Sindhu-Sakshi Medals: A wrong way to nurture Sports?

The winning of two “losing medals”, as British journalist Piers Morgan described them — a silver and a bronze– at the Rio Olympics sparked off a debate in the country. Morgan Tweeted that a “Country with 1.2 billion people wildly celebrates 2 losing medals. How embarrassing is that? ”
The August 24 Tweet brought forth a backlash from Indian Twitterati, including writer Chetan Bhagat. One of them called Morgan a “gross human being”. Another said a little country putting “great” before its name (Great Britain) was more embarassing.
The popular Internet social mediumTwitter also saw a war of words when hundreds of Tweets lambasted socialite writer Shobha Dey rediculed the Indian contingent to the Olympics as having gone there just for a fun trip to take selfies and come back empty handed.
Dey was trolled on Twitter for her insensitive quip. “The social butterfly writing titillating trash should change her name from Shobha Dey (day) to Shobha Rat (night, not the rodent),” said a WhatsApp post. In a hitting reply, articles were written about the rigours of training for the Olympics and how difficult it was to be eligible. Was all her writing trash as she did not win even a Booker prize?, she was asked.
There is no denying the fact that the Indian celebrations for Sakshi Mullik’s bronze in wrestling and P. V. Sindhu’s silver in badminton were disproportionate to the magnitude of their victories and certainly “wild” as the British journalist called it. The whole country went into a frenzy in giving them a rousing welcome and showering gifts and awards on them. No doubt their achievements were worth commending, but the hype at the celebrations smacked more of politics and one-up-manship than any encouragement to sports.
Politicians showered awards and gifts on both, at tax-payers’ expense and spent lakhs of rupees on organising public receptions at which politicians grabbed the spotlight more than the two girls who had to labour hard for years. The leaders wanted to share the attention the players were getting and pander to the vote-banks of the communities to which they belonged. Or they were racing with other politicians in bestowing largesse on them with public funds. Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media were abuzz with posts on the subject. One of them listed the bonanza bestowed on Sindhu.
1. AP Govt Rs. 3 crores
2. Telangana Govt 5 Crores.
3. Delhi Govt 2 Crores
4. MP Govt 50 Lakhs
5. All India Football Federation 5 Lakhs
6. Bharat Petroleum 75 Lakhs
7. Salman Khan 25 Lakhs
8. Jk Group 5 Lakhs
9. Badminton Association of India 50 Lakhs
10. Mukkattu Sebastian, An Indian Businessman 5 Million USD
11. Olympic Association of India 30 Lakhs
12. Haryana Govt 50 Lakhs
13. Railway Ministry 50 Lakhs
14. About 2000 Square Yards of Land in AP and Telangana.
15. Grade 1 Government Job in both Telangana and Andra Pradesh.
16. A BMW Beemer worth 2 Crores.
17. Mahindra’s top-in-line SUV from the company.
18. In AP 3 or 4 builders announced gifts of flats to Sindhu and her parents.
19. One of the country’s top jewellery chain’s brand ambassadorship — could be worth more than a crore. This comes to Rs.13.85 crores in hard cash, besides the cost of flats, plots, cars and endorsement money and promises of Class I jobs. Several such gifts were annunced for Sakshi too.
How many of these announcements would fructify and how soon is anyone’s guess, but no guess is needed as to how many of these very generous leaders lifted even a little finger to help her achieve the goal before she won the medal.
Some of the leaders speaking at the wild welcome shows did not even know the two girls’ names correctly. While the whole world was praising Pullella Gopichand for Sindhu’s achievement, Mehmood Ali, Deputy Chief Minister of Telangana publicly insulted him at the reception saying the government would provide a better coach for her future participation on world sports events.
Perhaps Ali had in mind that Gopichand, who had to mortgage his house to put up the academy which was given land by Chandra Babu Naidu governmen of Telugu Desam Party (alley of BJP and main rival of the Congress-backed Telangana Rajya Samiti). Gopichand had to go to court to scuttle the effort of the successor Congress government led by Y.S.R. Reddy to take back the land.
The grand Gacchibawli stadium where the reception was held was also the creation of the TDP regime which hosted the national games there. Naidu’s bid to use it for the Common Wealth Games was spurned in favour of Delhi – resulting in a major scandal.
Most of the pot-bellied politicians know nothing of sports and games and the only role they ‘played’ was to capture sports organisations for their influence and money. Those of them who did haved some playing experience, like AP’s Kiran Reddy who was a cricketer, S.M. Krishna of Karnataka who played tennis or Haryana’s Chouthala with his link to wrestling Akhadas, did little for sports or athletics when they were in power.
No doubt the two young women deserved all the gifts showered on them. But is that the way to ensure that in future world events and Olympics, India would put up a better show? What is needed is building up of world-class infrastructure and facilities and full encouragement to sports persons. Instead, we have politicians bringing groupism, nepostism and dirty politics into sports. Babus and netas pocket much of the money allotted, to enjoy foreign jaunts flying first class and putting up in star hotels, while sports persons are treated as menials and denied proper gear.
Another star who shone brightly at the Olympics, though she missed a medal by a whisker, was Deepa Karmakar of athletics who had to practice at a ramshackle gym and used improvised equipment she built herself from an old scooter. All three were raised to the sky after their return from Rio de Janeiro but left to fend for themselves earlier. Prime Minister Narenxdra Modi’s task force set up to raise the Indian standards for the next three Olympics, has a tough task ahead. A Pakistani cricketer who had declared that “all Muslims of the world” would be proud of his big achievement was criticised, but what about the claim of Sindhu being a ‘Telugu girl’ or the bid to call Sakshi a ‘Beti’ of Haryana – the main centre of India’s female foeticide?
That all the three are women is significant. The Haryana government promptly made Sakshi the face of its ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign. Something more concrete is nededed for Indian sports to grow out of sloganeering and half-hearted policies.

For the Indian girls at Rio… (can also go as a side box)
This most significant post among the many on WhatsApp is worth a read:
An Indian girl achieving in sports is like Alice of Wonderland running doubly fast even to stay where she was, as the odds are stacked AGAINST her.
They defeated the ultrasound that declared ‘it’ was a ‘she’.
They defeated the nurse declaring in a sombre tone ‘ladki hai’.
They defeated murderous parents or even worse those who keep them alive but kill their spirit every single day.
They defeated the odds against them …of parents “allowing” her to chase her dream.
They defeated the family pride that wants every Indian child to be a doctor or engineer.
They defeated the school teacher who said “it’s not a girl’s game”.
They defeated bad sports infrastructure and even lack of healthy food needed to fuel the fire.
They defeated a system where overweight foreign-travelling officials, who have only played Ludo as a sport, decide her fate.
They defeated the Dada-Nana who told her “good girls don’t wear short clothes”.
They defeated the Dadi-Nani who told her not to play in sun and become “kaali-kaluthi.”
They defeated friends who told her she needs to “control aggression and chill.”
They defeated the ‘pados waali Aunty ji’ who wondered “akele kahan-kahan ghumti hai aapki ladki.”
They defeated the million eyes staring at her legs and not noticing the brilliant game she played.
They defeated the Bua jee and Mausi jee who ask “tum shadi kab karogi.”
They defeated the journalist who asked her when she would “settle”.
They defeated the cynics who thought they were pouting and clicking selfies on a fully paid foreign trip.
So dare not take even a slice of her glory by calling her HUMARI BETI!
They have achieved what they have not because of us, but despite us!
If any parents can claim, it is only those who have only daughters or did not go on for more children hoping the next would be a son.


In Search of Indians.. in India

This was being written in a hospital. During almost a month spent outside Intensive Care Units, Operation Theatres and in wards, there is one thing that made me think deeply about and stirred memories: how we, in India, are not Indians but Kannadigas, Telugus, Maharashtrians, Biharis or……
It brought back memories of an editor, imposed on the local edition of ‘national’ (in reality ‘notional’) English daily, who was being introduced to the seniors there. “I hate Malayalis” was his instant reaction when introduced to a Malayali sub-editor and “I hate Kashmiri Pandits,” when it was the turn of a KP senior journalist.

Old friends occasionally remind me of a conversation piece I used to use 40 years ago to make people at informal get-togethers talk: “Give a Telugu man a million rupees and he would take the first train to Madras (now Chennai), try to produce a film and lose it all. A Bangalore Kannadiga would invest it in real estate and earn enough rent to live on. Give a Marathi manus the money and he would put it in a bank to live off the interest. A Marwari would lend it at high interest to double it in a year or two. A Gujarati would put it in business to make a lot of money, not wealth, while a Punjabi would start an industry, create jobs and add to national wealth.”
What made me think of these silly stereotypes about different communities was the fact that in all the major hospitals, the lingua franca of the nursing station is Malayalam (just as that of Marwari-owned Indian Express group till recently was not Hindi or English but Tamil). Over half century ago nurses in a Vidarbha town agitated, asking for rice which was scarce after the 1962 China war; they ate just rice alone (that too parboiled rice), as all of them – not just most – were from Kerala.
Imagine mid-1960s, when most towns were not as cosmopolitan as they are today. Imagine chuni-bhakar eating, Marathi-speaking Amravati town in land-locked arid Vidarbha and Kerala where it rained, rained and rained and you crossed rivulets every few miles and young girls from there who spoke nothing but Malayalam and even English that sounded like it. Coming hundreds of miles away, they kept hospitals there – and at equally far and unfamiliar places – running.
Some countries in the world today look to India for trained, dedicated nurses. And there would have been no nursing in India but for these young Malayali girls, an overwhelming majority of them Christians.
The argument that they came just because there were no jobs in Kerala is simplistic.That does not explain the tremendous sense of patience, dedication and compassion almost all of them show. Their Christian roots and belief in Jesus washing the wounds of a leper must have something to do with it.
Had Christianity been not so widespread in Kerala, God’s own country, that state may not have been the pioneer in the nursing profession.
Just when these thoughts were in my mind, a man who rose to eminence for a movement against Malayali pavement shop-keepers in Bombay (now Mumbai) was in hospital (perhaps being served by Malayali nurses). His Shiv Sena later spread the hatred to other groups too, but I don’t recollect his ever assailing the near monopoly of Malayali nurses.
The ‘sons of the soil’ could start roadside shops, sell duplicate goods or take up office jobs to end the dominationof Malayalis in these areas, but the daughters were not equally forthcoming to take up nursing, with its night duties and not-very-easy, often unpleasant, hard work.
This is not the occasion to discuss Balasaheb Thackeray, who is no more, or his ideology, but one cannot deny that the very mention of his names brings forth the hate-images most Indians have about communities other their own. It was not very long ago that most people (even educated) in the Hindi belt thought everyone in the South was a ‘Madrasi’, that Telugus used to refer to Tamil language as ‘aravam’ (unpleasant to the ear), that a Marwari was regarded as a ‘makkhichoos’ or kanjoos (miser), a Marathi a lazy ‘ghati’ or a Bihari as uncouth and backward. Sardars in north, Nadars and Chettiars in south have been butt ends of jokes for decades. In UP brainless, dull people are called ‘Balliatic’ – people of Ballia district. And it produced a former Prime Minister – the late Chandrshekhar!  Warari Manse (Vidarbha people) are supposed to be backward, unsophisticated. There are many more such prejudices.
Similar to these prejudicial stereotypes and mutual mistrust among communities and associating them with some professions.

Some jobs are traditionally linked to certain groups – like Malayalis and nursing.
In the days of the freedom movement there was a joke about Netaji Subhashchandra Bose addressing a predominantly-Tamil audience in Mumbai’s Chembur-King Cross area. The Congress then was split between the followers of Gandhiji and Netaji. Reportedly,
Subhash asked: “Gentlemen, are you moderates or liberals?” and the audience, in one voice, answered: “Sir, we are stenographers”.
Just as most stenos, at one time, were Tamilians, earthwork was (and to some extent is) mostly done by Telugu ‘Palamoor labour’ (Mehaboobnagar in Telangana was originally Palamoor), foundry work by Biharis, retail shop-keeping by Marwaris and Sindhis, timber trade by Gujaratis and taxi drivers (at least in Mumbai) were men from the UP-Bihar area. Locksmiths and duplicate key-makers are mostly Muslims, mainly from Aligarh (UP) famous for its lock-making industry. Most of the male cooks, who satisfy the hunger of many IT employees in Bangalore apartments, are from Odisha. A majority of the ‘pourakarmikas’ (sweepers) of civic bodies in Karnataka are from Andhra. A closer look will reveal many more such links. Say you are a Patel in USA and it would be presumed you run a motel.
How wrong today these stereotypes are need not be proved to any intelligent person.
I knew a senior Bihari journalist who was so impressed by the translation of a story by Masti Venkatesh Iyengar that he learnt Kannada to read his original works. A Tamilian, Viswanathan was a well-known Bengali film actor. Most actresses in Telugu today are from other languages. RangeyaRaghav, a Tamilian, was an eminent Hindi writer. P.V. Narasimha Rao spoke excellent Hindi and Marathi besides many other languages. Yester-year’s J. V. Raman (of DD) and today’s SitaramYechuri and Swami Agnivesh, all Telugus, speak better Hindi than quite a few Hindis. Those resorting to goondaism to “protect” Kannada are ignorant about three Gnanpeeth-award winning Kannada authors with roots in other languages – Masti in Tamil, Bendre in Marathi and Gundappa in Telugu. That is the greatness of Kannada. Such examples can go on and on.
The resources, geography and climate of a region influenced traditional occupations and led to cultural and behavioural peculiarities that created such stereotypes. With changing times the behavioural patterns changed. Comedian Mahmood’s ‘Madrasi’ said ‘ayyo’ in every sentence and spoke horrible Hindi. Today many South Indian politicians speak fluent Hindi (while hardly any northern leader can speak a southern language). Anyone who finds another’s language unintelligible and funny should know that his own tongue sounds just the same to the other.
And yet these stereotypes live on.
They may provide some fun when used for jokes. But they are dangerous if they lead to the “I hate….”  syndrome.