In a Land of a Billion
My husband decided to celebrate my birthday in a most "un-Indian" fashion. The usual visit to the temple followed by an Indian restaurant high-calorie dinner was substituted by a crazy trip down the American River in a yellow raft! We went white water rafting for the first time! Response from family and friends ranged from incredulity to happiness. A few wanted to know what it was like.
This foray into an adventurous life broke new grounds (waters?) in our family traditions. I could well imagine the experience of Lewis and Clark as they went on an expedition to chart a way to reach the Pacific across the continental US.
I wondered what made the average Indian who comes to the US, adventurous as a student but who morphs into this staid, serious, married professional preferring to reduce the risk factors in life. This train of thought led me to the current status of few competitive Indians at the Olympics.
Sports, by definition, demands taking risks. Until the very end, we can never be too sure who will win. Of course, if the film Jannat is to be believed, cricket matches are mostly fixed and the underworld money speaks in above-the-board activities of the sport. Hence the huge financial support for that game in our country. Given the connection between Bollywood, cricket and moolah, it can well be believed.
For the most part, life in India is a matter of survival for many. Necessity forces skills onto her populace. These skills are not for excelling. They are meant for survival. Be it at the work place or school or leisure, skills are mainly honed more for what purpose they would serve for our survival rather than being "moved by passion" to excel in a certain field. Skills with innate talent is only half the way towards achievement.
Hand in hand with skills go strategy. Here is where we miss out on taking a shot at international contests such as the Olympics. As a nation and as an individual we fair very poorly in this. Be it working towards clearing the 10th grade exam to getting into a 'good" job, very few use strategy. Most slog it out. Strategy is where America leads the way. It is systemic and highly developed into an art form.
If you look at the way the athletes are trained in America, it is in strategy as much as in skill. The Chinese excel for the same reason. Strategy ensures that it is reproducible. We had a P T Usha who "almost" missed the bronze in the '84 Olympics. But we never systematically trained people to achieve and improve upon her performance. Of course the highly bureaucratic process of gaining government sponsorship makes up for all the "strategizing" on the athlete's part, leaving very little for the sport.
At a more subtle level, there is much we need to work with our self image. We are very good critics. We are poor "newsmakers". Some of the best opinion pieces and editorials are written in the Indian press. Very little original work comes out of it. In the US, the publishing industry thrives on original work. People care two hoots for "others' opinions". This deep rooted sense of self worth manifests in the sports arena.
The ultimate "winner" is one who knows his skill is matched with strategy. Gone are the days of the "innocent" Olympians who were amateurs. Professionals have entered the arena enforcing higher standards of strategic excellence. It is time to create a strategic plan to get our talent "showcased". The greatest edge India can have over the rest would be the dispassion as demonstrated by Abhinav Bhindra. That attitude coupled with the rest will ensure a gold mine of medals.
In a Land of a Billion
- » Published on August 12, 2008
- » Type: Opinion
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