Best Foot Forward: T. SHER SINGH
Britain's Olympic Extravaganza
Sunday, July 29, 2012
My daughter was ten when we started traveling together. Washington, D.C., was our first getaway.
Driving back, I recall, she was gushing on how much she had enjoyed the city, its monuments and its history. At one point, she leaned over, touched my arm, and exclaimed:
“Dad, if I wasn’t so proud to be a Canadian, I’d want to be American!”
That’s how overwhelming and infectious the metropolis of America's capital is: you can’t help catching the bug of the country’s pride in its achievements, all of it well deserved.
So was it on Friday night (July 27, 2012) at Britain’s extraordinary showcasing of its history, art and culture at the opening ceremonies of the XXX Olympiad in London, England.
You could see that it made every Briton beam with pride. Deservedly. And it was infectious.
The country and its people indeed put their best foot forward, despite the economic troubles hanging over their heads.
The night was magical. Particularly in its celebration of those segments of its population which have given so much to add to the land’s self-image, its life-style, and in the way the world sees it.
The peasant, the factory worker, the farmer, the hospital nurse, the soldier … all were given pride of place, alongside entrepreneur and inventor, playwright and glitterati.
Everything went flawlessly. Nothing went wrong. It was efficient, it was seamless, the timing of every entry, every exit, was perfect. A dollop of humour, of nostalgia, of tears. And loads of fun.
The best thing about it was that the whole nation had joined in and felt included, had ownership. From the unpaid volunteer to the grand monarch of the land.
It was so well done that it did not matter that the evening had glossed over the country’s current challenges, or the ignominy of its colonial history, or the vast discrepancies between prince and pauper even today.
For this was an evening to celebrate sport and the world’s coming together despite differences. Nothing else.
After Beijing in 2008, it had looked like no one would be able to match its showmanship. London proved the pundits wrong; it did it so easily by simply doing their own thing, in the inimitable way that only the Brits can.
They showed the world so magnificently that there are no excuses for a job badly done … by simply doing theirs so well.
Here’s another act that will be tough for the world to follow!
* * * * *
As the cameras panned over the multitudes in the stadium, taking wide shots of all the goings-on, it was fascinating to watch how easy it was to spot a lone turban in, for example, a whole platoon of drummers; another one in a shot of the stands showing thousands jumping up and down in a single picture frame; or the dastaars in the Canadian contingent; or the Sardar in the VIP area.
Never, ever ceases to amaze me, the power of even a single turban in a sea of faces!
And, it’s not just any turban that can do the trick.
The Indian contingent, for example. Wasn’t difficult to spot the Sardars, even though the camera was on the whole group for no more than a few seconds. They looked regal, flanked, as if, by a phalanx of chaprasis! If you have seen the saw the video, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
* * * * *
Didn’t think there would be any way India could create a scandal so far from home, amidst all of this, or do something foolish while the whole world was watching. We were safe from them, what with all the oceans that separate the continents.
Well, guess what? India nevertheless did manage to shame its own hard-working athletes and its billion people. Again.
Who was leading the Indian contingent into the stadium?
A figure stood out, dressed markedly different from the rest of the group: right in front, right next to the flag-bearer, a woman in a bright red blouse and blue jeans.
Was it India’s chef de mission?
No, the country’s head of the team - whose sole mission in life was to attend this event - did not come. He's been awol. No one knows why, though, hourly, different stories are being leaked out of India. They add that a replacement had been sent.
Well, he wasn’t there either!
Then, pray, who was this woman in red and blue, the one leading India’s swab of orange? How did an unknown gate-crasher become the head of the Indian parade. She hogged the cameras’ attention even during the few, measly seconds India was allotted during the evening.
The entire team, and the army of bureaucrats who accompanied it, or everyone back in India, all claimed they had no idea who it was. Certainly, they said, she wasn’t part of the Indian contingent, and certainly she shouldn’t have been there.
When the international press heard of the debacle and reported it, Indians, red-faced, their usual thing: they lied! Said whatever entered their minds. And, as lies are wont to do, the story changed every few minutes.
No, no, we don’t know who she is.
Yes, we know, but we don’t know her name.
Yes, she was with us, but she was not supposed to enter the stadium; she was to stay outside.
No one authorized her to come in.
It’s not our fault; the organizers (the Brits?) are to blame.
Finally, today, the Indians say they know her name, but still don’t know who she is.
Her name? “Honey”!
I’m not making it up. I swear this is what the Hindustan Times is saying - with a straight face.
Is it, er, a stage name?
Is she, er, how should I put it politely: a niece? A flame? A one-night-stand?
Surely, there must be a whole department in New Delhi whose job it is to make Indians look like idiots wherever they go … and they do the job so well.
* * * * *
I really, really feel sorry for India’s athletes.
You know, it’s not easy climbing to the pinnacle of Olympic excellence and becoming an honoured participant. It requires years and years of blood, sweat and tears.
And it is these two weeks or so at the Games that fulfils their lifelong dreams and aspirations. For most of them, this is the only pay-off.
So, when their own government takes a brush and paints them all with a blemish not of their making … it’s a crime in itself.
81 extraordinary young men and women have made it to the Indian team. And guess who India sent to accompany them as their “guardians” … a band of murderers and thieves!
Mass-murderers KPS Gill and Jagdish Tytler. Amitabh Bachchan too: also indicted for 1984 goondaism. And then there’s the one who led India’s Commonwealth Games into the ditch. Why is Kalmadi in London? To remind the world’s athletes of their recent, collective nightmare?
Couldn’t they find ANYONE who had a clean record? Someone they could truly be proud of?
Sometimes I can’t help thinking that I don’t really understand the desis at all, as to what makes them tick.
It’s like figuring out what makes an Ambassador car going and going and going … Only the good lord knows.
* * * * *
Indians understand the concept of ’bad karma’. They must, because it was they who bestowed the expression on the English language.
Well, here’s their karma. Life has its unique ironies … twists and turns that no amount of planning, mischievous or mal-intentioned, can possibly come up on its own.
On Friday night, as the commentators sitting in London, England, described the extraordinary unveiling of the show to hundreds of millions of TV viewers around the world, they kept on conjuring up the image of a distant India in our minds. Inadvertently, I’m sure. But every few minutes.
They would, at regular intervals, gasp at what they saw, and then tell us that the marvel we were witnessing was the creation of a man called Danny Boyle.
The commentators knew it wouldn’t be a household name to most around the world. So, each time they told us about Danny Boyle, they reminded us that he was the director of “Slumdog Millionaire”!
Ah, everybody would nod, hearing the reference: that was that great film about the slums of India, wasn’t it?
You know, India in its full glory of corrupt decadence, was never far from the minds of the billion people who watched the show on Friday night.
Now, if that isn’t bad karma, you tell me, what is.
Conversation about this article
1: G.C. Singh (USA), July 29, 2012, 10:41 AM.
Thieves, mass murderers, genocidal maniacs are not only the guardian angels of yhe Indian Olympic team, but these scoundrels are a tiny sampling of the leaders and custodians of 'shining" India's entire political, economic and military establishment.
2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), July 29, 2012, 12:42 PM.
It was indeed a faultless and fantastically different Olympic Opening Ceremony.
3: N. Singh (Canada), July 29, 2012, 4:27 PM.
4: Gurcharan Singh Kulim (Chigwell, London , United Kingdom), July 29, 2012, 5:12 PM.
Two theories come to mind. However, the Indians are good at making drama over nothing. They have good experience from bollyhood and kollyhood! Here are two theories: 1) could it be an MI5, bond-style agent out to protect the desis? From whom, what? The Pakistanis? 2)- Could it be that Kalmadi was trying to smuggle his daughter through ... Either way, the Indians are lucky they even got a 10 second slot ... it appears that other, smaller countries like Barbados and Fiji were far more popular. They should have left the goondas behind, maybe then they would've had a better reception. I also hope they go back with nothing, not even a dime in a pickle!
5: Gurleen Kaur (USA), July 29, 2012, 8:34 PM.
Corrupt minds and selfish people can never win any game. The Olympics is not something for the Indians. Their 'leaders' are busy grabbing all the money it can. Mass murders are almost a daily occurrence. Punjab / Kashmir/ Gujrat/ Assam ... these are but a few examples.
6: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), July 29, 2012, 8:47 PM.
Isn't it ironic? After all the Sardar jokes, the Indian delegation decides to wear turbans at the opening ceremony! God forbid your real Sardar athletes steal the spotlight. After this debacle, the clock seems to have struck twelve for India! Kyah hoo-ah? baarrah bajj gaye?
7: G.C. Singh (USA), July 30, 2012, 7:18 AM.
This woman intruder marching along the Indian team is a minor irritant compared to the shame that India - a country of more than a billion people and now claiming to be one of the most affluent in the world - has been competing in the Olympics for the last 112 years and has only earned a total (in this entire history) of four more medals than one American swimmer alone, Michael Phelps.
8: Radha Sharma (Patna, Bihar, India), July 30, 2012, 7:48 AM.
It's easy. Dress up badly - in fitted, out-of fashion, out-dated, mismatched clothes - and slip into an Indian crowd, and you will be unnoticed. That's how you can - and Honey did - join the Indian team!
9: Radha Sharma (Patna, Bihar, India), July 30, 2012, 9:09 AM.
And I know exactly why the Indian 'chef de mission' was nowhere in sight. The babus in New Delhi thought it meant sending along a cook - for daal, bhaat and tarkaari. So, the India's chef de mission was busy cooking dinner while the opening ceremonies were going on. Truly ... check it out, if you don't believe me. Though, I'm sure, our government will deny it outright.
10: Rupinder Kaur (Canada), July 31, 2012, 7:57 AM.
Excellent article! I feel a bit of a headache coming on from nodding to every single one of the points you made. Oh India, when will you clean up your act and start behaving like a decent democracy?
11: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), August 01, 2012, 12:39 PM.
KPS Gill, Jagdish Tytler and Amitabh Bachchan: each has Sikh roots! So, how do we know who is on our side?