It was not what she said but the way she said it that surprised me. There was pride in her voice, none of the usual disappointed resignation that accompanies such information. Before the cropped hair young girl could answer, her grandmother had volunteered, “Circus karra kare .” Intrigued, I looked questioningly at the girl, again the dadi spoke first, “Yoga nahin hua karein, angrezon wala, woh kare hai.” Finally, the girl got in a word edgeways,“Gymnastics ki training le rahin hoon ji.”
Riding high on the medal tally in the Commonwealth games earlier this year which was duplicated in the recently concluded Asian games, clearly the young Haryanvi lass was following a trend. What was unusual was that she seemed from an impoverished background and gymnastics is not the usual contact sport Haryanvis are known for. I wondered how she stumbled into it and she divulged that her father had motivated her after watching Dipa Karmakar performance at Rio,” Is mein bheedh kam sai. Ye seekh legi to zindagi sambhal jayegi.” In a state where slogans like “Padak lao, pad pao “ ( bring a medal, get a job) reverberate in the villages her father was not off mark.
There is no doubt that Haryana has emerged as the medal winning sports capital of India. With only 2% of the nation’s population it accounted for one third of the medals in the Commonwealth games and one fourth of the total haul in the Asian games. Many theories are cited for this exceptional ability. Haryana is an agrarian state in the midst of the green revolution. Most land holdings are uneconomical hence depend on family labour. In the absence of hired help, back breaking labour in extreme climatic conditions is a way of life. This, and what is locally described as ‘ doodh dahi ka khana’ is the reason for the robust physique of the average Haryanvi. Traditionally the rough and tough Haryanvis (rough language, tough physique!) have served in the army, the shift to sports came easily.
Also, due to its location on the frontier, Haryana was exposed to loot and plunder as invaders made their way to Delhi from the North. Anthropologists blame this historical fact for their inherent aggression and their predilection for combative sports which depend more on strength than strategy. Akharas, with grappling loin clad men is a common village sight.
But apart from the geographical and historical ones there is a practical reason for this rising interest. For more than a decade now the state government has encouraged sports, more by rewarding winners than by improving the infrastructure. With job promises and cash incentives that are highest in the country, there is little reason why the average enterprising youth will not grab this opportunity to cash in on extra-scholastic skills. The awards often spill over to benefit the entire village through development hence become folklore. Growing up with such role models makes children believe that a decent career is just a win away.
The big question is does this state policy that celebrates success, help build character and inculcate a sports culture? Sportsmanship is the quality of showing fairness, respect and generosity towards the opposing team. Are we achieving it ? One look around and it seems that we are nowhere near this ideal. We are creating ‘sportsmen’ with eyes on the medal, not love for the game. But perhaps once we have sportsmen, magnanimity will follow. In any case for a state which is often in the news for the wrong reasons, sportsmanship or no sportsmanship, a medal is a medal, and enough reason to rejoice.
( published in my column in the Haryana Tribune on 15/9/18)