I say poignant because, it was a defining event in racial history of twentieth century. Jesse Owens, the greatest American athlete, had just shattered Nazi propagandist myth that Blacks were inferior to Aryans. Owen’S amazing versatility helped him sweep the medal tally with consummate ease. The world of track and field would not be the same after that. I call it controversial because legend has it that Hitler not only refused to shake hands with Owens on the podium, but refrained from attending remaining award ceremonies for rest of the Olympics as well. Sometimes history can be one-sided, depending upon who is telling the tale. And when it comes to Hitler, all that we are fed upon is Myth, hearsay and extremely biased theories. Contemporary research throws up an entirely angle to this story. Anyway, the triumph of Owens was undeniable And iconic..For the first time in Black American history, a sport became a symbol of equality, strength, talent and dignity in its centuries long struggle against racism, and Owen’s singular achievement gave it a new impetus it so urgently needed. From his victory to the tempestuous civil rights movements in the sixties and seventies, is one long journey of rebirth, rejuvenation and coming of age of Blacks.
Two fascinating Men defined the civil rights movement. And they could not have been more different from each other. Dr Martin Luther King, the prodigal preacher, intellectual, blazing orator, staunch believer in Non-Violence and non-intimidation; and Mohammad Ali, the Man who rose from the ghettos, self made, instinctual, extremely temperamental, physically agile and strong, Gifted Boxer par excellence , natively poetic, and only believed in head-on Intimidation and bashful attitude. For Dr King, The story of racism and America was more in the larger context of History, religion, liberty and freedom; but for Ali, it was intensely personal, self centered and more immediate and physical. While Dr king, roused his fellow Americans into fiery realms of convincing dreams through his unparalleled oratory, Ali danced around the Boxing arena with a smirk, light and nimble dancing feet, unpremeditated swift punches, brash and impetuous body language - convincing his fellow brothers that the only way to rise above circumstances is to fight your way through it. While Stoical Dr King would never utter a disparaging or disrespectful word about others; Ali, his antithesis, would go out his way to offend, demean and assert. While Dr King wished to politely remind and convince white America to accept the March of History in Hegelian terms, Ali wanted to show them he was better than most of them, hence there is no scope for debate or argument on that account. Such were the contrasting Men, who defined Black freedom in those tumultuous sixties. They were the yin and the yang of Civil rights movement, and swinging between the two lay the birth of Present Day America.
Last week, an aging and ailing Mohammad Ali died. In many ways, it was an end of an era of a remarkable man. Never before in the annals of a sport has any athlete caught the imagination of so many people from diverse backgrounds and geographies. From young to the old, from those who intensely hated him to those who loved him as their own self – all of them held him in their hearts in their own way. A mysterious spark of Ali's life resonated within each individual. There was a palpable mystique, charm ,demigod like status about Ali impossible to ignore, even under extreme provocation. When Parkinson's made him look half the man he was, that aura of impregnability continued to surround him. In 1996, Atlanta games, the trembling and shaking Ali walked up the Olympic steps to light the lamp. The world watched in Awe. Those twinkling eyes, smirky smile was enough to camouflage the deterioration of his body. And when the lamp was lit, Ali’s eyes were little wet. And so were those of millions around. That a man whose legendary boxing skills in the ring, whose fleet footed steps, lightening fast punches, raw arrogance , indomitable confidence in his destiny - could after years of physical affliction still muster inner courage and physical determination to stand up before the world - is true testimony to what Ali was, is and will be to future generations.
To write about his Boxing skills and victories would be superfluous. Volumes have been written, and better qualified have spoken. To me, Ali represents the quintessential Man who knew what he was capable of, and more importantly had the courage, gumption and audacity to live by it. He listened to his inner voice more deeply than most men would care to. When he refused to fight the Vietnam war. His simple, deeply mystical answer was “ No Viet cong soldier ever called me a nigger!!!” .That was his justification not to fight an unnecessary war. Nations and Governments can take a cue from this pithy statement. Well beyond his boxing days Ali contributed to and nurtured many important causes he strongly believed in. Age or disease couldn't stop him from living his life the way he wanted to. That childlike face continued to charm audiences wherever he went or whichever occasion he graced. It was a most complete life. Death was only an icing on the cake.
In his article in the Hindu, my favorite sports writer Nirmal Sekhar sums up the life of Ali as Sportsman and Boxer. It is worth reproducing:
"Nobody who has played the sport at the highest levels can be ranked alongside him. Not Don Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar; not Pele or Lionel Messi; not Michael Jordan or LeBron James. If Ali did have a successor, we are yet to witness that unique sportsperson perform…”
That says it all..
Thanks Ali for giving us a chance to see Greatness in flesh and Blood in our generation.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,

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