Journey of A  shooting star

A Shot at History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold
By Abhinav Bindra, 
with Rohit Brijnath.
HarperCollins. Pages 229. Rs 399.

Reviewed by Belu Maheshwari

India has the misfortune of having very few living heroes, people whose lives and achievements inspire you and make you want to rise above the ordinary. Every country needs legends who can emotionally bind you, raise a lump in your throat with their extraordinary feats. It is the superhuman endeavour, either individual or collective, which makes for great nations.

Sports is a field where heroes are born, nations cheer them together, cry for them, hail them, become one with them. And we have few. Abhinav Bindra's story is the stuff legends are made of. His Olympic gold was a first for the nation. Therefore, his story is bound to evoke great interest. So when you pick up the book, you are ready to read about his achievements, get a gist of his life. But the book goes beyond. It is has the right message for our aspiring sportspersons without being preachy. The story telling, as narrated by Abhinav and put together by Rohit Brijnath, is riveting.

There is a refreshing honesty, directness of purpose without the usual gloating surrounding achievements or inconvenient subjects being brushed under the carpet. I had interviewed Abhinav around 1999-2000 for The Tribune. He was then being hailed as a new find, but I had come back with the impression that he was disinterested in talking to the media. This autobiography explains his journey as a shooter in the context of the pressures an athlete undergoes. Every nuance of the game is explained in a language that is easily comprehensible.

His approach to shooting is like a scholar, a career student. His routine is that of determination and soldiering on. His quest to excel from childhood, his parents contribution, the impact of his coaches, his training routine, mental fitness, everything finds mention.

He explains his standoffish behaviour as a mechanism to cope with pressure, but what forms the core of the book is explaining the soul of the sport and raison d'etre of sports. "Sports isn't fair but for all our competitiveness which is as sharp and cutting as a razor, athletes know injustice." One gets a rare and insightful look into the life of an athlete, which few really understand. The mental toughness required, the support every athlete needs, the backing or "digging in"-"all athletes understand it, we are excavators, internal adventurers, we are always reaching within ourselves for something extra. You dig to lead from goodness to greatness and into the arms of victory".

Bindra is candid about the state of our sports system. The irony of sports in our country is that officials don't assist. They hinder. Ignorance is worn without embarrassment. Incompetence continues. The "chalta- hai" attitude, which mocks the idea of any culture of excellence, is ubiquitous. We all know that whatever is achieved by our sportspersons is in spite of the officials in charge who are often like some royals, pious grantors of favours. This is why athletes often touch the feet of the officials. "We must swim through chaos on the way to a medal. It almost feels as if our medals are more meaningful considering what we go through to win one." He has firm, thought-out ideas on how to improve the state of sports in the country and how to bring younger people into the fray.

The most poignant text is when he is reliving a Greek tragedy which struck him at the Athens Olympics in 2004. You can empathise with the depth of his agony and how he literally rose from the ashes to live his tryst with destiny in Beijing in 2008. After the read, you have more respect and admiration for athletes. They are not just medal tallies, they are human beings who have to put in a lot of sweat and blood to reach even the national level, leave aside the Olympics.

As Bindra says, "Winning is fine, but it is an outcome, it is the pursuit of it that is fascinating. The obsession, the fact that if you want to win a race you have to go a little beserk is not just an idiom but is the truth."

He signs off on a hopeful note; his quest for more gold is not over, the sports in our country in spite of massive hindrances has potential. "We do not have mental weakness, mental strategy perhaps we lack. But raw resolve we own." A book worth reading, an inspirational work for genuine heroes we have few and far between who can enliven us with their narratives.