What I learnt from not watching the Olympics

About a month ago, the husband and I suffered a broken television, thanks to an elephant being thrown at it. I mean one of my metal haathi curios, of course. It’s a long and weird story, so don’t ask for details. Just know that the LCD screen cracked inside. And what started as a small black spidery scrawl, has over the weeks turned into a giant gaping blackhole, which now covers more than three-quarters of the screen.

Neither the husband or I bothered to get anything done about it. In the past, he’s made gallant claims about banishing the TV altogether to have one less wired gadget to hook ourselves too. I’ve scoffed at him every time, because between the two of us, I barely watch any TV (save a few annual shows I watch in their time), while he’s the one who usually needs the TV on, mindlessly surfing, watching anything that catches his fancy, no matter what point of telecast it is at. But when he took this as a sign to make do without a television, and actually didn’t do a thing about it, I sat up and took notice. Its been almost 6 weeks now, and we haven’t so much as turned the TV on.

Anyhoo, the point of this long winded backgrounder is to say this: we missed the Olympics. Every last minute of it. So while I was informed about our third, fourth and fifth medal wins thanks to the news and ultra enthusiastic followers at work, I didn’t actually get to watch any of it myself. What I didn’t miss however, is the general disdain of India’s wonted performance. Every four years the excitement begins, as the games near desh-pyaar videos crowd television channels and now, youtube too. Suddenly everybody is united in a rather impulsive sense of national pride. Then our athletes perform abysmally, and of course we slip back into the same old arm chair philosophers mode. Making misguided comments, running down what little we do achieve, having generalist sweeping opinions that discount the few achievers we do have.

Why does India always under-perform, in the eyes of fellow Indians? Is it because we aren’t equipped? Cannot afford it? Or maybe its because we simply do not care. I think it goes beyond the obviously cited reasons like we-only-spend-money-glorifying-cricket and we-have-no-infrastructure-to-support-athletics. I don’t think these are reasons that run deep enough. Because it doesn’t explain how athletes from Jamaica, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Azarbaijan went back home with more medals than the Indian team. We’re richer, we’re stable and certainly in a position to more for our athletes than some of them could have. So it cant be the money and the infrastructure alone. Like I shared with some of our friends on Saturday night, I think a lot of it is cultural, sociological, and what we are conditioned to be and do with our lives.

As kids we grow up with the need to perform academically, ingrained in us. Success and failure in life is measured against how well one does academically. Being independent and happy in life is seen only in what kind of hi-flying job one can find and how quickly one can move up the ladder. We’re a “job” obsessed country. And these jobs are almost all conventional, 9-5, office-going activities. Sure, things are changing slowly, but I can’t remember the last time someone from my generation chose to pursue a career in sports. Or chose to become a chef. Or an artist. Or even work with an NGO, for that matter.The tragedy is I’ve had more than a handful of classmates who were at some point or the other interested in cricket and other sport, enough to pursue it professionally. But somewhere along the way it peters out. Academic pressures take over. Because we cannot fathom success in any other way except in big bucks and fancy lifestyles.

Sports has, and always will be considered, to quote a term I loathe, an extra-curricular activity. Never a priority. An after-school recreational activity. Never taken seriously. And I think somewhere it reflects in situations like this. When as a nation, we’re faced with fierce competition, even the best amongst a billion of us, fall short.

I’m sharing a piece I was especially pleased to see in The Atlantic, which cites many reasons why Indians win so few Olympic medals. And I found that I was in agreement with lot, though not all, of their opinions.

I was overjoyed when I heard about Mary Koms medal, and humbled by her reaction that followed. Yes, she’s overcome many odds, some unimaginable for those of us living perfectly secure, normal lives. But why let that take away form the fact that at the end of the day she is a sportwoman first. Mother-of-two next. She is one of the very very few people who took her sport seriously. Who followed it like her life depended on it. She had the will. And that’s what it takes to fight all the odds.

When was the last time you heard an Indian parent genuinely encourage and inculcate that sort of spirit in his/her children? And no, don’t give me the its-not-practical lecture, or the Mary-Kom-is-a-one-in-a-billion case. Because its that attitude that brings us back five medals (or fewer), once every four years.


17 thoughts on “What I learnt from not watching the Olympics

  1. Hi

    A very interesting post. The problem is not just with the attitude.
    Every other day we see articles in magazines about a once famous athlete , gold medalist in Asian Games etc now leading a miserable life and trying to make ends meet with a lot of difficulty with no further recognition.
    In the low income families especially , a solid source of income will definitely be given more importance and hence sport does not get all the support it needs.
    Only in affluent families people take up sports without worrying about income etc.
    To the others a way to feed all the mouths matters more than some medals I guess.
    I dont mean to say the attitude is right. There is a reason behind it.


    1. Yes that’s exactly my point. I think the reasons are many. When I talk about the attitude of inculcating a habit to pursue a dream, cases in point are those who can afford to take such risks. As many people have also suggested here this trend is seen either in the really rich or the really poor. And as such the average middle class Indian is risk averse. And rightly so


  2. JayadevM

    Wrote a piece on the Olympics too – like cricket my comments on India’s performance generated quite a bit of heat.

    We agree on one thing – it is India’s attitude towards sports that stops us from producing world-class athletes. A lot needs to be down for us to stem the rot – these are my thoughts:


    Still curious about a hathi curio being flung at an LCD TV. I am sure there are other ways to switch it off. Maybe the remote was not close enough. :)


    1. I think there are many reasons, we’ve only listed some of them, that too, not holistically.
      As for the TV, like I said, long and weird story :) i involved an excited child visiting me, and being misguided into flinging a curio around :P unfortunately one of them reached the tv..


      1. JayadevM

        Gosh! Bad blow for being a good host!

        You are right! Reasons for the Olympics debacle are many – it’s not something we can solve in 2-3 clearly definitely steps, has to be a series of tentative ones. Hopelessly resulting in a few more medals in the years ahead.


  3. I stopped watching TV when I went away to college. I only bought a TV recently, a couple of months ago in fact, and though there was the initial spike in interest at watching it, I barely watch it anymore and now think it’s a waste!

    Regarding the Olympics… I agree with a lot of things you said, as well as a lot of what nmaha said. Of course… the reasons are many and varied… and it’s not easy to pinpoint ONE thing. You can say that a lot of parents force their kids into academics… but with the rise of reality television, now there are a lot of parents who encourage their kids to pursue dancing and singing.
    We’ve a filmy nation, and people are highly influenced by the things they see on TV and in the movies (ironic considering most of the comments here talk abt how we don’t watch TV!).
    Maybe if there was a reality TV show for it, our interest in sports would also increase. :P


  4. I was thinking about this too.
    We just don’t have the Olympic culture. The mind set of we’re going to set so much money into this sport or this sport and get all the high tech gear and so on.

    But I dont really have a problem with that. The money seems to be in cricket and thats ok. I just don’t see the point of the olympics frankly.

    I means its nice and all. but like, whatever. you can throw a disc. great good for you.

    India does 3 other things better:
    1. breeding
    2. shipping off the bred offspring out into the world
    3. I dont know what the 3rd is but i’ll think of something. Is it food?


    1. Ask me. It is totally food. Those who dont breed either do food. Or get pets. heehee..
      But this isnt even a sport-vs-cricket thing for me. Fine if cricket is what it is, lets at least be good at it. Lets get more young guns to do it right and for the right reasons, beyond the glamour and quick money.
      And since you brought about the breeding, I have to say that a lot of this happens because people breed for the heck of breeding, and then let their kids grow like weeds. With no sense of purpose.


  5. roxana

    I grew up with a father who didn’t think much of the TV. As a result, our TV was more decorative; we never even had a cable connection, when I was in school and college. We grew up with books, picnics, lots of outings, lazy summer holidays at the grandparents – and I think we turned out fine. When I set up my own home, I am quite clear about not wanting a TV. Like the other commenter said, a computer ensures you have adequate access to the news everyday, anyway. Plus, as long as the sitcoms are taken care of, I don’t think you miss much.
    As for the Olympics, I watched a total of 30 minutes of the various aquatic events. Like you said, while there is no taking away from the ones who brought home the medals, it’s rather sad that for a country our size, we celebrate our 6 medals so much. There is a lot of grass root changes that need to be made though. My limited world view has shown me that sports is the bastion of the rich or the poor in this country. The average, risk- averse middle class Indian family will take a long time before it starts viewing ‘sports’ as an option!


    1. My point exactly. Its a bit of a catch 22 isnt it. The bulk of indian citizens dont take the ‘risk’ and therefore sports are never taken seriously and therefore we dont get very far. And that brings us back again to people thinking it is a risk. If facilities allowed is as an equally viable option as say going to b school and if parents nurtured talents holistically and seriously far more people would opt for them. But it has to start somewhere.


  6. I had to comment on this post for a number of reasons (basically I could relate):
    1. We did away with our TV 2.5 years back (for a number of unavoidable reasons that I won’t go into here) and we don’t miss it. Before I sound holier than thou, let me say it’s easy because we have the internet. We get our news on google news and can always watch something (like Bolts phenomenal run) online if we want to. I also get my sitcoms on DVD and watch them over a few months (a few episodes once a month max). How we have inadvertently helped ourselves is that we have forgotten about the concept of channel surfing. In addition, our daughter never asks to watch tv per se because she doesn’t really think about it as an option (she does watch on Sundays when we go to our family home but she can’t do it for long and it’s not her first choice). We take our daughter for a lot of movies (see we are not great parents) and plays which she seems to enjoy, just like us.
    2. We were having this discussion on the Olympics last Sunday and came to same conclusion. It’s a question of nature and nurture. We are not encouraged to pursue an alternative career (loosely using the term here) in India. This maybe because of a number of reasons. Consider how many people inn Idia today live a hand to mouth existence, the sheer number of people competing for a single sporting position (which also has pretty low returns) and the lack of monetary support for athletes, it seems a smart move by most parents to insist on academics as the way to a better life. Consider the example of an ancient Kingdom, only once all their borders had been secured and every neighbour subdued did they turn to the arts, which was at some point followed by dominance by a physically faster and stronger people.
    Another reason is, we also lack the killer instinct, except when it’s a cricket match against Pakistan. Our supposedly well-funded and well-supported cricket team in one of the unfittest (is that a word) in the world of cricketing. We depend more on an inborn talent, which is a great starting point, rather than on training, strategy and fitness.
    So bottom line you probably won’t miss your T.V. and yes, your analysis does seem right on why we don’t do to well at competitive sport.
    I’ll stop now before you ask me to use my own blog to write :-)


      1. Oops forgot to add, we also concluded that the poor quality of nutrition in the country, has reduced the number of people actually able to play competitive sport.

        Will really stop now.


        1. Hope you won’t send a death squad after me, but there’s one more point I want to add: The genetic history of a race also makes a difference. Ethiopians and a lot of other African people have running (athletics) in their genes. Their muscle structure and other physical attributes helps in increasing the effectiveness of their training programs.


        2. Surely the levels of nutrition we CAN impart are safer than in Ethiopia? All Im saying is the reasons for not performing are many, but the games come and go, and in the 3.5 years in between, we dont really do all of the things we need to, to fix it.


    1. ok so two things:
      – About the TV — you’re spot on when you say I don’t miss it. Its so heartening to know that youve been TV-less for 2.5 years! I always have respect fr people who can pull it off in a time when conspicuous consumption is pretty much all we know.

      I dont mean to sound holier than thou, its a personal thing, but I have never been very big on TV watching, somehow we just grew up reading and spending time with our families, than only watching tv. TV happened sometimes, not all of the times. So maybe its purely a habitual thing to be able to go without the TV. the husband on the other hand has grown up with the TV on all the time. And I expected him to miss it more. But he doesnt either. We have just filled our lives with other things I suppose. Work, reading, spending time together leaves no room for television.

      That said, I do watch some sitcoms and TV shows on my laptop, and the only time I miss the TV is for the screen size, to hook up my dvds. My aversion is probably more with cable tv, rather than TV itself — know what I mean?

      – About the olympics — all the reasons you’ve cited are right. and yes, it is not easy for the average indian to rely on pursuing a dream. like I said, there are MANY reason (all valid) why we dont perform. But even amongst my own immediate family and social circle, amongst people who have the economic stability and stable lifestyles, I dont see parents inculcating that fighter spirit in their children. THat ability to follow a dream and encourage them to do whatever it is their passion is, and believe that it can make you successful. Rather I see them force children to give up theatre, music, sports when they enter 9th grade. And instill in them a certain oppressive belief that only when youre earning the big bucks are you really successful. How about telling your children that yes, you can be a musician and still get on in life. Do what you love, do it well, and uccess will follow. Instant making of money is not the only kind of success we should be inculcating in our children dont you think?

      My point was more about that. And I realise now that my post is goes on about a lot of things, before coming down to this. My bad, but I wrote it in such a fit of anger..


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