Five days into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the sinking feeling that comes with every such event has begun to creep in again into all followers of Indian sports. India’s initiation in Rio was like the Allied landing at Normandy during World War II.
The first wave was decimated. Before we could set our alarms, the table tennis team was done with. By the time we could set the clock down, men’s doubles tennis was over and by the time the chimes rang, so was women’s doubles.
Before we were up and about, the men’s and women’s archery teams had missed their targets often enough.
So it became the usual grabbing at straws well before breakfast and desperate shouts for rescue by lunch.
A third position for Dattu Bhokanal in single sculls became a victory, as did Jitu Rai’s eighth position in the 10-metre air pistol.
Abhinav Bindra’s fourth in the 10m air rifle was as good as a medal!
So the joke as the Games hit midway point is that the only Indian to get within spitting distance is the brand new International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Nita Ambani, who also is the only Indian so far to touch all three medals when she gave them away at the swimming pool.
When the nearly 120-strong contingent left for Rio, there was a lot of talk, among the athletes as well as sections of the media that the London figure of six medals will be passed at a canter.
The shooting contingent would be at the middle of this great gold rush – Bindra, Jitu, Gagan Narang, Manavjit Sandhu, Heena Sidhu…. we just couldn’t miss, could we?
We did miss, and how!
So all those medals in shooting finally ended up being a mirage, shattered by inaccurate gunfire.
What irks isn’t that the performance is below par. What hurts is what comes after.
Novak Djokovic left in tears after losing to Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. This, from a man who has won everything that could possibly be won in professional tennis.
But he came, and a defeat hurt.
I am sure it hurts our athletes too, but it doesn’t show, I am sorry to say.
What do people like Sandhu or Achanta Sharath Kamal think? Olympic after Olympic, they go and come back, without even a semblance of a fight. Do they not get disillusioned? Or is it only about how many Games they can manage?
It is understood that Jitu Rai was distraught after he failed to make it to the final of the 50m pistol event. But instead of that, we heard, from Viren Rasquinha of people, about how the cold and rain had affected his performance.
Please tell us it is. We, as a people, are very forgiving. Please show us the tears. We can understand, we will forgive and we will still carry you on our shoulders.
Please don’t give us inane excuses, ones that have been for as long as India have been in the Olympics. Especially when the conditions are the same for all.
We are also an eternally hopeful population, completely ignoring our disgraceful past record.
So we sit up and cheer when Bombayla Devi wins two matches, or when Atanu Das struts his stuff. We cheer when Vikas Krishan stops an American.
We also wake late at night to see Deepika Kumari in action, hoping that her much-vaunted talent and reputation aren’t a myth.
We are still hopeful that Manoj Kumar will punch his way to glory, or that the mixed doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna will serve us to success.
We hope Narsingh Yadav will fly across the oceans like a colossus and alleviate our misery, or will Yogeshwar Dutt’s iron muscles shine again.
Then there are the girls – Babita Kumari, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik. Will there be golden smiles there?
Ashwini Ponappa is another fighter but, she has never ever really emerged from Jwala Gutta’s shadow.
In track and field, we can hope that the giant Vikas Gowda will throw the great disc far, but there are other giants who throw it further.
In men’s triple jump, we have a jewel in Renjith Maheswary.
This stalwart had three foul jumps in the London Olympics in 2012, three more no-jumps in the Daegu World Championships and then he had a miserable 15.77 in Beijing in 2008. On top of that, he tested positive for dope and had a three-month sentence handed down to him. He has represented India in three world championships and now three Olympics without breaking sweat.
So it would be safe to assume he won’t win the triple jump.
But we still hope. That is why we will succeed as a nation. But not necessarily as a sporting nation.