Saturday, August 13, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 35

Jottings : Slice of life  - 35

To stand upon the sacred Olympic podium once in an athlete's life time is a commendable achievement. But to walk up to it twenty times in twenty years in a span of five Olympic Games places Michael Phelps in a rarified region of sports that is not readily accessible to ordinary mortals. Granted that Phelps is naturally gifted, some may call it blessed, to possess a wingspan considerably broader than the best of swimmers. Granted his ankle is double jointed which gives him additional flexibility to propel himself. Given all these natural endowments, even then, to achieve what he has achieved is something extraordinary and special. The sheer physical endurance, excellence , sharpness, commitment and above all passion and discipline to keep going at it for such length of time at the highest echelons of the sport, only proves that the limits of Human possibility still remains undefined and  unmarked. And when a Man sets his goals high enough, nothing seems impossible.This is, after all the Greek ideal of Manhood. What started 200 hundred years in Greece as a test of Human endurance and strength to please the multitude craving for entertainment, and a platform for strong Spartans  to win the attention of their commanders and kings, and in some cases, eligible ladies; has now become the greatest spectacle of Human spirit in the modern age. Uncorrupted still, attracting the best Men and Women from all countries, placing exacting standards of measurement and quality, the games continue to remain a proof of what is possible when we put aside our national, communal ,religious baggage aside, and compete and collaborate in the spirit of being just Human, and nothing else. 

But to me, the young Gabby is the star so far. Michael Phelps only consolidated his position as the greatest in this Olympics. He had already achieved historical status years ago and it didn't come as a great deal of surprise that he performed well once again. But for Gabby, it's a different story altogether. Like her counterpart in Ballet, the graceful Misty Copeland( about whom I had written earlier this year) who redefined Ballet dancing for new generation of Black Americans for whom this art form was still an unreachable fruit; Gabby's brilliance and achievement in in the Gymnastic arena opens up a whole new vista for her people. A few months ago, during one my classes, a participant whose daughter goes to same school where Gabby practices in Texas, told me " Bala, there are 200 hundred young girls in that school. All of them top class, and invariably white. Gabby is almost an institution there. It's funny how when they hold internal competitions , students are mentally resigned to compete only for second and third  places. When asked they say " of course, Gaby is de facto first place... , we are not even close by..”. It is natural talent and capacity for hours and hours of hard work that got Gabby where she is today. She is not the archetypal beauty one would expect to see, she does not have the graceful figure of Gymnast; but one look at her, you will see in you eyes the grit, the vision and the tremendous confidence that she is the best. A chiseled, muscled body correctly proportioned for this sport, and a balance which makes all uneven bars seem childishly simple. Even her imperceptible mistakes turn out to be beautifully done. When she walks on the arena, in my eyes, she resembles a Lady cheetah all warmed up, ready for the kill. 

Gabby’s performance is of particular importance this year, when the United states has seen some of the  old, buried or sublimated racial hatred rearing its ugly face once again. The question of white and Blacks gained or gaining undue media and print time. Can there ever be an categorical answer to such questions of racial superiority. The answer is “No”, not in the realm of intellectual debate,or academic studies, or historical imperatives. It can only be found in action. When a young Gabby can raise herself to prove she is the very best possible, then all these questions die a sudden death. How can ever disagree with concrete action. In fact, it will be great injustice to Gabby’s achievement if we were to rank it as a Black woman winning a Gold medal; It is to be understood a young lady’s unnerving commitment, talent and passion consummating in this glorious achievement. And that is where the Olympics plays center stage show casing Humanity as a whole and not broken into false categories of color and creed. From the time  great Jesse Owens won the sprinting medals in a Nazi ridden Germany to Gabby, whose almost flawless performance this year - the message is clear: Color of skin or race doesn't matter. All that matters is the capacity to bring out the very best out of each Human being regardless of where they come from. 

I have reading a lot of messages and posts in social media on India’s inability to perform at world stage in sports. Few prominent writers and journalists, sitting in comfortable offices or homes have suggested that our athletes are more interested in selfies than medals. It is not our duty to argue against the credentials of such writers or their ability to understand athletics. Each one to themselves and their opinions.  But the fact remains, why is that a country of over a billion people cannot produce athletes of quality consistently. Without doubt,we have had some greats in Sprinting, Hockey, shooting and of course Cricket and tennis, but why cant we showcase a full fledged contingent of world class performers in all areas of sports, like our  neighbors China or Japan. The answer is very simple, and not far to find. As a society, we are not yet ready to gamble our children’s future on Sports and athletics. Period..To compete at the highest levels of physical sports, one must start early, persist in full time practice, be coached and trained for perfection and  more importantly must have access to good financial resources to sustain infrastructural need for such demanding training. Add to this, the unconditional support and love of Parents, allowing their kids to pursue sports as a career, and not push them to balance between academics and their talent. In developed countries, the entire system is geared to help potential boys and girls grow in sports , but In india (a developing  country), we are still struggling to find decent basic education and means of living for Millions of kids, let alone the time and effort needed to spot talent in sports. The fact that we are able to produce any sportsman at all is commendable, and an indication that we are witnessing a mobility in upper middle classes prepared enough to invest in quality coaching and facilities required. If history can teach teach us anything , it is this : a society can only release its energies towards arts, sports and other social activities once its basic needs are fulfilled. Not otherwise.  Given this yard stick, it will take a little more time for us to compete at the level of Olympics. We are slowly getting there. There is no hurry either. The important thing for us to understand is there is no disgrace or shame in not being able to do so now. Every country , like every individual, has its own period of growth. Seventy odd years as an independent nation has occupied us with very different issues, and we had to prioritize our interests. Sports was certainly not among our top concerns. It will,in due course, as the process of development matures and globalization becomes more pervasive. I am certain, a day will come , when India will be seen among the top in the tally of medals. I may not live to see it, but that alright, The march of time is not measured in a single life time. As long as we are marching there, we should remain optimists.

God bless…

Yours in Mortality,


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