(VICTORY TO YOU)
Aaja Jariwale Nile Aasman Ke Tale
(COME JOIN ME UNDER THE GLITTERING BLUE SKY)
Jai Ho, Lyrics: Gulzar / Composer A.R. Rahman
“It is pretty shocking seeing the empty seats. Wonder what ticket prices are?”
“1.2 billion people live in India and maybe 40 or 50 of them have turned up to watch the host nation play in a netball game”
“Maybe they should of held the commonwealth games in Perth, there were better crowds at unigames”
“#T1 : Grandma interested in #CWG status of the day, #T2 : Grandma asks when does the next Test Match Start?”
“#cwg 6 golds wow….but y we don’t get more then single gold in Olympics……i always wish,India should be on top of table in Olympics :)”
“That indians have a fascination for gold is not new.. that we can win it in sports and so many of them .. is ! #CWG”
I love India; it’s an incredible and infuriating country to spend time in – & it requires time. India is everything and nothing … you can eat, cross-legged on the floor with thousands of Sikh pilgrims at Amritsar’s Golden Temple; go to the Regal Cinema in Mumbai & throw popcorn at the bad guys in a Bollywood blockbuster; or take a package holiday in Goa, eating full English breakfasts & never setting foot outside Calangute.
It’s incredible: the languages, the food, the people, the diversity of landscapes, architecture, religions; and infuriating: the wild goose chases because nobody says ‘no’, or ‘i don’t know’, spending half a day to send a parcel, the obvious baksheesh deals to get you into the ‘right’ shop, the unbelievable gap between rich and poor. Most of all, it’s intense: the slums, the inevitable illnesses, the Taj at dawn, the ghats on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi, Gandhiji’s memorial, the forts and palaces, the impeccable saris, the rituals, the sacred cows.
India is everything the world is – but in one country. Communal violence, corruption, coexistence, TV channels – all on a monumental scale that you don’t understand until you arrive. The crowds buying bhelpuri on a muggy night at Chowpatty Beach aren’t hundreds of people, they’re thousands; Dharavi slum is Asia’s largest, & yet there’s an emerging middle class of 200m plus and 565 million mobile phone connections (and better reception). In 2007, I arrived in Delhi after three months travelling from Kerala to the Pakistani border. From my autoricksaw in freezing December, I saw children sleeping outside construction sites; yet Forbes 2010 rich list names 69 Indians in the world’s top billionaires – two in the top five. It has one time zone – the infamous Indian Standard Time – which is an elastic concept in a geographically daunting country and the accepted price of doing business.
So with every tweet, comment, news update, whatever, that I come across about how badly the Commonwealth Games is going attendance-wise, I want to scream. India is a maddening place to get things done, but when you go with it and see its mighty past and awesome (in geopolitical and socio-economic terms) future, you just laugh. You laugh and you cry and you are moved by the smallest things and the biggest problems. Having seen construction standards, and experienced power failures across the country, the fact that the athletics track is on par with a school playground and the official broadcast centre is a shambles doesn’t surprise me. That people question a country’s pride or place because of a sketchy crowd at a netball game – that just saddens me. I’m obviously passionate about this, but I’m trying to rationalise it. Here goes:
1/. The BCCI (The Board of Control for Cricket in India) refused to reschedule the Australian test series. It is an utter conundrum that the most cricket mad nation I’ve visited can’t fill a 30,000-seat stadium in Mohali for a thrilling test match, but weigh it up – there are entire TV channels devoted to cricket, 24/7 – replaying matches endlessly. A new match = huge TV audiences, product placement and profits. It is no joke that everything moves a little slower when a cricket match is on. It is inescapable, but as a woman who can attempt to bowl overarm, I was all kinds of weird to kids wherever I went, whether it was in the laneways of Old Delhi or an orphanage in Mamallapuram; for my backyard cricket days I remain eternally grateful. The laughs I had with children I couldn’t otherwise communicate with – (unless I handed over my camera – self-portraits are a big hit) made my angst about the overwhelming poverty a little more bearable. I don’t think I have ever cried as hard as I did leaving that orphanage. I had my own Jolie moment, fantasising that I could somehow adopt a child when in reality, I can’t even keep tropical fish alive. Enough: suffice to say that the BCCI is as powerful as the IOC, FIFA and the European Union rolled into one and the Commonwealth Games didn’t stand a chance against it;
2/. Historically, India has never ‘performed’ at the Commonwealth Games (271 total medals won at 14 games attended out of 18) – or the Olympics – 20 Olympic Games medals total since 1920 (6 gold in men’s field hockey). Australians flip their wigs if we finish further down the medal tally than countries larger than us by infinity and beyond; yet the IOC’s head, Jacques Rogge, is there, encouraging an Indian bid for the Olympics. This is a trial run, they’ll get a whole heap of criticism and then get it right in 20 years time. $100 on it now;
3/. Not all countries care. Australian TV promos pitched the entire games as a grudge match between Australia and England. Stuff everyone else. Try listening to BBC World Service. Every time any other nation wins anything, they’re shouting from the rooftops. Last night, every hour, they played a quote from an Australian competitor (sorry, can’t remember name) who described the games as a bit like a training run for a better competition. It comes at the end of the far more lucrative Euro athletics season; the sun has well and truly set on the Empire, so it’s time to ask: is the whole thing an anachronism? Plenty of the Commonwealth’s best athletes are voting with their feet and saying I’m not bothering. Why should Indian spectators pay for the privilege of not seeing many of the best athletes in the world (barring, for example, Steve Hooker who is competing and to his absolute credit, has publicly stated that he doesn’t understand why others have withdrawn) – or even the best athletes in the Commonwealth. This article from the Bangalore Mirror gives a pretty comprehensive list of reigning champions not appearing (some who definitely wanted to go but had to withdraw because of injury); others, like Usain Bolt, who at least said straight up that it doesn’t suit his training schedule; but I’m going to call it as I see it: if it’s safe enough for the Australian cricket team to go, it is safe enough for Canadian badminton player Alvin Lau to get out of uni for 12 days to compete (seriously – I’ve never met a student who couldn’t wangle their way out of college)
4/. There are shedloads of Indians who can undoubtedly afford tickets and get time off. Public servants get approximately 20 days’ holiday a year – 3 secular, national holidays – the rest are (‘local’ holidays according to which state you live in, or religious observances). If you work in the private sector, say for a corporation, chances are you may get the same time – but what if you don’t? What if you’re the hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor? What if you work everyday selling ice from a cart to feed your family? Ticket prices for athletics events range from zero on the last day of competition – the marathon finals to Rs1,000 (AUD 23.22 today)http://www.tickets.cwgdelhi2010.org/cgibin/bv60.dll/cwg/home/schedule.do?sportsname=Athletics. The median salary in Delhi is Rs419,000 (AUD9,729 today): http://www.payscale.com/research/IN/Country=India/Salary/by_City The median salary in Sydney is $65,460. So each Rs1,000 seat would cost a Sydneysider on the median salary the equivalent of $163. Think about it, long and hard: would you fly to the Gold Coast, pay for accommodation and alcohol, put up with maddening security and see the best of who can be arsed turning up when you can watch it on tv for nothing?http://www.payscale.com/research/AU/Country=Australia/Salary/by_City
5/. Finally, who the hell are we to talk? ANZ Stadium is hardly ever ‘full’ … a couple of football games a year; it’s never carried the same numbers as it did during the Olympics because they got rid of the extra stands. If people are so incensed by crowd numbers at the netball in New Delhi, then TV ratings and attendance figures at Australia’s stellar women’s comp should double next year.
But most of all, why should any of this deter this inspiring, infuriating country, one of the world’s fastest developing economies, from sinking billions into sporting & other infrastructure? India is a member of the G20; the world’s largest democracy and second largest population. I really hope that Delhi makes similar reuse of facilities as Beijing did with its Olympics venues http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26393878/ns/beijing_olympics-beijing_olympics_news/ and the performances of the stars who will be made by these games inspire and bring joy. A sincere “Jai Ho” to everyone who loves the Commonwealth Games. To all of the competitors, supporters, TV audiences around the world … “Victory to You”.