Since the evening of August 7, our housing society park has been full of children hurling things. Twigs, plastic cricket bats, spoons, whatever comes to hand as even vaguely reminiscent of a javelin. It’s the Neeraj Chopra effect. Aspirations are running high. Till about 15 years back, the Olympics seemed to be more of academic interest than anything else for any non-sports-playing Indians. Yes, the world’s biggest sports meet, and so on, but since we never won anything, who really cared?
Not any longer. Since Day 1 of the Tokyo Olympics, when Saikhom Mirabai Chanu bagged the silver medal in the Women’s 49 kg Weightlifting, India has been on a high, a high which peaked with Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal-winning javelin throw. That was the icing on the cake. Everybody had already been going gaga about Chanu and Borgohain, wanting to know which states they’re from, what religion, what caste. (Yes, that’s what we, as Indians, value about our athletes: things that have nothing to do with their achievements as sportspersons).
But setting that aside: we are ferociously, ecstatically proud of our medal-winners. Neeraj Chopra, PV Sindhu, Lovlina Borgohain, Ravi Dahiya, the men’s hockey team—all are being noisily celebrated. Fifteen-year-olds are proudly claiming that they’ve waited 41 years to see India bring home a hockey medal at the Olympics. Mainland Indians who’ve always called people from the Northeast ‘chinkies’ and told them to go to China have suddenly done an about-turn and are scrambling to find out the difference between Manipur and Assam. Filmmakers are trying to figure out whom to cast in upcoming biopics (Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Lovlina Borgohain? After all, she played Mary Kom, another boxer from the Northeast, so why not Borgohain?) The quicker-on-their-feet filmmakers have probably already sent Chopra an offer.
And leaving everybody behind in the exultation are our politicians. Always adept at jumping on the bandwagons, the people in power are busy showing their support for our sportspeople. Huge posters, each with a politician beaming brightly out of it, congratulate Borgohain, Chopra, Chanu, etc (who can barely be seen in these posters, by the way). They’ve gone on a renaming spree, with statesmen again hogging the limelight. There have been photo sessions, announcements of awards and government jobs—and yes, accolades for the benevolence of those in power. Who’re probably busy thinking how the `230 crore reduction in the Khelo India budget is now going to be defended…
Our Olympic winners may as well bask in the glory—for now. And our children may as well emulate them for a few days, while the euphoria lasts. After that, it’s back to studies, because, after all, the degrees are what matters. Where’s the future in sports?