Sunday, August 12, 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger)

This evening, as the flags are lowered and the flame extinguished, the London Olympics 2012 spectacle will come to an end. From tomorrow, we would have one topic less to talk, debate, discuss, analyse, follow, share etc.  For the last two weeks, most of us suddenly saw ourselves following a host of sports, reading about them, cheering the performers, watching them break records and create new ones. And, somewhere deep in our hearts we were hoping and praying that Indians get their share of medals. If only prayers could get more medals, we would have been richer by some gold. Sadly, that wasn't the case; we had to contend ourselves with silver and bronze, making it the highest medal tally so far. Cheers to all the winners and participants!

Undeniably, the number of medals may be in no way proportionate to the number of participants and the total population of our country but is this the only way to judge our participation? Aren't we tired of telling ourselves repeatedly how badly our sports are affected because of the lopsided treatment? So what, if Cricket is the game of the masses, what about our 'national game' hockey which has been reported extensively in the media as a 'national shame' after the defeat in Olympics - what ails us and why we fail? Isn't it also the opportunity to look inwards and reflect to understand what stops us from 'excelling' in what we do (not only in sports) and fight the forces that forbid us from realizing our talent and potential. Why do we often satisfy ourselves with mediocrity and not raise the bar and learn from constructive criticism and our failures. In the absence of such soul searching it is easy to fall  prey to undue negativism and cynicism - which, unfortunately, is dished out in plenty, especially through the popular social media channels.

Games of this magnitude may mean different things to different people. For technologically and economically advanced nations, it may be 'normal' to expect the number of medals over the years. Whereas, for countries like India, the sporting event is synonymous with unrealistic expectations, dreadful dreams and pressure-filled performance - what with the cynical media and the over-the-top analysts! Olympics or any games of this stature are also a reflection on the way we treat sports and sportsmen (strictly not including Cricket and cricketers). It seems as if this is the time we wake up from our slumber on how little attention is paid to sports and games, our attitude towards them, how we need new policies for including sports in schools, how our mindset needs to change to encourage our children, appreciate them, need for assistance from state and central government while we hear other countries preparing their performers almost eight years in advance. We start the blame game which we are very good at...blame the infrastructure, the coaches, the players and get defensive at the sorry state of affairs.

And, when it comes to rewarding the performers, we have very predictable ways to recognize the winners when they are back home - monetary and other forms of awards etc (I don't mean to undermine this, but would expect us to think deeper and wider). All this seems to happen instantly without any  vision for long-term engagement with the winner and participants. We hardly know anything about the participants who could not win the medals in spite of their sincere efforts. Look at the way popular media makes use of the 'celebrity' status of the winners. Why don't we pay equal attention to all the sports? Can't Mary Kom be promoted as 'glamorously' as Saina Nehwal or Sania Mirza for endorsing brands and other social campaigns? We badly and consciously need to promote our sports stars hailing from different backgrounds and playing in different competitions at different levels, nationally and internationally - without any discrimination. This could be a good way to create awareness, encourage and solicit participation, ensure sponsorship and support. After all one cannot 'force' people to pursue something like sports that is still considered secondary to earning degrees in higher education to make a living, especially in the middle class and lower classes.

The sad part of the story is that most of the winners - Sushil Kumar, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt, Vijay Kumar, Gagan Narang (except Saina Nehwal) may soon fade from our memory - only to be remembered again at the next Olympics. Saina, apparently because of the popularity of the sport and her glamour quotient has mostly remained in the headlines and catches the attention for her product endorsements. We don't find a similar effort to create more visibility or 'cash in on celebrity' status of other medalists. A lot depends on how we consciously create a culture of sports and competition. If it had to end with gifts and awards as a token of recognition (like our government does so very promptly) we would not have had sports persons struggling to eke out a living after they fade out of the competitive horizon. The life and contribution of a sportsperson is a much larger story - it's a journey filled with challenges, sacrifices and rigorous discipline. It cannot be 'compensated' with a one-time cash award or other short-sighted gestures that fail to build and strengthen sporting culture. If  we really believe in the Olympics motto citius, altius, fortius, which, in Latin means 'faster, higher, stronger' we would do much more than leave the message in these words to become the slogan of a popular health drink advertisement on the television.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

How a delayed flight helped me in overcoming 'writer’s block'

Thanks to the 'extreme' customer service of Indigo airlines, I had to spend at least two extra hours in the airport, not being intimated properly about the delay in flight! Let’s be informed - Indigo believes in personally calling up customers, at any odd hour, than send an SMS. However I'd have appreciated an SMS than a missed call from a weird looking number that I saw on my phone. (BTW, I got to know that commercial calls are cheaper than SMSs). This was the 8.30 AM flight from Hyderabad to Bangalore which eventually took off at 10.10 AM. The reason for delay was a technical glitch for the flight to take off from Jaipur on time. Unfortunately, this is the second time it’s happened to me – both the times with the same flight - what a coincidence! The worst part of the story was my mother calling me soon after I reached the airport to tell me that there was a call on the landline phone from Indigo, probably informing about the delay.

"Had I known about the delay, I would have started late and spent time more productively at home", I cursed myself. This was my instant reaction when I came to know that I missed the call from Indigo on my mobile phone at about 1.43AM when my phone was kept in the other room for charging. Later in the morning, in the midst of hurrying for the early morning trip to the airport, I saw the missed number that seemed strange and completely unidentified. I thought it must be one of those cold calls from the pesky marketeers. So, I didn’t bother to call! Realized my 'mistake', if I could be blamed for not being a good customer!

At the airport, I tried telling the Indigo guys at the boarding counter that they should have sent an SMS and not depended on that call at an odd hour in the night. I frankly don’t know how many people responded to that call. “Okay, now I have so much time, and how do I spend it, there was some kind of irritation at the delay, frustration that I could not pick up that call and so on and on…I was angry at myself because I would be spending double the flight duration to Bangalore, doing nothing worthwhile!”

I took the boarding pass and went through the security check, decided to wander around browsing stuff in some of the shops. But as soon as I went to WH Smith, I felt I should catch up with some recent releases and so on, though I had nothing specific in mind to buy. I looked at the books in sections that interested me and since I had lots of time I really wanted to buy some good books. I purchased “The Game Changers –stories about entrepreneurs from IIT Kharagpur” and some books by Ruskin Bond. Now comes a call from home, “what will you do for so long, if you had known you could have started later, eat your breakfast first, …” that was my mother, over anxious and concerned as usual. After picking up some stuff from the Karachi Bakery and Pulla Reddy Sweets for my people in Bangalore, I headed straight to the Idli Factory, my favourite joint for steaming hot idlis. As soon as I sat at the table, my eyes fell on some interesting quotes on the glass panel there – reading them, I said to myself, “how true!”

Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.”– Lawrence Durell
World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” – St. Augustine

It’s strange how carefully we notice and observe things which we would not have done otherwise, when there’s ample free time on hand and no hurry whatsoever. As I enjoyed the hot idlis with equally hot sambar, I began to think about my ‘eventful morning’ in a more positive way. The breakfast did me good. I made a note of the quotes on the glass panels and found them so apt; what with my list of places to visit, in India, of course. Somehow this got me introspecting. I didn’t feel like leaving the cozy corner even though I had finished my breakfast. Something in me told me to relax, chill, take it in my stride and not be regretful.

After the breakfast I strolled down to gate number 24 and again checked for the estimated time of departure. Then I looked for a seat on the quieter side of the lounge. Perhaps, I would have never felt this way: even the music that was playing in the background caught my attention and it seemed soothing to my senses. In normal course, I’d have never bothered to listen to it. I wondered, “is my hectic life taking away some of these simple 'pleasures'?” The music was occasionally interrupted by announcements like “Air India announces the departure of its flight to … all passengers are requested to proceed towards gate number 26….etc.” I could see people getting up and moving towards respective gates of their flights.

The agitated mind suddenly changed to a reflective one. Imagine, what a place and time to get seriously thoughtful and think back and forth. Probably that’s the reason my subconscious mind didn’t allow me to do the routine stuff like catching up with the news or browsing on my mobile phone. I was consciously telling myself that I should make proper use of the 'free' time. Most of us must have gone through this – when we begin to introspect, the first things that come to our mind are things that we could not do, what we missed or what could not be achieved. And we begin to speculate and feel bad, guilty about not making use of the opportunities or do things at the right time. My critical problem was my 'writer's block' and it needed immediate treatment. This was the moment I reminded myself of my inability to write, the block that I was trying to clear and compose and publish all the pending blogs and articles. I knew it was not my procrastination, it had to do with the ceasing of clarity of thought, expression and free flowing words. All the while I felt, "I want to write so much, have to say so many things but some unknown 'force' is stopping me and blocking me!"

I seem to have suffered from this 'syndrome' for at least six months now and just couldn’t get down to writing anything cogently, coherently as used to do earlier. I tried different ways of getting over it and failed. My blogs remained as drafts and brainstormed points and ideas sat on my desktop for months. Some write ups never moved from the 'notes' on my mobile phone. Whenever I saw them I felt miserable and guilty. I didn’t know what was happening to my fingers as I wanted to key in the words on my laptop. It seemed as if the fingers are frozen and there was a nervous problem. The mind would brim with ideas and some nice experiences and observations but nothing would get transferred to the readable format. Often, I wished there was some lozenges kind of stuff that would unclog my mind and help me with free flow of words...I longed for that pleasure of putting thoughts into words for that much-needed stress relief and fulfilling the creative urge.

However, the moment I started jotting down the points about my airport incident and began narrating it as it were, I felt a new kind of satisfaction. I was happy to experience the thawing process and the fluidity of words forming into sentences. I was overjoyed and felt like immediately sharing my happiness with my friends with whom I have often cribbed about my block in writing. The expression was natural and I saw this blog taking shape and worth sharing with 'public'. But then, does it mean that I should thank Indigo for indirectly helping me in getting back to my favorite hobby? Yes? Or, no? I'm confused...well, let me not get into this vicious cycle of confusion, muddled thinking, frozen brain and other 'reasons' that sound more like excuses for not writing.