Having been kept on my toes the entire morning and a better part of the afternoon by my hyperactive three-year-old, playing a waiting game at the airport late in the night was the last thing on the mind. The very mention of the assignment placed the body and mind in a state of revolt.
But I nodded in assent because it was not everyday that an Indian reporter gets a chance to cover the homecoming of an Olympic gold-medallist. Besides the occasion, life had offered another chance to get a monkey off the back, one that had clung on for 10 long years.
Ending a 32-year-old title drought at the Asian Games, the triumphant Indian hockey team was to touch down from Bangkok on a chilly December night. I was set for the mission when madness gripped me. Feigning illness, I had dropped out. Whether it was cowardice or a writer’s block that prompted me to take the extreme step, I am not certain. But on Wednesday, I was definite. Despite fatigue, the chance to make amends was not to be wasted.
It was a little before one when we pulled up near the arrival lounge, prepared for a prolonged cat-and-mouse game with Abhinav Bindra. The flight landed before schedule but the events that unravelled did not exactly smack of job satisfaction. After a few false alarms and sprinting up and down the stairs connecting the arrival and departure lounge to keep a track on his movement, the composed figure of Bindra was sighted.
But even before the handful of reporters, who had stationed themselves at the vantage point, could gather themselves, the crack rifle shooter was whisked away, by waiting Punjab Police personnel, with the words, “I am very proud. A happy Independence Day to you all.”
In a bid to placate, a senior official of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) said, “The threat perception was very high, hence the step.” Those gathered seemed to be asking themselves, threat from whom? The reporters or the motley crowd that had gathered to represent a nation starved of sporting success?
The wait had come to naught and the failure to quiz Bindra, especially after the controversy about his rifle, made the mood belligerent. And the reporters were not alone in feeling cheated. Armed with sturdy nylon ropes and barricades to ward off “surging numbers”, the smartly turned out Delhi Police personnel too had a grouse to air. “There was hardly an issue here, so why the bandobast? There are more pressing matters to attend in view of August 15,” said a constable. From the band party to the boisterous cheerleaders, it was an assorted group put together by the NRAI and the IOA to welcome the country’s first individual Olympic gold medallist. With the plot taking a twist, it was time for pretenders to the throne to take centrestage. Sought after by lensmen, they danced with gay abandon while giving bytes to the anxious scribes.
The monkey was off my back but the futility of the mission rankled. Grim and bleary-eyed, we made our way out when an overhead banner brought on smiles. Bobbing gaily in the cool early morning breeze, it read, “Congrajulations (sic) Olympic Gold Medlist (sic) Abhinav Bindra from the NRAI”.