Sunday, 17 August 2008

One World - One Dream!

"Almost two thirds of our planet is covered with water. The earliest life-forms in this planet all evolved through water. Isn't it fitting that the greatest champion ever on the planet is from Water? After all, the blue whale, the largest mammal in the planet is from water. Right?" … these were my initial thoughts on hearing the biggest sporting feat that was achieved today.

Well, what happened today then? Michael Phelps of the United States of America won his 8th gold medal in swimming events at the ongoing Beijing 2008 Olympic games, breaking all previous records to become the greatest Olympian of all times. Phew! Isn't that a phenomenal achievement? What's more? He leads the list of all time gold medal winners in Olympics by having won 14 golds!

Olympics is the greatest sporting event that happens in the world. A medal at these games is any country's aspiration and the dream of every athlete. Winning a medal is in itself a spectacular achievement. But winning gold - not one, not two - but eight of them - awesome! I am at real loss of words at such an amazing feat. I consider myself lucky that I witnessed the breaking of this record live on television. Even though it was Phelps' moment of glory, I felt honored to have seen it happen live!

I am not an ardent follower of the games nor do I know how many events are held in total at the present Olympic games. But being a supporter of all sports, I have been following the important news of Olympics very closely. When the media in our country had not grown to such obnoxious levels, our very own Doordarshan used to air some of the track and field, swimming and indoor events of the Olympics. I also faintly remember watching the Opening ceremony of the games (maybe Atlanta, 1996 or Sydney, 2000) These games have always captivated me. Athletes from all over the world coming together regardless of their race, culture, socio-political situation in the country and playing in the spirit of the game is what makes these events so remarkable. I wanted India to win a medal in any event that it participated. But soon, I learnt that our country's record at the games was not a one to be envied at. With the mentally tough Chinese and Japanese on one side, the quick Africans on other and the physically well-built athletes from Australia and US, India never stood a chance. Nevertheless, I was happy for the games itself and celebrated the lone bronze or silver medals that came in our way.

Just a fortnight ago, I didn't even know of someone called Phelps. For that matter, I dint even know someone called Abhinav Bindra. Thanks to a cricket-crazy nation like ours, and the media hype surrounding only few players, there was nothing much I knew about them. India's most successful individual moment of glory came in this Olympics when Abhinav made us proud by winning the first individual gold medal for India since 1900. It could be rated right there as one the greatest sporting achievements by India.

Applauses and prizes kept pouring in for Abhinav from the time the news of the medal came. Governments of state, sports organizations, companies, business tycoons all over the country went on to announce awards for him. I felt good that some sport other than cricket is finally getting its due in this nation. It is now time the governments started thinking more than just announcing awards and followed it up by encouraging more and more people into taking up sports as professionals. For a nation of over one billion people, just an individual gold medal at Olympics is not enough. The infrastructure for sports should be set-up, transparency in selection should be ensured and more importantly, the budding talents should be nurtured so that they focus clearly on their goals - getting glory for our nation.

When we see China or the United States winning so many medals in Olympics in event after event, every four years, we just admire their talent, praise their achievements, grumble that our country can never get there and forget all about it once the events are over. But in reality, each and every medal in Olympics is not just an individual moment of glory which the Chinese or Americans always manage to achieve. It is not something which can be achieved by just peaking at the right time. Each and every athlete undergoes years of rigorous trainings, puts in dedicated efforts, all the while following a strict diet, each moment staying determined and not losing focus on his ultimate goal - the medal. Winning the medal is just the culmination of all these- of all their hard work paying off, of finally getting recognition for their struggle. I am told, athletes in China are trained for months together without even getting a chance to meet their parents till they win a medal for the country. Such is the country's determination. No wonder then they are at the top of the table this year.

Phelps' story is no different. Form the tender age when he was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, he started training as a swimmer. He spent days and days in the swimming pool continuously preparing for that ultimate feat - achieving the unachievable! He went into 2000 Sydney Olympics as a teenager and started his quest to become the greatest Olympians of all times. He didn't have it easy. But he was not the one to give up. He believed in himself and never let go of his goal. Even in this Olympics, during one of the races, his goggles mal-functioned. Inspite of that, he swam away to glory breaking the world record!

Winning a gold medal is one thing that every athlete, every sports-person dreams of. It is the greatest sporting honour that could be bestowed upon you. Inspite of being the champion that he is, Roger Federer could only manage a doubles gold in tennis till now. And it is in this context that Phelps is outstanding. It seemed that he won a gold medal everyday. Today's newspaper carried reports of his seventh gold medal and by the time we could read it, he had already conquered eight! Today was the culmination of all his hard work. But it is certainly not the end. Great going Phelps! Great going all athletes! The dream world is at stake. It is yours to take!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Bharat Mata ki Jai!

"At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom"
Sixty one years have passed since the speech by Nehru on the midnight of 15th August, 1947 but each time we hear it, the thrill, joy and excitement is the same. On this happy occasion, I wish each one of my compatriots a very happy independence day.

The very word "freedom" has amazed me from the time I was a kid. Dad used to tell me the stories of sacrifices made by numerous freedom fighters every night when we went to bed. When we were in school, we were summoned to the school play-ground by 7:30 AM early morning in neat uniforms and polished, white, shoes for the "flag-hoisting ceremony". Years later, I used to keenly observe the prime minister (Vajpayee, most of the times) hoist the flag at the "red-fort" and deliver his address to the nation. Seeing the magnificent tri-colour fly atop the grand fort filled me with some kind of respect and pride at the same time. I feel honored to be a citizen of this great country.

On this happy occasion, let us take a few moments to remember all the great fighters who laid down the life for our country. Usually, we associate the freedom of India with one man- Mahatma Gandhi. I don't disagree. But there are other numerous heroes who laid down their lives for the sole purpose of achieving freedom. Since 1857, right from Rani Lakshmi Bai, Mangal Pandey, Maulana Azad, Lala Lajpat Rai till Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sarojini Naidu, Tilak, etc numerous people have toiled, suffered, fought and ultimately sacrificed themselves for this nation. Each one of them deserves a special mention and appreciation form us.

From the stories that my Dad told, I feel like sharing the stories(in bits and pieces) of two of the lesser known fighters and the even bigger role they played in making our country what it is today.

"Bharat Mata ki Jai!"

The policman who held the whip in his hand was surprised. This time he hit even harder.

"Vande Mataram!"

How could it be? Was it whiplashes he was giving or some kind of energy tablets? He used all his force to this time.

"Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai!"

With every stroke of the whip, the slogan shouting became harder. The police man grew ashamed of himself. And the fact that he was hitting a small boy of 15 years made it even worse. Who was this boy who showed so much of strength and patriotism at such a young age?

He was none other than Chandrashekar Azad - the leader who inspired a new breed of young freedom fighters - revolutionaries. Their only mission in life was "Complete Freedom" - Azaadi.

Azad was inspired by Gandhi's ideals at a very young age. When he was 15, he participated in a peace rally in Varanasi. He was enraged when a police-man hit unarmed civilians and he attacked the police with a stone. When he was produced in the court and asked his name by the magistrate, he said "Azad". He was sentenced to 15 whip lashes and that was when the above incident happened.

Due to difference in ideology with Gandhi, Azad formed a team of freedom fighters who believed that only way for India's independence was revolt against the British with arms. He inspired the likes of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, RamPrasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan and others to join him. Since he had declared himself free, he never let himself be captured alive. When he knew he was about to be captured, he shot himself, sacrificing himself to the cause of independence.

"Mysore celebrates its 61st independence day today!"

"Happy Independence Day to all people of Hyderabad"

"The prime minister of Junagadh wishes all his country men a happy independence day"

Imagine the newspapers with above lines. Imagine 560 more countries in the world today - all small, small pieces of land that you don’t even know where one ends and other starts. Imagine requiring a passport to visit Chennai. Imagine planning a vacation to Goa and having to pass through 5 different countries for it. Imagine river Ganga to be shared by 80 different nations. Too much, isn't it? This could have been very much possible had it not been for one man - Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

When the British left India as per the "Partition of India cum India Independence act,1947", they also left with us 565 independent princely states and provinces. The power hungry rulers and leaders, immediately declared their independence and wanted to form separate nations. The daunting task of unifying them and making them agree to one nation was taken up by Patel. In some cases he used "smart talk"; diplomacy in others; "brute military force" for others but finally ended up unifying each and every of these states to the union of India. He was rightly titled - "The Iron Man of India".

It was almost a sure fact that India would get independence following "Quit India" movement in 1942 the end of World war2 in 1945. But the demand for a separate Muslim nation in Bengal and Punjab provinces was very strong and the Congress and the Muslim League had almost decided on a proposal to split the nation in number of states based on religious majority. But it was Patel who convinced both the parties and finally brought the current partition plan into place. Though the riots and violence during partition were really bad and provocative, it was important that the nations which had just acquired independence did not run into disarray. He took lead and organized refugee camps, peace rallies and restored order in the nation.

Patel is surely one among elite freedom fighters but he will always be remembered for his efforts of unifying a nation so big and so much diverse.

Each and every fighter who has laid down his life for this nation has given us this sweet fruit of independence. On this joyous day when we celebrate the spirit of independence, let us rasie a toast to all those great people. Jai Hind!