NOW that the hysteria of the G20 Summit is behind us, several Delhiwalas are beginning to feel a little like when the Covid lockdown was lifted. Of course, it helped that the weather was truly balmy and the cool breeze and light drizzle made the enforced stay at home very pleasant. However, those friends who decided to head for the hills faced a terrible time. For one, the roads were jammed with tourists making the most of the long weekend, and the hills decided to send down buckets of rain, accompanied by landslides, mudslides and broken roads. They all came back more tired than refreshed.
Despite being part of a sports-mad family, tennis and cricket matches never moved me. Now, however, I am beginning to see sports in another way: the rise of players who dedicate their life to a particular sport and battle tremendous odds to reach the pinnacle. The great Novak Djokovic, with his record of winning 24 Grand Slams even at his age, deserves respect. In an interview after winning the US Open title recently, he spoke of how being a Serb and coming from a country that was in the throes of a huge political upheaval after it broke away from the old Bosnia-Herzegovina cluster affected his early years. His parents, who were unable to afford the expensive equipment or coaches that players need to refine their talents, battled against great odds to let him play on. Their support eventually led him to become one of the all-time greats of tennis even though he is now at an age when most players hang up their boots. If you look at our own sports scene today, observe the way our cricket team is composed. It is no longer a side with boys who went to public schools and foreign universities, but those who have risen entirely on their own merit and because of the hunger in their belly. Our wrestlers, javelin throwers, athletes, chess players — the list is long and growing — are now world champions. In earlier times, it was perhaps just in hockey that India was considered a world-class team. The opportunity that now even children from rural and tribal areas are given is bound to make an impact on our medals’ tally in forthcoming contests. Social acceptance of those who are not fluent in English or those who are not white and blonde is now becoming a fact that even the snobbish Anglo-American sports bodies are forced to concede.
Social advantages enjoyed previously by an entitled class are no longer an intimidating boundary. Our universities and academic world, too, are not free of the charges of excluding those who do not speak fluent English, or those who hold a different viewpoint. I can speak of this from my own experience. When we came to Delhi, I had done over a decade of teaching post-graduate classes in Panjab University. I had studied in Allahabad and belonged to a prominent family of writers and intellectuals in the Hindi world. Yet, I always sensed a snigger when I encountered someone from JNU or Delhi University and the question of applying for a teaching job here if you were not a graduate of these universities was a wall erected against those who came from elsewhere. Moreover, a firm belief that anyone who did not subscribe to a particular school of thought was not a scholar of eminence was an undercurrent that may never have been openly expressed, but was definitely held.
Come now to the shudders of polite horror when the loud, dehati laser colours were projected on the Qutab Minar and other heritage buildings and the new Bharat Mandapam revealed to the public. ‘Eesh!’ screamed many bhadralok. The custodians of good taste and our sophisticated cultural vocabulary wrote eloquently of how the loud and crass displays were an outrageous betrayal of good taste. Whatever one may privately feel about this, the fact is that the common man, and woman, was deeply moved by this gaudy spectacle. They took selfies and drove around these monuments that many had never felt motivated to visit. The Indian colour palette has a vocabulary of its own and gives each one of us the right to choose the colours we want to pick. Unlike the drab and uninspired black and khaki you see all over the Anglo-American world, Africa and India revel in bright and vibrant colours. Our women wear sarees and lehengas in colours that make one sit up and those of you who have seen Karan Johar’s ‘Rocky and Rani’ blockbuster, will recall how the last scene is an ode to Rani pink. The audiences loved it: many went several times to see Rocky with his funny English and Karol Bagh fashion sense woo the sophisticated Bengali bhadralok family of Alia Bhatt. There was an acknowledgement that Rocky brought a sense of life that the muted tones and colours of Alia’s family lacked.
I do think that heritage buildings should be softly lighted to bring out their grandeur, but that is my personal opinion. I certainly do not say ‘Eesh!’ when my maid proudly displays her newest salwar kameez in a lurid colour combination that I have to smile weakly at. So? Live and let live and talk of those issues that need attention, rather than good taste and bad taste.
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