India has a population of 1.252 billion people. And all of these people have their expectations, needs, hopes. Every time there is an India versus Pakistan cricket match at Eden or an India versus Australia cricket match at Wankhede, we see a very thin slice of this population, channeling all they feel, seated in the stadium. And we see eleven cricketers feeling the expectations of an entire nation, 1.252 billion people strong, heaving upon their shoulders. If the burden gets too much to bear, nervousness follows suit and a loss is imminent. A loss, however, is not an option. Not in India.
India is a passionate country. It is very much so with cricket, but more so, when the name of the country is up in a competition.
So, coming to the Olympics, how has India fared through the ages? Since 1928, India has won a total of 24 medals, 9 of them gold, 8 of which are in Field Hockey, and the lone Individual Event Gold was by Abhinav Bindra, in 2008, in the 10m Air Rifle Event. After Bindra’s individual gold, there was a sudden uproar from the lesser promoted sports’ communities about weak infrastructure and a call for thorough organizing was made.
But, all eyes were back on Cricket with IPL 2009 at South Africa. The voices for promotion of less popular sports died and soon India was back being the World Champions of Cricket in 2011. Suddenly it was time for London Olympics 2012. We all suddenly remembered our “other” athletes, who had been struggling with poor infrastructure for the last four years. These “other” athletes had been winning nameless trophies, of which none was the ICC World Cup. So, we didn’t know. Thanks to the Sports sections of the Newspapers we were hyped up to root in support of our athletes in face of Olympics 2012. Our selected athletes found no gold, but 4 bronzes and 2 silvers. Things were improving, at a slow rate. 2016 Olympics would definitely be ours.
2016: Our biggest stars fell. The country that loves to press the entire legacy of the nation on our athletes ended up heaving this entire load on 23 year old Dipa Karmakar. Dipa, a girl from a lower middle class family in Agartala, has won 66 gold medals in gymnastics tournaments and would be the first Indian Gymnast, to represent the country at Rio Olympics.
Dipa missed out on gold. Dipa missed out on bronze too, with a final score of 15.066. She lost bronze spot by a margin of 0.15 points. She was reported inconsolable, and later Dipa “apologized” to her fellow Indians back at home.
I am proud of Dipa Karmakar. To try a death inviting Produnova Vault is not only daring, but to come 4th doing it, on such a platform is magnificence itself. The tragedy of Dipa’s life will be that, pot-bellied, lungi clad, very un-athletic middle aged men will criticize her for failing. If they had encouraged her a little, if they had encouraged the sports’ authorities a little to put in a bit more effort for these little known and economically short athletes, then they in turn could too do a bit better. And Dipa, to bag bronze, needed to do, just a bit better.
We don’t need an apology from Dipa. She deserves an apology from us for failing her as countrymen and women.
Dipa is the fifth woman in Sports history to land the risky Produnova. Being the one and only gymnast representing the country is it not sheer pressure that made her desperate enough to land a Produnova just for the immense difficulty level offering more points? It is a question that begs us to think. All this to get “India” on the podium, to keep its legacy unbent. Why is the name of the country more important than the life of our athlete? Yes, it is the athlete’s choice. But what fuels the athlete to choose this deadly maneuver?
Critics go on to say Dipa failed the country on Independence Day eve. I say she made the country proud. Abhinav Bindra had a private rifle range installed, with world famous mentors to coach him. Dipa once used hay to practice her landing on. This begs thought too.
I promise to be more aware of athletics other than cricket, from now on. What I can do is write a bit. And with that at my disposal, I will try utmost to promote athletics in India. If we all do our little bits, perhaps next time, we can make Dipa proud for a change.
- Text by Anurag Mazumder