I just wanted to wish you all the best for tomorrow. As I have said to you before, I believe that your dedication and professionalism-the most important personality traits-leave you with nothing left to prove to anyone, including yourself. You have already achieved what really matters. Now all that remains is the shooting.
This note was written to Abhinav Bindra by Timothy Harkness, who had worked on his mental conditioning, just before the Beijing Olympics. A testimony that has to be aimed for by any sportsperson who, ever wishes to reach the pinnacle of his/her sport. Success may yet elude him but he has to know that he has done everything possible to dig deep, to reach and even stretch the limits of his potential and that he could have done no more. No doubts linger in his mind about whether the skipped training session, that one less kilometre of the run, that one small uncorrected flaw could be the likely cause of failure.
One started reading and finished in a day, the eagerly awaited Autobiography of Abhinav Bindra – A Shot at History, co-authored by Rohit Brijnath. It was eagerly awaited because it was about a person and his sport, both of which were a mystery. Bindra always seemed reserved, cautious even. There was no real insight into this man’s world, his feelings, his interests, his anxieties. One could sense the fierce intensity though. The first Olympic gold medallist for India had to share his experiences and his journey to that achievement. It was time.
There was another reason as well. As kids all of us have, one day or another, tried to emulate/copy our favourite sportsperson. It need not have been in the same sport because that would need a bit of talent too. It may have been a signature gesture or a phrase or a head band of a certain John McEnroe with curly hair (some decently known personality tried this one). The entire concept of celebrity branding has roots in our constant desire to copy our heroes, to connect to them by using a particular brand. Rohit Brijnath has been one of those heroes for many of us. Trying to emulate his writing is close to impossible but one can always think of getting a goatee. But reading an article every 2 weeks was too little, a bit late too sometimes (as Straits Times doesn't have an online edition or some such). We needed a full length book from him. It was time.
It would seem to one that writing a full length book after years of writing a beautiful poetry in sports supplements of newspapers is akin to an ODI legend getting his first Test cap after a long wait. There can be many pitfalls on such a debut. A weak spot not evident in a journalist’s article can become a glaring hole in a book. A command on language and reporting on specific sporting incidents may take you far but not far enough while writing a full length book where you need to maintain continuity and fluidity.
It would be but natural to choose favourable conditions for it. For RB it would be say writing a book on cricket, on a famous Indian cricketer. Blockbuster guaranteed! But he has chosen a more difficult path. The sport is not known to many, its intricacies known only to a select few. Bindra himself has always been a very low profile character with no controversies haunting his past. He just looks like a nice kid, the strong, silent type. But he did win an Olympic gold for India.
The book starts off with a short summary of Bindra’s low point in his career- Athens Olympics as a teaser, then follows his childhood days and his personal life. One started getting a feeling that this was beginning to look like those nervous starts in a debut match. The language a bit stilted, anecdotes like Bindra ordering Yak milk from China appearing to be more for effect than a literary rationale. One doubts.
Both Bindra and RB have seen enough ignorant doubters in their life at the initial stages of their career and one’s own doubt ends up falling in the same category. The story that follows is one MAD person’s quest for success at first which eventually takes a back seat. It becomes his quest to find perfection. The lengths that he goes about in attaining this compulsive, obsessive goal is thrilling and at the same time humbling. Those searching for an adrenaline rush need not read this book. This is not a heady tale of gruelling duels or personal rivalries. It’s not a detailed account of his Beijing sojourn. That lasts only a few pages. It is about a bloody minded attention to detail and the process to achieve 8 Sigma (not 6). That process makes him change his stance which takes him months, years to adjust to. But he does. He wants to eliminate all possibilities of errors and not just depend on form when time comes. Every time a cricket coach talk about getting the process right and not concentrating on short term results, one will instantly recall this book.
RB’s touches are evident in the references to the Jordans, Alis, Tendulkars and Dravids of the world which act as relief breaks from the intensity of Bindra’s story. Some times the reference to other sports showing how different shooting is from normal sport becomes a bit repetitive. There’s no mention of how Bindra got into the Beijing Olympics team after he justifiably cribs about officials talking in 2007of P.T. Raghunath going instead of him with Gagan Narang.
I am writing this at 6 a.m. after having finished reading the book at 1 a.m. I just couldn’t sleep too well. The world (at least India) had to be told to go and read this book. If you are a parent hell bent on making your kid a world class athlete and you are allowed only one book to read, THIS is the one. It will enlighten you of the challenges, the tough times and the frustrations that your kid will face in his/her quest for glory. It also will tell you how important your committed support means to your child. And it will also tell you the story of an outstanding, psychotic, shy, fidgety, yet deeply intense individual, and his ultimate success, or wait. Was the Beijing gold his ultimate success? Or is there more in store in London 2012?
*from A shot at History
I had written this before the Beijing Olympics but had missed out on Bindra's chances for a gold :)
P.S. - There are some issues about posting comments on this piece and I apologise for it. If someone really wants to put up a comment, one is free to send a mail to email@example.com and I will put up the comments. Sorry again for the inconvenience.
I saw it 3 days back..
It is not a team sport.
Look at Abhinav Mukund, Gautam Gambhir, Ojha, A Mithun, Irfan Pathan..
They are not playing for a team for god's sake
Every one is playing for himself.
Write back to me if they are'nt..