Ashish Vaswani
Wrote this piece for my college magazine last year...

As I sit down to write this article, frantic journalists are busy interviewing a paanwala who served the beetle-leaf wrapped savoury to guests at Sania Mirza’s engagement. And there’s one channel that’s been endlessly publicizing about its hour long special report on ‘Sania ki sagaai ka menu’, which makes me realize that we live in a country where a sportstar’s personal life is bigger ‘Breaking News’ than his/her achievements in the sport itself. And this is just a case in point. Recently, when Vinod Kambli appeared on a desi rip-off of ‘Moment of Truth’, he ended up creating a whole new controversy about his relations with Sachin Tendulkar, which was really uncalled for.

In its 100 years of Olympic history, India has managed to bag a total of just 20 medals. On the other hand, just one Michael Phelps belonging to a country with a population of only 300 million people has managed to garner more golds than one whole country of 1.1 billion people put together. The progress of China at the Olympics has been phenomenal- right from being awarded the privilege of hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics to consistently finishing in the top rung of the medal tally. Then what is it that has been holding us behind in the sports arena for so long? Are we waiting for sports like kabaddi, kho-kho or even cricket, for that matter, to be introduced at the Olympics?

Cricket is a religion in India, and a very priestly one, I say. But why do other sports have an ‘OBC status’ in our country? Just because no soft drink brand ropes in hockey players to endorse their products? Or because when Vijender Kumar is in the boxing ring, there are no cheerleaders to inflate the number of curious eyeballs witnessing the match? Why are cricketers given a demigod status in this country? When the Indian Cricket Team returned to India after winning the T20 World Cup in 2007, thousands took to the streets to welcome them. The government showered taxpayers’ money on players from the squad who didn’t even face a single ball in the entire tournament. On the other hand, when the Indian Women’s Hockey Team returned victorious after winning the Asia Cup in Hong Kong in 2009, there was nobody to receive them at the airport. Moreover, they turned up for their own felicitation ceremony in auto rickshaws, much like the few players of the Men’s Hockey Team who faced a similar experience when they were invited to collect their Arjuna Awards.

All this, when the ‘Indian’ Premier League had to be shifted outside India just because it coincided with something as common in a democracy as KTs in the life of an engineering student- general elections. Maybe Indians are so obsessed with outsourcing that they decided to outsource a sporting grand slam out of its originating country. The whole ‘league’ idea was commendable in a day and age belonging to fanaticism towards Manchester United and Arsenal. But we made a global mockery of ourselves by publicly displaying our incapability to continue to handle what was our own brainchild.

It is not that India is not faring well in sports other than cricket. We have a talented bunch of youngsters in the form of Armaan Ebrahim, Saina Nehwal and Somdev Devvarman. It’s just that we need many more such players to make us proud. And for that to happen, we have to change our mentality. We have to be more open towards the idea of sport as a profession. If a youngster gets up and says that he wants to become a professional javelin thrower, it is most likely that he will be made a subject of scoff and ridicule by his friends, family, even his own parents. In all eventuality, he may be forced to take up a career that is more socially acceptable and in the bargain, India could lose out on a potential gold medalist. So, it is important to inject the Indian psyche with the idea that sport is as important a profession as medicine or engineering, or law or architecture. And that cannot be done overnight. The media will have a strong role to play if this transformation must occur. Making movies like Chak De! India and Iqbal are a step in that direction.

We need to understand that a nation’s progress in sport is an impression of its infrastructure, economy and social standing. Perhaps we do not have the large scale infrastructure required to establish and maintain an environment conducive to high maintenance sports like shooting, swimming and gymnastics. That explains why even Abhinav Bindra was forced to practice in his private shooting range before becoming the first Indian to win an individual gold at the Olympics. He was lucky enough to be able to have access to the kind of resources he needed. But what about the thousands of budding Abhinav Bindras and Saina Nehwals who are languishing in some remote corner of the country waiting for their talent to be tapped? Why is it that we are giving away our precious open maidans to make way for tall towers and residential complexes? Why isn’t a comprehensive selection scheme charted out for sports other than cricket? The solution to our problem lies in the answer to these questions. If we only channelize enough funds and guarantee better infrastructure towards sports, will we be able to uplift our sporting status on the world map. If we do not realize the importance of sports soon enough, it won’t be long before we lose whatever little glory we boast about now.
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Ashish Vaswani

Every once in a while, when I’m all alone
I wonder how over the years I’ve grown
From a naïve young boy with no worries or care
To someone who’s too lazy to even stop and stare
At the things that surround him in this quest called life
Most often confounded with only hardships and strife

My thoughts oscillate between future and past
They leave me perplexed, they leave me aghast
A thousand questions bewilder my mind
Whose answers I’ve always been curious to find
Eventually, I find more questions, answers I’ve none
And it all goes back to where I’d begun

I realize my loss, but guess it’s too late
And it’s all too easy to blame on fate
But deep inside I know what I’ve lost
The moments that passed will return at no cost
And you know, it doesn’t take a genius to tell
That this could just have been the warning bell

It’s easy to say that the fault was mine
But I must return to the present for things to be fine
So maybe it’s still not late enough
To hunt for the crest at the end of the trough
If there’s a right time to start, it sure is now
And I’m the one who must find out how

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