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India's precious gems

Bhaichung Bhutia and Bula Choudhury deserve the Padma Shri and Viswanathan Anand the Padma Vibhusan, writes Dhiman Sarkar.

sports Updated: Jan 25, 2008 22:14 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Yes I agree with what has been argued elsewhere in this paper - civilian awards should be scrapped. Also, if they aren't Sachin Tendulkar (who got the Padma Vibhusan) should get the Bharat Ratna!

I also agree that Bhaichung Bhutia and Bula Choudhury deserve the Padma Shri and Viswanathan Anand the Padma Vibhusan.

But about Bhutia first. Given that domestic football's ability to capture public imagination seems ridiculously inept, Bhutia's sense of pride in his profession has been laudable. He has played with skill and verve but so have others, certainly in the earlier ones when India mattered in Asian football.

But what makes Bhutia stand out - maybe that's why he is the only footballer to have been awarded while still a player - is that he matters even in the time of cable football having completely changed the way we look at the sport. True, there are countless urban young Indians who aspire to be Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and others thanks to television making their wizardry available up close.

But from Imphal to Idduki, Panjim to Pondicherry, Kolkata to Kannur, there's a significant number of young ones who aspire to be like Bhutia. And their parents don't think that's such a bad thing. Delhi's no football hub but no programme on the sport seems complete without Bhutia. It's the same in Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Jharkhand.

That's because from the time he travelled from Sikkim, Bhutia's been different. Be it in the athleticism or opportunism he embellishes his remarkable goal-poaching skills with or in the way he conducts himself off the field. From leaving an elite college's students dumbstruck with his answers to being the first post-Independence footballer to chuck everything he had assiduously achieved to try his luck in Europe. From forming a footballers's association, being the face of multi-nationals, being loaned (again a first) to an Asian club to being India's only successful Nehru Cup captain, Bhutia has impinged himself in India's mind like no other footballer. And like only a few other non-cricket sportpersons.

That's why the importance of Bhutia is always a lot more than goals scored or trophies won. That's why he has a stadium named after him, in Namchi not far from his home in the sleepy village called Tinky Tam.

Never at sea when there's a lot of water around, Bula has shown courage and determination worthy of emulation. Hers isn't a competitive sport in the conventional sense but what bigger competition can there be when you are battling the elements. For Anand, who had wryly wondered about the reception he would get after conquering the world in Mexico, it must be assuring that you are not sent for a six despite being the king of 64 squares.

Tendulkar though deserves more. Because till he plays, his generation will stay young. Because for most of his 19 years as a cricketer, the nation's turned its lonely eyes to him. For succour, sustenance and success.