There was a time when I, armed with my uncle’s precious air gun, would attempt to shoot crows from behind the grills of a window. The success rate of my hits will remain a secret that I will take with me to the crematorium. (I have bird-loving friends, I’m afraid.) But I never did graduate to shooting water balloons perched on a maid’s head. The closest I came to travelling in that direction was when I toyed with the idea of making someone dance on shards of glass while saying encouragingly, “Naach, Basanti naach.” But then, I was never much of a disciplined chap.
Which is something that clearly Abhinav Bindra is. But what I really like about our latest Bushy Browed Golden Boy (till last week that tag went to the more bushy-browed but less golden Jaswant Singh) is not so much that he has broken a national jinx that has been afflicting the country ever since we decided to pitch ourselves as a spiritual lot but that he didn’t care to bull shit after he won the gold. And what better time to show that than just after you’ve won the first individual Olympic gold medal representing India.
With television journalists attached to the other end of microphones asking Bindra questions ranging from ‘So how do you feel?’ and ‘How will you celebrate?’ to ‘What now?’ and ‘What is your message to Indians?’, I was afraid that he would succumb to the intense pressure and reply, ‘Chak de India!’ or some such lusty thing. Uh-uh. Bindra was gloriously blase, replying to the amphetamine-munching journos as if he was being asked his PAN number: “What else, yaar. I’ve won a gold. Yeah, it’s great.” On the blog, Bindra was even more forthcoming about why he wasn’t too forthcoming about being part of Indian sporting history. “I ran away from all the media and official attention yesterday after I had done the bit I had to do with my new-found status.” Effectively, he saw himself as part of sporting history, not a subset of the gloriously petal-scattering story of India Shining.
And why on earth would he stand in line behind Manoj Kumar any way? Let’s be honest. Do you honestly think that we would have knotted our patriotic brows in utter consternation on seeing Sania Mirza and Sunitha Rao in track suits, as opposed to the Bharatiya naari saris approved by Suresh Kalmadi, if they had won a medal? Frankly, nobody now dares or cares to make a hulabaloo about the fact that Bindra was actually sleeping — as he told the media later — when the opening ceremony march past was on.
So there it is: one chap’s dedication paying off on the biggest of the big stages — with the nation basking in his glow that is a bit closer and stronger than the shine we sunbathe in when non-Indian citizens like Salman Rushdie or V.S. Naipaul make it to the Big News. As for dedication that involves a manic obsession towards the physical-cum-sporting side of life, we’re all overawed by Bindra. We’ve even temporarily stopped being horrified by the rigors that the Chinese make their gymnasts go through when they are in pre-school (putting them up for Olympic display as soon as they may have graduated from kindergarten), or that a Michael Phelps has put himself through since he knew how to spell his surname correctly.
But any one remembers Budhia Singh? Yup, that poor, poor thing whose coach Biranchi Das was arrested by the police on May 8, 2006, on suspicions of torture? True, it was Budhia who accused Biranchi of withholding food and beating him. But it was the late Biranchi Das — shot dead in April this year by unidentified assailants — who made Budhia, what we in newspapers call, a Running Story.
For a country where Guinness Records are made by folks growing the longest moustache or the longest set of nails — basically anything that doesn’t really require much physical enterprise — Bindra’s individual, ruthless dedication is something I will celebrate by raising my right arm for 20 seconds on a Sunday afternoon. As for Sania, get that cramp fixed, will you?