Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The dream of the flying sikh and cricket--Dr.Ishanand Vempeny

Dr. Ishanand Vempeny
I have on my table the March 28, 2010 issue of The Indian Express (Ahmedabad). It contains an interview by Shekhar Gupta, the Editor-in-Chief, with Shri Milkha Singh the Flying Sikh (Ibid. p.14). This interview belongs to the category of the well-known series under the title Walk the Talk shown in the NDTV 24x7 and published in The Indian Express. Here the Flying Sikh expresses his dream for India in athletics especially in track and field events.
He talks about the “Rs. 2 lakhs set aside” for any Indian who breaks his record. To the statement of the Editor that “Every Indian wants to be Milkha Singh” the great athlete responds saying: “But I’m saddened to note that it has been nearly 50-60 years since, with a population of 100 crores, we could not produce another Milkha Singh. I want to see that happen before I die, because I’m now nearing 80 years of age…. Before leaving this world, I want to see some young boy or girl from India pick up the medal that I lost in the Olympics, and our National Anthem be played and the Tri-colour unfurled…. If Milkha Singh can win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1958, then why is there no Indian winning now?” (art. cit. ibid., p.14).
If Milkha Singh lost an Olympic medal in 400 meters in the Rome Olympics by a small fraction of a second, Shrimati P. T. Usha (The Payoli Express) too lost a medal in another Olympics even by a smaller fraction of a second in 400 meters. Instead of licking her wounds, following the example of the Flying Sikh, she too started dreaming about some Indian girls breaking her records. She runs a sports school with utmost dedication and competence to prepare potential medal winners, not in cricket but in athletics, especially in track and field.
Recently, I happened to read about some other Indian sports-achievers who dream big for Indian Sports. No one doubts about the great achievements of Geet Sethi (more than ten times, world champion in billiards), Prakash Padkoune (The first Indian to become the All England Badminton champion) and Leander Paes (First Indian to win an Olympic medal in Tennis Singles and ten grand-slam victories in doubles). Among many things in common in these three Great Indian Sportsmen, what strikes me most is their dream for creating medal-winners for our country in the International Arena. Padkoune went about training in his school future champions without too much bothering about the Badminton Association, perhaps the greatest obstacle for realizing his dream. While Geet Sethi went on winning laurels for India, he kept up planning to create in India achievers in Sports. He soon found a ‘soul-mate’ in Padkoune with the same dream. Recently the duo found Leander as an Ideal companion to realize their dreams for India.
After the Beijing Olympics I received from an Ethiopian Sportsman a fairly long letter part of which I shall cite here: “I was impressed by your talks on sports to college students when you visited Ethiopia almost a decade back. I was one among the students who came to congratulate you personally after your talk. You pointed out how sports, especially Football, can build us up not only bodily or psychologically but also in the civil virtues like cooperation, enhancement of achievement motivation, ability to think about the total good of the team rather than individual good and the awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Your talk led me to foot-ball and for the last three years I had been the captain of the team of our region (Shashamane)”.
“What made me search for your address and write to you soon after the Beijing Olympics? When your archrival and neighbour China got more than 50 gold medals and many more silver and bronze medals beating even the Americans, your country could get just one gold medal and that too in an individualistic shooting event. But what shocked me most was that there were almost as many celebrations of this single gold medal in India as the celebrations of China for their more than fifty gold medals. In the Chinese TV shows the Chinese were laughing at the Indian celebrations for your puny little achievement. Though Ethiopia is a poorer and smaller country than yours we have been getting some Olympic Medals especially in long distance running including the Marathon. India’s fascination for Cricket seems to make her forget about other sports. Remember, this fascination for Cricket is only in some of the British Colonies. Thank God, Ethiopia was not colonized by the British”.
Cricket as a Banyan Tree
Who does not like to have a banyan tree near his house with its cooling shadows spreading far and wide? Not the trees or the herbs which are not allowed to grow because of the cooling albeit murderous embrace of the banyan tree. This is precisely what cricket does to Indian sports. True, cricket gives a lot of money and a lot of entertainment but it does not allow other sports, vitally necessary for the Indian youth, to grow and develop.
Cricket as the Drumstick Tree of an Indian Parable

There is a parable in a Gujarati textbook for primary schools. Once the maternal uncle of some four children whose parents died of malnutrition visited his orphaned nephews and nieces. The eldest boy and the girl next to him have got out of their teenage while the third is still a teenager. Except the youngest the three could work in the fields. Without taking any such initiative, they eked out a living with the income generated by a huge drumstick tree in their ‘kitchen garden’. The children served a fairly decent dinner for their uncle and watched him taking the meal with the youngest. The three excused themselves from sharing the dinner with him saying that they had a very good lunch and were not hungry. From his conversations with the children and from what he overheard at night from the hungry children grumbling and complaining about their cruel fate, he found out that the children almost exclusively depended on the income from this tree. At night the uncle cut-down the tree and disappeared from the children’s home, his own home and hometown. After two years when the uncle came back to visit the children, the eldest of the four fell at his feet and thanked him for his “kind cruelty”. Cricket in India is what the drumstick tree did for the children.
The following lamentation of Milkha Singh is the collective cry in frustration of so many of our sports achievers: ‘Cricket has driven down the standard of every other sport. And I blame the media as well. I want to be frank with you. The media hardly gives coverage to athletics or hockey or volleyball or any game apart from cricket’ (ibid, p.14). How true it is! Among the English Dailies, The Times of India (TOI), devotes four pages for sports and this Daily had recently an editorial article on Hockey. But when I looked at the four pages of TOI today (03-04-2010) all the four pages were full of cricket, especially IPL news, except for a small patch on Hamilton and F1 competition. The other newspapers especially the vernacular papers fair far worse.
The volleyball tournament recently held in Pune, proved that India can be a world beater even in games which need athletically built youth above 6.5 feet tall. India beat such world-beaters like the teams from USA, Australia, Italy and the like and lost to Brazil only in the semi-finals. But there was hardly any mention in our media about this great achievement. No mention of the ATP tennis tournament nor even of the Kabbadi World Cup.
Cricket from the point of Anand Siriyavan & Ashish Nandy
(Eating with Our Fingers…. Consuming Cricket, in <>, Dalit E-Forum published on March 4, 2002)
No team-spirit: “Indian cricketers have excellent personal records at the expense of the team… The more Sachin scores centuries, the less India wins” (Though I do not agree, Siriyavan proves his point with many data). He tries to point out that Dhanaraj Pillai’s hat-trick in hockey or Ronaldo’s hat-trick in football will not have such a fate.
Suited to Indian Character: He tries to make his point quoting the great social philosopher Ashish Nandy. We Indians are not seriously aware of the economic value of time as to late trains, late coming bosses, uncaring ‘babus’ in front of long queues have become part and parcel of Indian life. Think of the five days’ test cricket! The high caste Indians are unwilling to soil their pants leaving such games like football, hockey, kabbadi, etc. to the farmers, tribals, dalits and the like. The weakest aspect of Indian cricketers is fielding because of their unwillingness to soil their white pants, unlike the Australians for example. Ashish Nandy says that “There have been several occasions when up to nine out of eleven players have been Brahmins in the team” (TOI, Mumbai, March 24, 2007, p.13). Ashish Nandy considers belief in fatalism and dependence on luck (rain, worn-out pitches for one team, mist for the first inning, etc.) “gives a field-day to astrologers, bookies and commercial magnets” (art. cit., p.14).
Wanted Urgently for Mother India:
Children and youth with (i) physical fitness (ii) psychic firmness and balance, and (iii) discipline.
Youth with (i) competence (ii) dedication (iii) team spirit and (iv) the ability to see one’s strengths and weaknesses. A few thousand young men/women with these qualities can make our motherland a super-power. Individual sports like track and field and team games like hockey, football, basketball, volleyball and kabbadi can contribute much to produce such most needed and most wanted Indians.
A Humble Letter to the Sports Minister
Dear and Honourable Sir,
Luckily for India today, it is not a world-renounced ‘sadhvi’ (BJP’s time) who is our Sports Minister. You are a sportsman by your own right and you are deeply interested in making India a sporting nation. Besides, being known as an incorrupt minister, the money assigned for sports and sports persons would serve the cause of sports. By your dedicated and competent service to sports you can build up Mother India as a great sporting nation and as a great power.
Honourable Sir, a nation’s great wealth is not primarily its gold mines or silver mines but its people with the qualities listed above under the title “Wanted Urgently for Mother India”. Here it must be remembered that almost 70% of Indians are below fourty which means the number of potential sports persons in India run into millions, more than the population of countries of Olympic achievers like Cuba, Jamaica, Netherlands, Switzerland, Newsland and even South Korea, Italy and Australia. Let us build up the nation by building up the youth of our country.
Sports have become today also a political reality, ‘political’ not in the suicidal politics of the Sports Associations of India, but the power politics played by countries like China. China-US rapprochement began with the well known “ping-pong politics” initiated by the former. The Beijing Olympics was primarily a living and challenging political statement: “The time has come. If there are any Superpowers, we the Chinese and the US alone are. It is a matter of time for us to beat the Americans in their own games”.


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