Saturday, July 8, 2006

Sports all the way
Amita Malik

Amita MalikLast week, the sports viewer’s nightmare came through. On one evening we had cricket from the West Indies, tennis from Wimbledon and World Cup football from Germany. Unless one was serious about being faithful to one sport, the choice became hard. Especially for generalists like your columnist.

I understand tennis because I used to play it, I had to watch the West Indies test because I am a reasonable patriotic Indian and how could I miss the World Cup, the greatest show on earth which is a visual delight on TV and comes only once every four years. So I tried a solution which was “clever-clever” and tricky but great fun. I cajoled my cable operator to put the three events side by side on my TV set. So whenever there was a break in one sport, I could just move quickly to the adjoining channel and if something sensational was happening, stayed with it. Not a very sedate or serious way to watch anything, but as I said, it seemed the only way not to feel frustrated.

Meanwhile the season of exposes which I mentioned last week has another riveting serial expose of tremendous public interest and of great importance to the aam aadmi who spends his adult life fighting heartless bureaucrats. NDTV is doing a splendid job, in collaboration with a leading newspaper, of gathering people who have overcome the bureaucracy by taking help of the Right to Information.

An amazing array of people, including one father who wanted a passport to go with his wife to their daughter, who was abroad and having her first baby. Between the passport office and the police, they gave him the runaround for weeks. And this was no aam aadmi but a retired bank manager. Then he was advised to resort to the law, told about the Right to Information and also told why his passport was being delayed. It was the obvious reason: some people wanted a bribe. But once he brought in the Right to Information, he got his passport within 10 days.

Endless people who have similarly suffered are appearing every day on the NDTV channel to recount their experiences and those who need advice get it. So I strongly urge viewers to follow this fascinating expose while it runs because it is one of the most sustained and valuable exposes I have seen on Indian television.

And, incidentally, aam log, including villagers and poor people from chawls and jhuggis have also appeared on the programme and recounted how they got justice. It is a programme which concerns us all and I recommend it most highly.

I forgot to mention earlier why bureaucrats are so quick to respond to an application for right to information about a case which they are handling. It is because they can be fined Rs 500 per day for a maximum of Rs 25,000.

Serve them right, because it is the belief of most people that this country is not being ruined by politicians, who come and go, but by bureaucrats, who are there for ever.

That sport can be highly emotional was more than proved by TV cameras last week. There were images that stayed with you: brave players of Brazil weeping after losing, as were their fans; English players being consoled by their victors after missing the shoot-out, followed by Beckham’s resignation in tears.

The evergreen Agassi bowing and blowing kisses to his fans at Wimbledon as he took a misty-eyed farewell and his wife Steffi Graf sat looking sad in the royal box. Brian Lara’s lament from the heart, not really the thing to do in public, as he blamed the selectors and the man who made the pitch for their sad loss in the Test series after winning the ODIs.

In India too, there was mourning by fans when Brazil lost. All this says that sport is a healthy challenge which unites people all over the world and always rises above politics. The television cameras more than proved that.