I know you've been following the weight-lifting, gymnastics and track and field events at the ongoing Commonwealth Games (CWG) with the kind of goggle-eyed interest you saw your child grow into a tub of lard. Some of you may even be showing early symptoms of developing an appetite for bondage and other strenuous rexin-related activities by keenly following cycling and gymnastics — both 'disciplines' that I insist on strictly viewing respectively as a hernia-inducing mode of transport and a display of don't-try-this-at-home stunts on par with blade-swallowing.
I'd make a calculated guess that into a week of the event that subtly reminded us that we and the people of Kiribati (which became independent from Britain in 1979) were once loyal to the same Corgi-breeding family, many of you have become avid followers of the best lawn bowlers, hopper-skipper-and-jumpers and swimmers the former British colonies can throw up. It's another matter that for me, barring genuine sports that involve actual contests like tennis, hockey, boxing and wrestling, the rest of the games on display at the CWG are either fitness programmes given a competitive twist (I'm sure 'treadmilling' and 'exercise biking' are sports under consideration as I write this) or Guinness Book of World Records-type of data-mining (Who's the fastest? Who's the highest? Who's the longest? Who's the most pointless?).
But the 'sport' that must take the cake, tablecloth and the table itself has to be synchronised swimming. What do you say to a performance that has a few girls whom you can see half-a-body at a time, poking their legs up — in unison too! — and throwing rictus smiles at the crowd as if they're continuously letting it rip under the water? Frankly, give me the cheerleaders on the T20 cricket ground or the dancers in the pole booths to rate any day.
As an ex-swimmer with lumbar problems, I became familiar with that peculiarly Bengali 'art form' called the water ballet: a full-blown production with spotlights on costumed people bobbing up and down and twirling their hands in the pool playing Ali Baba or some Tagore character with the lines and songs playing over the public address system. Synchronised swimming is simply a less entertaining form of water ballet.
While I'm sure some of you will glean some heartwarming story of grit and determination from the case of Avani Dave — who representing India in synchronised swimming last week finished at the bottom of the pool after learning her moves (sic) from YouTube clips — the fact is that making pretty gestures from a pool is, like kittens playing on somebody's sofa, fodder strictly for the YouTube.
Scotland's Lauren Smith, who won the bronze medal at the event, defended her sport valiantly from dry land: "People take the mickey out of us because of the make-up we wear, but it's a really hard sport. It may look easy, but you try it." Rajinikanth's old trick of flicking a cigarette into his mouth may look easy, but you try it. I still can't see the International Olympic Committee giving the nod to 'cigarette flicking' as a recognised sport.
As a bone fide spectator (read: voyeur), it's not as if I don't recognise the overpowering beauty that can accompany a sport in play. If anything underlined the religious experience that can come about while watching a sport, it had to be the Mohali Test between India and Australia. Last week, life itself crunched into undulations, swings and stretches of vertigo over five days. We were made to simultaneously recognise the violent beauty of a contest and the gut wrench of a battle that was there to win or lose. That is a sport. These other things are games.