Leander Paes’ name shines through Indian sports like a golden ray that illuminates the surroundings in dazzling light. That he is still active at 43 is in itself testimony to his passion for a sport he has devoted his life to. His phenomenal achievements, be it in Grand Slams or when representing the country in Davis Cup, is well documented. It is a career which can have an epitaph saying, “great sportsman, intense human being and a man who was as proud to represent his country as the country was to own him up.”
In a sportsman’s long career, especially as long as Paes’, there are bound to be jarring notes, ups and downs dotting the journey. These are a fan’s dream and envy of those who do not always share in the success of others. In Paes’ case, his spats with another illustrious sportsman of his own tribe, Mahesh Bhupathi, who he once shared the limelight on the world stage with, have been a major source of discord and disharmony. They have divided not only the tennis fraternity but followers as well, sparing not even those who disseminate news.
For long, we have been fed with stories of the villainous one and the heroic other, of the aggressor and the victim, the role depending on whose side of the story you get to hear. In this inter-play of dramatic human interactions where the lines between personal and public, ambition and greed, fair play and deceit, wisdom and ignorance, get so blurred that all one is left with are bruised egos and tragic consequences.
Like in a more written and celebrated sports in India—cricket —officialdom, instead of playing the role of a statesman to diffuse a potentially explosive situation with sensitivity and care, has chosen to lie dormant, letting a wound fester till it can’t be cured.
One can well visualize the agony of one of India’s greatest sportsman being publicly humiliated by being told he is not part of the playing squad, when he is very much picked to be part of it. The immediate question is not whether Paes deserves to be in the team, especially given his form and age. The question to be raised is why pick him in the first place, when it is not certain he will be played or not?
You may well be critical of Paes, especially for not realizing, may be that his time is up and he needs to bow out gracefully and not stretch his career to extreme lengths. You may wonder why a man who loves to identify himself with the Tricolor and has given some of his most memorable performances while playing for the country, is so disliked by his teammates, that they don’t want to play with him.
Be it Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna and, of course, Bhupathi, all three have at some stage or the other preferred not to partner him.
However, that is not the point of debate here. It is the manner we treat our greats, even though they may be at fault.Paes, India’s tennis treasure, should not have been rebuffed a day before a Davis Cup match. This should have been done much before the team for the tie had been selected, that too after reasoning out with him. Whatever his weaknesses may be, he has earned the right to not be rejected so summarily.