Probably, the weather had a hand in it. Almost a day had lapsed since the felicitation, but the marigolds were as if they'd been freshly plucked.
Strung together carefully to ensure the pattern wasn't disturbed --- orange followed by dark brown, the garland was a token of recognition,
which has taken long in coming from his place of origin. Wearing it all the way from the airport, Shiva Keshavan was reluctant to part with it even after reaching home.
Placing the Asia Cup and the gold medal at the centre of the seating area, he garlanded the wide-mouthed silver cup. He then stepped back to inspect the minor improvisation. Along with last year's acquisition from Nagano (Japan), again gold, it was a pretty sight. "I am treating it well so that it comes back next year."
It was said in wit but the undercurrents of apprehension were obvious. Though brief and partial, government support in the buildup to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver held out hope, and armed with his recent exploits, the exponent of luge applied under the sports ministry's National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) in July.
The mood in the two-man camp, wife Namita and he, was upbeat. A couple of sponsors on board, Keshavan had chalked up plans for the next two years. "In an ideal situation, the government takes care of your requirements and the sponsors your livelihood." But the rejection of his application has thrown them into turmoil.
If the ministry's perception that Keshavan's "performance has dipped" is beyond comprehension, equally baffling is the stand that the government "does not recognise winter sport". That he has little support from a faction-ridden federation makes it more difficult.
Whether government funding will come or not will not be known before a while. Right now Keshavan is figuring out ways of paying Yann Fricheteu, his French coach, who has been travelling with him since August, but will not be available after the World Cup qualifiers at Oberhof, Germany, next week for 'personal' reasons. On hold are plans to compete in a few World Cups.
Also on the agenda is the hunt for more sponsors, to help cover an annual budget of Rs. 1 crore. "Technical sponsors" is the terms he uses. "If a firm that manufactures steel comes forward, it will give me a chance to try out different varieties for the blades (on the sled)."
In a country with a poor tradition of winter sports, pursuing his passion was always going to be an uphill task. Soon after finishing school in 1999, he enrolled for a bachelor's course in Delhi University under the sports quota. Keshavan was stonewalled with remarks, "We don't recognise the sport, but can consider your case if you play basketball (a sport he was adept at) instead".
It was a "blessing in disguise" that a scholarship landed him at the University of Florence for gaining proficiency in International Relations. "Training in Italy helped me prepare for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin," he said.
The memories of encountering ignorance are many but what stand out are the reactions of two ministry officials. "Winter Olympics are not the real Games, show me something in writing which proves they are." Another was, "You might be an Olympian but are you a national champ?"
Amid the struggle, he hasn't forgotten his benefactors. A delayed flight to Montreal meant he missed the connecting bus to Salt Lake City, the venue of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Penniless, he hitchhiked to the US border but did not have the requisite $10 for the border fee. "A policewoman paid up," he said, eyes glistening.
A crash during practice at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics left him with a broken sled and an injured spine. Participation looked bleak till five Supreme Court jurists, after reading the news, came forward to fund the venture. The injury wasn't serious and armed with a new 'vehicle' he finished 29th.
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