After winning the bronze, wrestler Sushil Kumar could not understand why the Indian press was seeking him out so desperately. He could not get what the fuss was about — he had won medals before in Asian and other international meets and had never been treated like a star, never been made to feel so special. Only when he talked to his friends in Delhi did he realise that he had got recognition he never thought was possible.
This was the reaction from a man who has grappled with poverty, with the odds stacked against his sport to such an extent that he did not have a proper coach or a masseur with him while he fought and won three bouts in one-and-a-half hours to win his medal and made a nation feel proud of itself.
What is the fuss all about? The sentiment rings a bell. Hadn’t Abhinav Bindra said something similar after his astonishing performance, a performance that will stir the soul of a proud nation for all time to come? Bindra, after doing what most Indians thought would always remain a dream, wondered why it took so many decades for us to win a gold in the Olympics, and felt that unless we do it more often and in greater numbers, we will not be recognized as a sporting nation.
Bindra, unlike Sushil, has been sheltered by his parents’ riches and understands that the gold he won would not have come without their financial support.
In the sport they pursue, and in their backgrounds, the two stand poles apart — one at the top and the other at the bottom end of the social strata. Yet, on the day they fulfilled a dream, they reacted in similar fashion. In their riches and poverty, they have, perhaps conveyed to all of us who now swear by New India and its arrival at the world stage, to ‘please, don't appropriate our medals’.
It is not as if they are not proud to be Indians and don't feel thrilled that they have helped their country gain recognition. But they also want to say that they have shaped their own destiny with very little outside help.
Our third medallist Vijender Kumar is closer to Sushil than to Bindra. Both Sushil and Vijender have won medals in sports which have a rich tradition in India, especially wrestling. If India brings wrestlers out of their “mud pits” and onto proper mats, and develops arenas like Bhiwani's boxing club into a training centre fitted with all modern facilities, we could win a bountiful of medals in future Olympics and feel prouder.
For that to happen “We” will have to devote more space on our TV channels and newspaper pages to these sports and not just focus on cricket all the time. What is the point of lamenting for 15 days on why we can't win more medals, lauding those who have, being scathingly critical of the system and then going into a slumber for the next four years?
In a country like ours, which, despite its phenomenal growth, lives in two halves, sports obviously will not be the first priority of the government. As a nation, we will arrive once that divide is properly bridged but even then, there is no justification for lop-sided sporting priorities and misuse of government funds, as a result of which we are left neither here nor there.
Bindra, Vijender and Sushil have given us a wake-up call. And if we care, we had better listen.