Will history repeat itself?
MADHUCHANDA DAS goes down memory lane, to ASIAD 1982, amidst all the CWG hysteria .
“Someone reminded me I once said, ‘Greed is good.’ Now it seems it’s legal,” blurts Gordon Gekko in the just released sequel to the hard hitting 1987 blockbuster Wall Street. This line from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps provided enough fodder to get my brain cells ticking feverishly, drowning me up in a flurry of questions. Are these times really as depraved as they are being made out to be?
It seemed extremely topical in the midst of all the brouhaha over the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Allegations, accusations, accidents and acrimony were flying in all directions out of saddi Dilli. It didn’t seem very befitting or believable, since the success of ASIAD (1982) which emanated from the very same spot, albeit three decades ago. Surprising, but wasn’t it just yesterday on a cosy November morning in the famed Delhi winters, when Pandit Ravi Shankar’s lilting, rousing and uplifting composition Swagatam, Shubha Swagatam echoed in the air, filling all with palpable national pride. Inarguably, it provided that perfect start to the grand multi-nation, multi-sport event that surged India into global reckoning and reinstated the “can do” Indian spirit (and please, I’m not referring to the jugaad we’re also universally known for). It generated mammoth momentum and coerced the world to stand up and take notice that India had indeed arrived. The magnitude and magnificence of the ASIAD Games and the hysteria they generated were unparallel.
Managing a whopping 4,595 athletes from 33 countries and innumerable spectators with just two years to get their act together, was no mean feat in those nascent days for technology in India. In spite of the glitches and hitches, I understand, the nation’s love for sport and unswerving belief in sportsmanship reigned supreme, and we pulled it off with admirable aplomb.
Delhi was transformed into a world class city with impeccable and withstanding infrastructure laid out in a record two years – the first flyovers, sprawling stadiums, the gigantic ASIAD village, wide roads, plush hotels and let’s not forget the endearing heartthrob of children – the Games mascot Appu. Finally, the strawberry on the cake – the first TV transmission in colour! As a stunned eight-year-old, I fondly remember joining millions of my countrymen in excitedly lapping up the mega sporting spectacle in multi colour.
Inefficiency, inordinate delays, intrusions, injustice and insurgencies of nature were undeniably present even then. Despite and above it all, we were able to deliver what we had promised and come out with flying colours. Patriotic pride and nationalistic narcissism combined with the attitude to achieve, and these emotions reigned supreme. They refused to remain trapped in a wily politician’s flowery speech but instead proved to be pertinent through careful calculation, contrivance, commitment and coordination of all concerned sectors.
Who can forget Kiran “Crane” Bedi – New Delhi’s traffic chief, whose impartial enforcement of rules kept the capital’s motley lot of vehicles moving during the Games. Kiran’s cranes would mercilessly remove illegally parked vehicles and clear traffic clogs, earning her legendary status and the acronym ‘Crane’.
From PT Usha to Chand Ram, from MD Valsamma to Raghubir Singh and Syed Modi, the Indian contingent kept the tricolour flying high. They became household names as we kids painstakingly persevered to get a grasp over the correct pronunciation of the full form of ‘PT’ in Ms Usha’s name. There was an uncanny sense of fervid celebration and festivity in the air. Yes, it was a class act, an exercise in collective camaraderie, skilfully executed in the land of Arjuna and Eklavya.
Then there were rather unknown visionaries like Sharat Dass, architect of the Indraprashtha Stadium (now renamed the Indira Gandhi Stadium), which hosted the gymnastics and badminton events during ASIAD. The stadium, I read, was carefully conceived keeping in mind India’s unique history. The Asiad Stadia, a book brought out by the National Book Trust immediately after the Games, mentions how Sharat Dass drew an axis starting from the Ashoka Pillar at a 45-degree angle on Ring Road and then selected the central point of the stadium on this axis. The axis was meant to be the approach road to the stadium, allowing spectators to see the pillar against the sky. Laudable, indeed!
And yet again we are in the midst of another grand sporting spectacle. They say history repeats itself…so can we rework the ASIAD magic? I’m convinced we’ll be fine…we have a way of getting our act together at the last minute and cannot but help all the drama and hype that’s so entrenched in our make up. If we did it then, we sure could pull it off now. But there’s also a lurking cold-eyed pragmatism that keeps me on tenterhooks – this is 2010…time and tide have moved on, and so have we. Considerable and tumultuous waters have flown under the bridge.
The question that seeks unwavering attention is whether the bridge that’s been privy to many a rough weather will collapse like that (now infamous) pedestrian overbridge at the main CWG event venue, or will it stand rock steady? Foundations on which both stadiums and nations are built probably need matching material and mind sets. Maybe therein lays the most daunting challenge. Is the so-called call of conscience from thirty years ago absconding currently? No…never….the excitement and enthusiasm, the sense of pride and spirit of service writ boldly across fresh faces of countless young CWG volunteers, without an iota of doubt, prove otherwise. They categorically certify that the flicker of positivism, prospect and fair play is still alive and kicking in the heart of the nation. So with this unstinted, unflinching and unswerving faith in our minds and fervent prayers on our lips, it’s time to head for the finishing line with pride and glory.