Monday, August 25, 2008

Of Olympics and Kerala - മൂട്ട് കുട്ടികള് & കപ്പ കുട്ടികള്

PUNE: Kerala won the overall championship for the ninth consecutive year in the National School Games athletics championships which concluded here on Wednesday.

Kerala won 39 gold, 29 silver and 18 bronze medals to finish first with 331 points. Maharashtra with 90 points came a distant second. Kerala also won the titles in the boys (148) and girls (183) section respectively.

Two meet records and a record equaling performance was the highlight of the final day's proceedings. Tintu Luka (Kerala) in junior girls 800m and Sibani Bhumij in junior girls triple jump set the meet records while the record equaling performance came from K.C. Dija in junior girls pole vault. See the results of 2006 games here

Kerala has been winning the National athletics championship for quite some years now and it is a real sad story .Whenever I read about the state winning athletic championship , I remember about one of my old schoolmates who used to finish 100 m in <11 seconds when he was in high school and is doing some manual job in Gulf now. Later I read somewhere that the average time of Olympic finalists in the same age for 100 m was the same when they were being coached in U S of A.

Whenever there is an Olympics or Asiad there is a lot of hue and cry about India not winning enough or to that matter even a single medal .For a change this time we won three medals . It took 112 years for us to win a gold. When Abhinav Bindra climbed the top podium Monday, a billion people's heart swelled in pride (moi included) for two seconds and If we analyse the per capita - gold medal - population ratio India would have been proudly sitting at the top of the bottom chart. Once Olympics is over there is series of announcements from various associations and ministers about the steps that will be taken soon to bring cartels of gold medals to the country in next Olympics.However after sometime everybody conveniently forget that the efforts have to be started at the grassroots and Olympic medals comes with years of efforts of many people and hard working athletes.

In athletics , Kerala is very rich in raw talent , rather the talent come in pockets like hilly areas of Kottayam , Wayanad , Kannur and Idukki where people have to struggle really hard to make their ends meet . Most of these pockets are places which are essentially synonymous with extreme poverty and agricultural laborers who often plough hard in the sun with emaciated bullocks to earn meager incomes that barely makes their ends meet and so on. There are so many schools from these areas which have been ruling over the Kerala state athletic Championships . K M Beenamol , Anju Bobby George etc came through these various stages of tough competition which always depended on pure merit and may be accentuated to a large extent by the legend of P T Usha.

Well, somewhere down the way when they win these medals these athletes and the talent start to wither , as one of my friends was telling me there are larger issues to be taken care of in life like the sister has to be married off , parents who have become old can no longer toil in the field and as their son it is an embarrassment to bring gold when he is not earning anything for the family and so on .Moreover the prizes and the championships give just medals which is not of any significance rather than showcasing them in a shelf in house . It is not surprising to read the stories in Malayalam newspapers of athletes , rowers , football players and weighlifters who have represented and won medals for the nation but who are staying in huts and skeletal shelters which may collapse anytime requesting for help.

There are two types of students who come to compete usually in state championships . In Malayalam they can be categorized as Muttakuttikal-മൂട്ട് കുട്ടികള്- (who are from well to do families and survive on eggs and other healthy foods) and Kappakuttikal-കപ്പ കുട്ടികള് - (who are from poor families and survive on rice and tapioca)
and no prizes to guess who wins most of the time , surprisingly it is Kappakuttikal who toil hard in sweat for each medal they win.In fact I am aware about few who won in SGFC and eventually were admitted to N D A on the basis of their sport achievements . Things have certainly improved and there are now reservations for these athletes in various Government jobs and PSU jobs but it is like too many people chasing one bread.When I see sponsors chasing cricketers and Sania Mirza with loads and loads of cash , I think about so many unknown faces toling hard in so many parts of India ( I don't think this is a problem specific to Kerala) with caliber but had to fade away due to family commitments and external pressure.

There were some sporadic effortstoo like this by P T Usha with a dream of an Indian in 2008 Olympic podium. It did not happen in athletics . But It happened in shooting and a gold medal in Olympics is a Gold Medal.Thanks to Abhinav Bindra's dad. Not for what you think , silly , but for that 1- Crore Shoooting Range.

Hope these three medals is just the beginning of a new era in Indian sports.