Pollice Verso (Jean Léon Gérôme, 1872)


The ongoing Rio 2016 sets one thinking. And if you happen to be an Indian by birth, it sets you wondering why Indians never figure even in the Olympic finals, let alone the medal tally.

Yes, India sends probes to Mars and India had its own female Prime Minister in 1966, around the same time that American Congressmen were laughing derisively at Margaret Chase Smith’s run for President.

But for some inexplicable reason, Indians are unable to close the deal, as far as personal success is concerned. That is, if they are living inside India. When they are inside India, Indians are by and large flaming fuckups – meek and meandering, apologetic and stuttering, crowding, scrambling, scrabbling, pushing, shoving – in a state of perpetual denial over their abilities, cowed down and denied, by a murderously corrupt establishment.

Outside of India something beautiful happens to Indians – probably something akin to what Arthur C Clarke’s astronaut, Dave Bowman felt when he responded to Dr. Heywood Floyd’s question, “Where are you, Dave?” in 2010  – The year we made contact.

“Somewhere beautiful”, Bowman replies. For Indians (me included), any place outside of India is metaphorically that place – somewhere beautiful.

Outside India, Indians are brilliant and right from childhood. Indian expats’ children excel in every possible field, be they spelling bees or maths Olympiads. Indians are among the top income earners in Canada and the US. (I am an exception, I hasten to add).

But what goes wrong with Indians (expat or otherwise), when it comes to the Olympics or any other sport at the international level that needs stamina and strength? If you ask an Indian in India, he will lament about the lack of funding and facilities, the corruption, etc. True, they play a role, but I am not convinced it is just a matter of opportunity.

I don’t believe it is simply a matter of being provided the facilities. Indians aren’t built for athletics at an international level. Cricket, yes, but cricket isn’t athletics. Cricket requires bursts of stamina, which Indians appear to have. I think that it is the ethos, the will to succeed, no matter what comes in the way.

There are exceptions of course, such as Dipa Karmakar, the Indian gymnast who  just might make the gold. Dipa is a competitive juggernaut, one of those come-what-may types. Folks like Dipa are, every once in a while, born with genes that are different from those that the rest of her compatriots possess.

Physiologically even, Indians just aren’t there. Is it the vegetarianism? 32% of all Indians, 400 million strong, are vegetarian. Some of them have even taken the vow not to hurt even a fly. Popularly known in India as ‘ahimsa‘(non-aggression) it has been proven by history, as in the case of globalization and communism, to be a complete fantasy. Does that nonsensical attitude toward life define India? Does the Indian ethos live inside a sanctimonious fantasy world? Is it time to descend to the earth now?

It isn’t working, India. A pipsqueak nation like Pakistan is giving you the run-around, when actually it should have been swatted, the way a fly is done away with, years ago.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Ahimsa is a great ideology. It is something our consciences prod us to follow. But, lets face it – ever since Jericho, history has repeatedly said this to us…..’read my lips, richardhead. Screw the other guy…or get screwed’. Darwin just put down on paper what we knew all along.

Therefore, do sport and turning the other cheek go hand in hand? No, they don’t. To excel in sport, you have to be the citizen of a martial nation. You have to be martial.

Sport in fact began as a martial art. In ancient Greece, its participation was confined to members of the infantry, the early Olympic Games showcasing their brute strength and sustained stamina. Greek city-states sent in their best soldiers to participate, in part to send a message to their neighbors – ‘you’ll be better off not messing with us’.

And then, who can forget the Roman ‘Munera’, with all their ‘pompa’ and ‘grandura’, where the games always ended with the ultimate prize – life itself – with the audiences chanting their ‘pollice verso‘ (thumbs up or down).

Indians live in a parallel universe. One, in which they still believe that success in sport comes without bone-crushing effort. That all it needs is the facility provided by the establishment. Sure, to an extent this is true, no question about it. But what is it that makes a two-bit African country like Cameroon stun the world in soccer? Not the facilities, surely. The legendary Roger Milla had ordinary sneakers on while he played club soccer in Cameroon.

Sure, having your government give you a leg up does help. Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, joint winner of the 100m freestyle at Rio, practices at a community pool in Toronto which just happens to be Olympic standard and is accessible to everyone, including you and me, free of charge. Her coach, an Olympian himself, is paid for by the Ontario Government.

But ultimately, we Indians have to switch on the Dolby System inside our ethos and go for the gold, no matter how many roadblocks are set up ahead. In the ultimate analysis, at the pearly gates -or wherever that people stand, to be evaluated on their day of reckoning – the first question on the form will be ‘Did I try hard enough?’