For most sportspersons present at the Ashok Hall on Thursday, this was their first climb up the Raisina Hill. The air was perfume laden. One felt accommodated and at ease, such are the massive halls of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the address of the Sports Day ceremony.
The guests were in by 3.30 pm. Cameramen and broadcast journalists grabbed their spots to the left, the award winners on the right. The centre-stage was reserved for President Pratibha Patil, vice-president Hamid Ansari and Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar.
At 4.30, the diminutive Patil arrived to a drum-roll and those present stood up to the National anthem.
The business end of the meeting was underway right after: Manavjit Singh Sandhu was declared the Khel Ratna. Then started the run-down of awards where the announcers, speaking in Hindi, had just one word for every single winner — utkrisht (excellent). Not very imaginative public speaking.
The loudest round of applause was reserved for Haryana’s Geetika Jakhar — she is the first woman to win an Arjuna for wrestling.
The run-down got repetitive. There was no word from the winners on their stories of blood, sweat and tears. Not even the President’s take on them. One found amusement by imagining this were the ESPY Awards and Jwala Gutta, dressed exquisitely in red, was here to be crowned the Most Glamorous Athlete.
Saurav Ghosal, India’s best bet in squash, looked pleased. “The President said I must keep up the good work,” he said.
Koneru Humpy’s father, Ashok, is one of the Dronacharya winners. Humpy had won an Arjuna in 2003. Ashok seemed a reluctant talker but said, “These awards will encourage us to work harder.”
Also seen in the crowd was Kapil Dev. With women’s cricket captain Anjum Chopra winning an Arjuna, one wonders if Kapil chatted her up on starting a women’s ICL. Now that would be a story. After a photo-op with the president, the winners and the spectators disappeared for snacks. Then malai chicken tikka disappeared in five minutes. Now only if eating were an Olympic sport.