We were the champions my friend
Formula 1's most exciting news for few years was about the return of the King. He had left a void in the sport which other pretenders couldn't fill. Or so we thought. Schumi would turn back the ravages of time to emerge victorious as always. But the script went wrong somewhere and today Schumi himself isn't so sure about the sensibility of his decision. He may drive into oblivion at the bottom of the grid rather than taking the flag and that hurts one. It has shaken the very foundation of one's belief in demi gods also called sportspersons.
Time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana. Groucho Marx coined the term. But Marx lived around 50 years ago. And today Marxism is supposed to be dead as far as the World is concerned. (I know it is not Karl Marx!! It's a pun for Marx's sake). The flight of the arrow can't be reversed come what may and the arrow hitting the intended target can have painful physical consequences. One seems to have reached a similar stage in terms of one’s sport heroes' careers. A stage of no return! And it does indeed hurt.
History isn’t only a Michael Jackson album. History is not a mere record of events. History is a recollection of what the majority remembers or rather wants to remember. History is the collection of humankind's biased memory. A few months back I travelled to a place called Dholavira which existed a few thousand years back in the Rann of Kutch. The ruins there remind me today of many a glittering sports careers ravaged by time. But the road that takes one to Dholavira is an outstandingly beautiful one. That’s how I would like to remember my Champions. It was all about our journey together. And the great times I had on that journey. Most journeys are supposed to end in lovers' meetings, this one almost always ends in a separation.
Sport has taught one to be agnostic and at the same time believe in Gods. It permits its own kith and kin to be temporary Gods. But they are transient and that’s what people tend to forget. Followers themselves ignore the fact that they themselves can perish any day. They (both the spectators and the sport stars), can never be like a Hanuman, the immortal monkey god. He is indestructible. Today even he has been reduced to an animation story.
There are some statistical aberrations in sport today in terms of ageing champions continuing at the top like a certain Mr. Tendulkar but there are no fairy tales with happily ever after endings. It always ends in a tragedy.
It is with great reluctance that we can let go of our champions. It’s a mirror of our own lives. Things we couldn’t achieve. Trophies we couldn’t win. They were our answer to the mediocrity that we indulged in. The same people, whom we tried to share our hopes and dreams with and in whom we invested our own dreams of becoming world champions and annihilators of their opponents, are today looking lost. And we feel as lost as them.
An era of champions is coming to an end and whatever we might think about it, that’s the reality. It was a Federer a year back, it was a Tiger Woods a few months back, it was a Schumi yesterday, it is a Rahul Dravid today and it will be a Tendulkar tomorrow.
And what can I write about these people? Enough words were written on a Federer. Tiger Woods has become a persona non grata in most families now but he was somebody whom people actually feared, almost as fearsome as the famous quartet from the West Indies in the 1980’s. The unmemorable photo of Woods standing on one leg to putt just a few years back to win a Major is still eschewed in my mind. Schumi, on a wet track against all odds was a joy to watch. A Tendulkar forward defensive stroke gives me much more joy than an IPL six. Rahul Dravid is not mentioned here because he has always been the guy who was overlooked.
When we look at these Champions from the past and try and rationalise their desire to come back then we don’t have to look beyond us. Do WE want to retire and announce to the world that we are long past our Past – use date? We normally won’t. If we, as some mediocre people can’t do that then I fail to understand how Champions can. When the earlier batch of greats that consisted of a Gavaskar, a Senna, a Lendl and a Jack Nicklaus, who bowed away, we were still youngsters who were getting to grips with reality. They rode into their own sun sets. We were riding into our afternoons. So we never felt the irony. Now we can!!
Somehow we can't go ballistic about the new King like a Djoko. We had our own Kings and they are almost dying. And we will never really care about the new Ruler as much.
Champions are never born naturally. They make their own fortunes through single minded dedication, loads of talent and a bloodimindedness that defies logic. But they perish like everyone else. And they do so without even being aware of it themselves. That’s what the killer point is.