Sunday, October 3, 2010

Games people play: Or why the success of CWG will spell our doom

A cracker of an Opening Night...
As I watched the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi – perhaps, the most controversial in the history of the Games – I kept thinking of the wise words by a wise Indian economist – “The 21st century is India’s to lose”. If the past few months building-up to the Games are anything to go by then lose it we will.

The opening ceremony was a success. No bombs went off, no ceilings came down, no bridges collapsed and we put together a lovely, warm, humorous opening ceremony – I damn near burst into tears twice while watching it. Unfortunately, in its very success lie the seeds of our eventual failure to make it big. Because this final face-saving effort will erase the need for any post-mortem or soul-searching that is necessary if we are ever to remove the “ing” from our “developing” tag.

What we really and truly needed was for the Games to be cancelled. We needed to be told by the world that “Jugaad” – the boastful Hindi word that we use to show the ingenuity of our last-minute “beg, borrow, steal” survival skills – is not good enough. We needed complete humiliation to realise that if we want to be taken seriously around the world then we need to start taking ourselves seriously first. We need to demand higher standards of our politicians, government officials – and before them, of all ourselves.

I remember meeting this Delhiite in Vienna who kept complaining about how Tata Nano – the one lakh car – would spell the ruin of the city. A little while later, when I asked him how many cars he owned for his family of five, he proudly declared, “Oh, seven”. He saw no irony in his position. Similarly, I am sure right this moment one of the private contractors, who bribed his way into the Games and then provided shoddy, inefficient construction work, is sitting somewhere loudly complaining about how corruption is the bane of our country. And he’ll see no irony in his complaints. If we look into our own lives, we are constantly taking advantage of our corrupt, inefficient systems to gain little advantages: whether it is dodging a traffic fine, getting a fake license, bribing examiners, exploiting our servants or getting contracts to CWG Games for a steal. Because we are corrupt and inefficient as people, we have a corrupt and inefficient government. After all, we are a proud democracy, aren’t we? And democracy is as much a government OF the people and BY the people, as it is FOR the people.

To make matters worse, there will be insidious comments about the complains being a racist conspiracy. Only, I don’t understand what is racist about pointing out that if a footbridge to the biggest stadium collapses two weeks before the opening ceremony, then the facilities are potentially dangerous? What is racist about saying that that missing deadlines after deadlines in building the stadiums and residential village is not a mark of a mature country vying to be seen as a world power? What is racist about asking for clean toilets and rooms for athletes? What is racist about holding us to the same standards as they would hold other developed countries to? On the contrary, wouldn’t it be patronising and racist to expect lower standards of us?

The fact that the ceremony opened to great fanfare will make us forget the ridiculousness of our efforts – the missed deadlines, the broken bridges, the falling ceilings, the inflated budgets, the slimy double-dealings, most of all, the deaths and injuries of construction workers that marked the event. We will just comically nod our heads side-to-side and say, we are like this only – and expect the world to congratulate us for our “jugaad”.

... but better not forget the fallen footbridges
Just remember, the only other Games to be riddled with the same last-minute, hurried problems – though on a somewhat smaller scale – was the Olympic Games of 2004 held in Athens, Greece.  And Greece was the first country to go humiliatingly bankrupt when world recession rolled-in. Internally weakened by years of corruption, inefficiencies and nepotism, it simply collapsed. Is that the fate we are looking for ourselves too? The twenty-first century – ours to lose?

1 comment:

jaimit said...

YOU ARE BANNED FROM INDIA. no one in india i guess wants to see that side of the truth. we were, you ae right, frankly quite relieved to see it go through. thats it. one bridge broke and a few workers died. thats all.
even the romans used the games as a good distrction.