Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another Bite for Nadal

Another victory for Rafael Nadal. Now, anyone who reads my posts will realize that I am an indefatigable fan of Nadal. And yes, I am. Why not? Well, what is sport all about? Spirit, talent, stamina, strength, mental acuity and most of all steely nerves. And according to me, Nadal is 'controlled agression' in tennis. Attitude - Amazing.

A note in the Miami Herald after the dude won the medal
Rafael Nadal's eyes glistened when the Spanish flag billowed above the flagpole. He swallowed hard as "La March Real" played in the Olympic Green Tennis Center.
They don't do that for you at Wimbledon.
Monday, Nadal officially becomes the No. 1 ranked player in the world. The 22-year-old has reached the pinnacle of his sport through a stunning streak of tour and Grand Slam success.
But what happened to him Sunday - winning a gold medal for Spain, by beating Chile's Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets - was even sweeter.
"To win here, the feeling is a little bit more special," Nadal said. "In tennis, Slams are more important.
"But for the sportsman, the Olympic Games are more important than anything."
At every Olympics since 1988 - when tennis was reintroduced as a medal sport - there's talk that it doesn't belong here. The Olympics are not the sport's most important competition.......

And it's not an easy tournament. It muddies up the schedule. Nadal himself was already unhappy with how compressed the men's schedule was this summer. Then last week, rain delays forced competition late into the night here: Nadal was warming up at midnight for a singles match. After the end of competition Sunday, the players headed to New York for the U.S. Open, which begins one week from today.
But, in truth, the rich and famous tennis players always seem to embrace the experience. Andre Agassi was thrilled to win gold in 1996. Four years ago, Andy Roddick was wrecked when he was eliminated early. In Beijing, Roger Federer - who has always dreamed of an Olympic medal - acted like a giddy kid on Christmas morning when he won the doubles gold for Switzerland. Venus and Serena Williams, who won doubles gold Sunday, are committed to the Olympics and want to play in 2012.
And Nadal completely embraced the Olympic experience.
He marched in the opening ceremony. He stayed at the athletes' village, where he was the most popular athlete. Others skipped the village; Federer tried to stay there but only lasted one night, mobbed everywhere he went. Nadal was also besieged with photo and autograph requests, but he didn't seem to mind. He attributed his success on the court to the experience.
"The reason I won this title," Nadal said, "is because I have a fantastic time here."
Nadal is having a fantastic time everywhere: Paris, London, Beijing. He has won 38 of his past 39 matches, including the French Open and Wimbledon and finals, and now the gold medal. .
When he won the match - dressed in Spain's colors in a red shirt and yellow headband - Nadal fell spread-eagled on his back. When he regained his feet he launched a tennis ball out into the Beijing night as the Spanish fans - whose country is having an epic sports summer - cheered wildly.
Monday, Nadal will end Federer's 237-week reign as the world's No. 1 singles player. Federer has been completely gracious about Nadal's ascendancy.
"That's what I hoped," said Switzerland's flag bearer. "That if somebody were to take it away from me, he would have to play an incredible tennis schedule, win the biggest tournaments, dominate the game, basically. I think Rafa totally deserves it."
Sure, tennis may have more important tournaments. But isn't it great to have such perceptive athletes in the Olympics? Federer's sportsmanship credentials are long-established. Nadal is growing into his role, working on his English, and charmingly willing to participate in give-and-take.
On Sunday Nadal was asked by a reporter from Bangladesh if he felt responsibility to help the sport in underdeveloped countries.
"If Bangladesh wants to do something with me," Nadal offered. "You know my English is not perfect, so it is difficult to express something like this. If I can help with something to Bangladesh, the people just have to tell me and it's going to be a pleasure for me always."
Nadal may have more important tournaments. But he understands what the Olympics are all about.
"When I win here, I feel like I win for all the country," he said. "That's more special, no?
"I win for a lot of people. Not only for me."

I remember an article on the chap, wherein he said that his upbringing is instrumental in making him who he is. It seems Toni, his uncle as well as his coach, told him that the day he'd break a racquet in anger, would be the day his tennis ends... stops! Wow, thank God no one told that to McEnroe, or else we'd have been denied all the fireworks that underlined the tennis of the Borg era! So, Nadal won a gold medal in Olympic tennis - well, I guess he is at the right place at the right time! Wimbledon, French Open, World Number 1 ranking and an Olympic Gold. Can it get better? Flushing Meadows holds the answer.

A sad paradox however is Roger Federer. He tried over and over. But Roland Garros still evades him. He tried over and over. But the singles Olympic Gold eluded him when he was at the top of his game in 2004. He wept. Since he knew the worth of that round yellow medallion. Ask Roberto Baggio what it means to miss in a sport event that comes once every 4 years. Ask Zidane. Ask Federer.... Even the Nadal fan in me wished for a better story here.

These Olympics are all about nerves. A small lapse in concentration and boom... you're out for four years. Take the case of our boxer Akhil Kumar. Someone who could beat a former champion, loses in the next round? Why? Why do all our Indian athletes perform below their personal best at the Olympic stage? I say Indian, since Ms. Isinbayeva does not know how to break another person's world record. She is too busy breaking her own! 25 cms higher than her closest competitor? Wow!!! It all has to do with nerves according to me. The greater the mental power, the greater the sporting success.

So as we celebrate another record filled Olympic games, cheers to Nadal and his indomitable sporting spirit..........

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stop this nonsense

Here we are, celebrating 61 years of independence, and there, in the Kashmir valley, we have separatists flaunting their flags, their dissension and their dissatisfaction at being a part of India! Now, when we need a united India to fight her bigger problems of corruption, inflation, poverty, illiteracy and gender and caste discrimination, here are some people tagging onto the separation agenda. All the time, so many people keep harping, literally that the USP of India is her unity in diversity. So many cultures, so many languages, dialects. India is the bedrock of 3 independent religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainisim. We have embraced all religions and everyone is allowed to practise what they want to, as long as they don't end up being a menace for someone else. Now, in what way is this stance 'not secular'? In what way is the essence of Kashmiris jeopardized here? They seek independence you say? And we have journalists and columnists calling the Kashmiri struggle similar to the Indian struggle against the Raj! Now, does India bleed Kashmir for revenues? Does India milk Kashmir for industrial output and natural resources, and divert all such revenues to other places, leaving Kashmir high and dry, writhing in pain and suffering? Not really. India pumps in a huge amount of money into Kashmir, and prosperity is evident. We have figures that say that Kashmir has the lowest poverty rate in India! Now, I don't really think the Raj did that to India.

The biggest canker in the Indian soul is the politicization of democracy. In the name of democracy, almost everyone is given a free hand. We want to honor the words of everyone. But at what cost? We have Hurriyat leaders who are ostentatiously pro Pakistan. By opening up of the Muzaffarabad highway, we are inviting terrorists through other routes, terrorists who already have a free terrorism visa stamped by ISI and the Pakistan army. And who endorses these views? Politicians, all with their own vote-monging agenda! They have their own personal agenda, and who better supporters than gullible youths, who can quite comfortably be brainwashed into believing what is best for them? The world condemns terrorism, and some people see personal gains in the act. Is democracy and patience justified in condoning such acts? How long should we as a nation brook such nonsense? How many more jawans and majors, true sons of the soil who are sacrificing their lives for the sovereignty of the nation, should we lose? How many more war widows must we create? How many more orphans must we leave in the wake of the J&K issue?

Separation and partisan politics, if it were the solution, 61 years ago, Patel and Nehru wouldn't have embarked on a mammoth mission to integrate the nation. They wouldn't have gone on discussion after discussion with every princely state and whimsical ruler to integrate with India. Today, if we were to acquiesce to the separation requirements of Kashmiris, tomorrow, Punjab will say they want a separate Khalistan. Can we live without our Punjabi and Sardarji brothers? Next, Tamil Nadu will say they want to go their own way. Would we allow that? Forget those states, if Mumbai and Bangalore decide to be independent, fending for themselves, feeding only themselves and protecting their frontiers, without contributing a cent to the center, would J&K, Punjab, AP, Karnataka, MP survive?

A nation is built by unity. Unity in spite of being poles apart. It is a marriage. A marriage of ideologies. A compromise and a willingness to co-exist. If a Hindu-Muslim marriage can survive the odds, in spite of family pressures, why can't a nation full of discerning young people stand up and speak sense to the separatists and the politicians who provide their tacit approval? Why not find a way to live in peace, without bringing religion in the way. If tomorrow the USA were to declare Pakistan a terrorist state and deploy troops all over Pakistan, would Kashmir still want to join Pakistan. And if they were so 'islam-friendly' and 'Indian secularism averse', does Saudi Arabia want them to renounce Kashmir and come over en masse to stay in Saudi Arabia?

I don't speak as a Hindu. I speak as an Indian. I myself have very close friends from all religions. We share our joys, our events and we understand that life is beyond all such petty things as religion, community and hatred! But there is a limit to what India can bear. A limit to her tolerance. She is after all a woman and 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'. So do not speak separation and independence. Prosperity and happiness lie in togetherness and unity. No Jai Kashmir and Jai Madhya Pradesh. But Jai Hind, Jai Bharat - One India at all time.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I am...........

When I was born, my father and my grandfather sent out sweets to every household in the village. For my father, I was his first born, for my grandfather, I was the first born of his first born. I was treated like a prince all through my childhood. My Paati never cared for any other kid but me. I was the apple of her eye, the twinkle of her life. Legend has it that when there was a scare of a thief in the house, Paati picked me up and her box of valuables and went over to the next house, unmindful of what happened elsewhere or to anyone else. I loved the attention. I would always get what I wanted to eat, I could decide to bunk school one day, and would be permitted to do so, just because I was who I was.

As the years went by, I got younger brothers and sisters, cousins, all younger to me. I loved them all. It came to me naturally. I suddenly had a bunch of playmates, who if I wanted, I could bully as well. But somehow, I was always the protective umbrella, shielding them from all harm. My youngest sister is 20 years younger to me. For me, she is and will always be the little doll I saw her like when she was born. Big-eyed and plump. I bought her her first pattu paavadai. I remember a Diwali, when I was to go back to my village from Chennai, and she was waiting anxiously for me to get her her Diwali clothes. My mother kept cajoling her to get something else ready for Diwali, but she had refused. She would wear only what I would bring for her. I got delayed in meetings and I reached my village at 12 at night. I went straight to the tailor and made him stitch the dress all through the night and landed up at home with the dress, all to see that beaming face of my doll.

Even more years passed. My cousin sister realized that she cannot have children, and she came running to me. I went with them to the adoption agency and walked with her through the entire situation. Years later, she loses her husband in a car crash in USA, and she calls me up and asks me poignantly what she should do and how she can raise her kid alone. And I have to take the bold step of telling her to be brave and face life as it comes. I have to be the bolster that supports her through her life. My sister breaks her hand and needs to undergo a surgery. She calls me up saying she is scared. I fly in the next day and sit through the gruelling 6 hr surgery. My cousin brother's wife realizes that her husband is cheating on her, and she calls no one but me, and asks me what to do! And yet again, I need to take a wise decision and help her through her crisis. I have my moments, when I wonder how I should find the strength to absorb everyone's pain and yet be strong enough to support them. I wonder why, the first born is always expected to have the broadest shoulders. I wonder why, everyone looks up to me when they are in pain.

And then I realize, its all because of a promise I had made when I was born. A promise that I was made to make, since I was the first born. A promise that needs me to be superhuman. I am the bolster, the support for my whole family. I am..... the Big Brother.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy Independence Day - 61 years of aspiration

Today, 61 years ago, we were freed from the clutches of the British Colonial reign. A momentous achievement indeed for the founders of our nation, who discarded money & a cushy lifestyle, and donned Khadi to be able to live in India ruled by herself. They had stars in their eyes, as they built a nation brick by brick, uniting, educating, employing Indians - Independent sovereign Indians. They dreamt about an India - industrialized, rich, powerful. They dreamt of Indians - united in equality, educated, employed, satisfied, happy.

Today, 61 years later, I am tempted to ask, are we there yet? Are we even a tiny percentage of that yet? Well, not really. We still have discrimination based on caste in the remote rural parts of India. Well, reservation compounds the problem. Reservation is also a form of discrimination, wherein we are embossing the caste divide. We try to wipe out caste differences and the discriminated people try to forget the past, but our vote-mongers cannot allow this to just fade away! Higher education, which has been and will always be our USP as Indians is in serious jeopardy, as we become a politicised population and not a meritocratic population. Female infanticide and foeticide is an evil that looms in remote rural India. Corruption is still sky high. The crude, ugly form. One needs to shell out Rs. 2500 for a Rs 600 activity, in order to feed the corrupt. Our bridges and flyovers take years to get completed. Infrastructure is crippled. Pollution is a threat waiting to raise its ugly head. Terrorists have a field day in India, targeting poor, innocent people, over and over and over again. Inflation is no doubt high as well.

Whew! But then, life is never like driving on an autobahn! We have our issues. But our issues are not as full blown as it is in other countries. Ok, I agree, no comparisons. But well, in 61 years, we have risen from a plundered colony to a future economic superpower. Kudos to Dr Manmohan Singh, who has silently but surely forged India's path to the world. At a time, when India was teetering on debt, we started economic reforms. And now, the Indian railways is the only profit making railway enterprise in the world, in the category of its scale and reach. We still live by our principles. Never once have we made an aggressive move over any other country, but we have succeeded in thwarting 2 such attempts by our 'honorable' neighbors. We are not trailblazers in sport, but we have won some medals. A little nurturing and some time, will take us there. And in all these years, we do have a cricket World Cup, and a T20 World Cup in our fold!

Our strength is in our youth, our people. They, at least most of them aspire to make India proud. One of my friends remarked the other day, that many of his friends in US, who have migrated from India, are open, and sometimes keen to come back, after raking in some moolah. But the same cannot be said of immigrants from say China, or anywhere in Africa. They seemed to have run away, since they could not stand the crime and human rights violations. So, our super educated youth, with a will and a wish, are not averse to coming back and building India. And I have to conclude with one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies - Shawshank Redemption - "Hope is a good thing. Maybe one of the best things. And a good thing never dies." JAI HIND!

Independence day - A moment for a memory

The true meaning of Independence day becomes apparent when we are not anywhere near Indianness. Last year, we were all working on Independence Day. For the first time, we felt the need or the value of that holiday. Usually all we do on I-Day is louse around and enjoy the day off. But not this time. So, all we Indians, gathered together and decided to dress up like Indians or at least wear colors from the Indian flag. We wanted to sing the anthem and generally assert that we were Indians. But then, we were told that those activities may not be brooked too much. Plus, who wanted to mess with the client, when he was already at our throats, waiting for an opportunity to draw blood??? So, there we were all dressed up as well as we could. All of us kept up the spirit, including some desis at the client place. We all were proud of being Indian, especially in a foreign place. I guess it was more of the pride in being unique, but yeah, our patriotism was at its max! I guess, given the fact that we were in a totally Indian – oblivious setting, gave us a bigger wish to prove our uniqueness. You know, the ‘I celebrate what you can’t understand’ sort of defiance. Well, Zengin remarked that we should go to the Brit there and tell him, “ Aaj hi ke din hamaare logon ne tumhaare logon ko dhakke maar ke bhagaaya tha!”

We went for a desi lunch at Taj, complete with sweets, and celebrated the lunch as though it were a day of very high significance in our rather insignificant lives. At that time, Ash asked a question, I still haven’t been able to find the answer to. We were all harping on and on about ‘my country’, being first rate citizens, a sense of belonging, a sense of identification with the culture, the race. So the question was – ‘Do you really think all that makes a difference? I feel that any country is home, as long as I have friends and family there.’ I was vehement in denying that, saying I loved the essence of my land and so on, but on hind sight, looking at the everyday struggle to survive, in terms of crowded trains, traffic, a feeble infrastructure, corruption, ineffectiveness of leaders and the like, I am being forced to reconsider my stance. So, please do comment on what your take is, on this point, because sincerely, I haven’t been able to make up my mind!

And then, after thoroughly enjoying lunch, we all got back and gathering together, we Indians posed for pictures. Indians united in independence. Jai Hind!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A gold - at long last...

Some years ago, when Leander Paes won a bronze medal for India, in a school elocution competition, I decided to slam India’s sport orientation and motivation with a speech titled – ‘900 million Indians and only one medal, that too – Bronze’. The speech was well received, but well, it was a school stage, not a public arena where the powers-that-be would take notice. We did improve thereafter. Silver and now, at long last, we have won our long awaited Gold medal! Wow. A truly momentous achievement indeed! The first gold medal for India since 1980. Even bigger – the first gold for an individual event. EVER! Wow, am I proud. And if I were Mr Abhinav Bindra, I would have been screaming with joy all day and all night. (guess that’s why I am not Bindra – since Beijing has strict pollution regulations, and screaming equals noise pollution – bad joke.) But our hero portrayed a calm and composed countenance, and all along said that he did not think of the pressure and the meaning of the win. How is it that all sportsmen act that way? Rafa wasn’t thinking of what the Wimbledon win would mean, as he stepped into Center Court this year. Federer was not thinking of points and ranking as he went to Cincinnati. Wow! How do they do that? Do they really do that????

The first medal came in Moscow for hockey, in ’80 and this one, in ’08. Talk of the circle of life! I do sincerely hope that the next one comes much earlier than 2080 though! Just this morning, as I looked at the papers, I saw news splashes all over the sport columns. ABC – fails to make a mark, X disappoints and I was truly exasperated, wondering why we never manage to perform. The gold certainly assuaged some amount of the disappointment, but we do have a big picture to worry about. China, till some years back, never participated. But then they suddenly made an appearance, and what an impact. The dragons enter where and when they are sure of stupendous success! America, sends a huuuuuuuuuuuge contingent. A kid with knowledge of basic probability would know that the chances and numbers of medals would be much higher as the sample space increases. And we send a teeny weeny contingent, a portion of which is least bothered about the games!

The answer could lie in three aspects. One, we need to encourage sport. Even in a city like Mumbai, u don’t find many schools that encourage sport on a large scale. Even if they did encourage sport, it is mainly cricket. And the nation salutes a Tendulkar and a Dhoni, while a Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is relegated to the sidelines, till the Olympic games come along. So you tell me, who else would have the motivation to want to be a sportsperson here? We have chess grandmasters, women hockey players, all of whom silently go and win championships, and no one takes notice. I was appalled once to see the mention of the women’s hockey achievement as a corner piece on the last page of the Times, and an Indian cricket team loss made the front sports page. Its just a case of displaced importance. And unfortunately, our sport ministry commissions appreciative awards after someone, of his own motivation and drive, achieves something. And then, we have the disastrous ill-treatment of sportspeople, wherein post retirement, they live in poverty, a news piece carried by the papers for some time and then cast away. Literally!

The second aspect could be the coaching – physical and psychological. Physical coaching no doubt happens. But at the crucial moment, nerves get the better of the sportspeople. Case in point - Anju Bobby George, last time. She fell below her own personal record at a time where it mattered most. So, maybe, if we could find out why our achievers falter at the last minute, we could perform better.

And finally, unless our participation increases, we cannot even dream of the statistics to swing in our favor.

Today’s medal, no doubt will go down the annals of history as a major milestone, but I wish and I guess every Indian wishes to see the tricolor at the head of the medals tally. And one day, as we Indians become well-rounded individuals, who have the brains and the sportsman spirit, we will one day rise and shine.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

India at the Olympics

The whole world is speaking of the Bird’s nest, the coming of age of China and the spectacle, called the Olympics. The opening ceremony was nothing short of wonderful, breathtaking, to say the least. The sheer volume and scale was impressive. 80 world leaders – PMs and chancellors – Putin, Sarkozy and good ol Bush, the King and Queen of Spain, (another stint after Wimbledon this year), were present cheering for their teams from the spectator’s arena. There are two televised events that help jog my geography – The Miss Universe Pageant and the Olympics. Seriously, how else would I be able to remember places like Aruba, Samoa and Djibouti while playing Name-Place-Animal-Thing? Although the Olympics are associated with a better legacy, and their motivating origins were a lot more noble! But on the more applauding side, it was heartening to see participants from Burundi (which topped the list of the World’s saddest nations), Afghanistan, and Iraq. For these people, the Olympics are a BIIIIIIIIG DEAL!!!!

Apparently not for our loved sportspeople. Yes, I am speaking of our Olympic contingent. Dapper young men, all clad in traditional Sherwanis and the women? Well no sense of decorum and respect whatsoever. Sania Mirza, for instance, clad in shabby sportsgear, to say the least, chewing on the annoying piece of gum! The reason – these women did not have assistance to drape a saree! First of all, does a 20 something woman need to be helped to drape a saree? Especially when the trend today is to wear a sari for all occasions, from farewell parties to weddings. Secondly, if someone in the contingent was wearing a sari, didn’t that signify ‘assistance’? It is plain arrogance and the weird trait in people of our generation, wherein they take pride in not knowing to speak in their mother tongue or for that matter wearing a sari or celebrating anything Indian.

To me, and I guess for a large part of the Indian audience, this actually amounts to defiance and high-handedness. Well, if a global stage where you represent India is something very menial and in Maya Sarabhai’s words – ‘sooo middle class’, please refrain from the same. We don’t even win as many medals as warrants the cultivation of such snobbish and ‘blasé’ behavior. In comparison, the Spanish contingent, that contained Tennis World Number 1 in waiting, Nadal, was more cohesive and appealing. Likewise the Swiss team led by Federer. Then walked in the American contingent, as harmonious as harmonious can be. In spite of greats like Davenport and Gay, there was not an ounce of the nonchalance that we Indians showed. In what way are we superior to those teams as we stand today, future results notwithstanding? Even if we suddenly improve our performance, and win some medals, are we bigger than the Olympics? Can we show defiance and disrespect to the games? No one can rise to that level, definitely not any sportsperson from our contingent.

If only we managed to bring in some more discipline in things and acted serious in everything we did, we could perhaps aspire to be a true superpower, respected and venerated……