I have been involved with sport for the majority of my life. I am a failed tennis player, was a marginally successful coach, and then chose to be a sports writer to make a living. Sport by its very nature strips all pretence.
Conspiracy theories are therefore tough for me to believe. Out there in the heat of a contest, grit counts above all else - not who has connived how to get there. In the heat of battle, mettle alone counts; everything else just melts away.
But ever since we at HT started working on a campaign to showcase the deficiencies in the selection process for this nation's sporting honours, there is one conspiracy that has hit me smack in the face. It's the conspiracy of silence.
Of all the sportsmen we approached to share their views on the issue with our readers, the majority chose to shy away. Oh, their views were so deliciously scandalous; each had a gem of an anecdote to narrate on just how a certain someone got their award. But the moment we wanted them to go on record, a nauseatingly huge number ran for cover. Others chose not to respond at all.
While we idolise our few achievers and deride sports administrators, the sad truth is that the achievers in Indian sport invariably become a part of the same filth that they had to struggle to overcome in their formative years.
Once their bread is buttered, they are liable to tell the majority of their sporting kin to go eat cake if the basics aren't working out. Yes, they decidedly become delusional and comfortable in their complicity with the powers that be. The likes of Abhinav Bindra who came back with India's lone individual Olympic gold and then chose to blast the system are a rarity.
The conspiracy of silence extends to the general 'chalta hai' that cripples the vivacity of this nation. Each year there is a crescendo of dissent and general tut-tutting when the awards are announced. A couple of weeks later, it is business as usual.
The babus of the ministry, clueless about sport but adept at manoeuvring, do nothing to improve things. This is where the role of the sports minister becomes crucial. HT's campaign has given voice to the thoughts of established names in Indian sport. They have all clamoured for change. It's up to the new incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal to figure if he wants to listen to them.
Sonowal inherits a ministry that has had people at the helm who really tried to sort things out. It began with MS Gill, reached a spectacular high with Ajay Maken and that legacy was carried on by Jitender Singh. In fact, Singh personally intervened to ensure triple jumper Renjith Maheshwari did not get an Arjuna after HT revealed that he had failed a dope test that made him ineligible. Despite all the controversy about this year's awards, Sonowal has been silent. The ministry has also quietly chosen to rubber stamp the recommendations of the Arjuna selection committee.
While the new minister may need time to find his feet, he would do well to not listen to his babus. In Indian sport, 'achche din' are a chimera that probably exist only in the overtly optimistic imagination of people like this writer. But by stepping up and delivering a sensible selection policy for our national sporting awards, Sonowal has the opportunity to take a huge step in that direction.Sportsmen, anyway, live in eternal hope. How else can we even begin to explain the lunacy of trying to be a world-class athlete in a nation that has such apathy for its finest?