By Jagruti Verma Dec. 28, 2021
After a brutal second wave that had dented a country’s confidence to perform the bare minimum, an unheralded, humble young man stepped into the shoes of a saviour we didn’t know we needed. Thank you Neeraj Chopra for reinstating our self-belief.
I was in school when I saw a javelin stick for the first time. It was a remarkable object, but it didn’t stay in my memory for long. The thrill of getting to throw it in a practice session for the annual sports day didn’t last. We tend to erase memories that remind us of who we are not, and I definitely wasn’t built for the athleticism or strength required for this thing. Cut to a decade or so later, and I was glued to the screen of my phone, hoping an Indian had thankfully picked up the javelin, so we could all dream a little, again. Chopra’s fist pump after that landmark throw will be etched in my memory for years, not just for what it earned, but for the collective memory of pain and suffering in 2021, that it erased.
Neeraj’s win felt like a personal victory. The Javelin throw isn’t a glamorous affair for you have to consume it in a matter of seconds. It also lacks the salacious appeal of a sport that requires techniques and analysis. It instead feels straightforward, even overtly simple at times. But what meets the eyes always isn’t true about sport, where journeys don’t just begin on the field, but in homes that never dream of going to one. Further, in a country obsessed with cricket, it often takes a big international win (or a lot of commercialisation) for any non-cricket sport to garner interest. And for a child to take up sports (even cricket, for that matter) as a career? Oooof! Don’t even discuss it with Indian parents. Given that historical bogey, Chopra went where no Indian would dare.
Chopra’s fist pump after that landmark throw will be etched in my memory for years, not just for what it earned, but for the collective memory of pain and suffering in 2021, that it erased.
This year’s Olympics was different — they were an escape from the realities of the pandemic — roping audiences into the world by the sheer limitations of space and opportunities. However, it wasn’t just about the media consumption of the historic moment. It was about finding a way to be a part of something bigger and take pride in something (someone) other than your personal self. In a weird way, where the pandemic became an intensely personal exercise, the Olympics provided a way out of it, as a necessity over just the desire. At one point, remember, India was being hounded by international headlines by syndicating news of an ‘Indian variant’. From that ignominy to the glory of one man fighting all odds to win something no one expected of him, was quite the journey.
This year’s Olympics was about finding a way to be a part of something bigger and take pride in something (someone) other than your personal self.
Back in school, I could have never imagined that an ordinary looking, but extraordinarily weighted stick would go down in the country’s history. Moreover, to a cornered India, waking up to the nightmarish assault of an invisible enemy, this inanimate object would become a source of comfort and belief. As a woman, sports has rarely been on the agenda — parents would rather have tie-ups with coaching classes. Women are coached to behave a certain way and participate in a certain type of competitive space that doesn’t in any way diminish their womanhood – “Shaadi bhi toh karni hai”. In that context, the heroic feat of an underdog women’s hockey team at the same tournament felt like a screeching moment of clarity. We can, if we try.
Almost all of these stories, of course, come riddled with hardships, which stem from a lack of resources and the lack of political and cultural will to change things. India doesn’t help its sportspersons, but merely qualifies them as underdogs who achieve, despite the country and not because of it. A large chunk of our best athletes come from spaces and families that see sport as the alternative to by-pass cruel, bureaucratic systems that marginalise talent before it can even figure itself out.
In 2021 we were all left scrambling for glasses half-full this year, as a desperate attempt to reclaim something, anything. In the middle of such gloom, Neeraj’s win was like a flicker of fire. It was a testament to hope and self-determination.
In 2021 we were all left scrambling for glasses half-full this year, as a desperate attempt to reclaim something, anything. In the middle of such gloom, Neeraj’s win was like a flicker of fire. It was a testament to hope and self-determination. Chopra reinstated faith in a country that had been battered, internally and externally to the point of extinguishing all desire, to punch well above its weight. Because that is what we often do. Watching Chopra on stage, posing with the medal, felt like ‘the moment’ when the fog of a brutal year, somewhat, lifted. It’s odd to think a man threw a spear into the air, and it lifted the mood of a billion, harried people, but maybe that’s the beauty of sport. That it reassures humanity of the possibilities, despite everyone and everything trying to teach you otherwise.
Shuttling between Mumbai and Bangalore, Jagruti is a media kid in search of all things perfect.