More Politics Than Sport

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Sellotape LegacyIn the middle of all the mess behind the Commonwealth Games, it’s nice to have a book that attempts to put the whole thing into perspective and provides facts and figures that are not commonly available. Majumdar and Mehta say that the idea for the book came to them during an auto rickshaw ride in which the driver grumbled that there was a great gap between the Delhi of the Games and the Delhi of the people. The result was a book that gives the Delhi Games a context against the wider picture of the Commonwealth Games and other international Games like the Beijing Olympics.

Starting from the auto rickshaw the authors go on to talk about how building new Delhis has been a passion with various conquerors. Eight Delhis have so far been built but the Delhi of the Commonwealth Games makes it a ninth. According to them, the logic behind Delhi bidding successfully for the Games is an attempt to demonstrate India’s new power before the world and, most tellingly before the Commonwealth itself, which is described as being “a body searching for a purpose”. The Games, in short, are all about politics rather than sport – as sport always seems to have been in India.

A great deal of research went into the book, including riffling through 40 years of Toronto Star archives. “We had to dig deep, check each fact because we knew one wrong fact could have legal implications,” Majumdar said. The results can be seen in the tables and statistics of the first section. What most readers will find amazing is the underestimation of the costs. Originally estimated at $ 1.3 billion, the figure has grown to a staggering $ 15 billion, ‘114 times the original calculation made in 2002’ which makes it seven times more expensive than the 2006 Melbourne Games and probably the most expensive in current history. As the authors write, ‘The Government of India signed a blank cheque based on shoddy budget estimates made by amateurs who did not seem to know what they were doing.’

The question is whether all that money could have been better spent in improving the quality of life for the people in and around Delhi. Better roads, homes for slum dwellers, all things could have been considered. Instead, as the authors point out with a happy cynicism, India is determined to make a point, almost in the way Beijing did by staging the Olympics and Malaysia by staging the Commonwealth Games.

Crisply written parallels are provided with great care, though perhaps not in enough detail to arrest the reader’s attention. The case of South Africa is brought up – probably say the authors the only time the Commonwealth found justification for its policies since it became a tool for forcing South Africa to relook at its apartheid policies. However, that situation demanded slightly more exploration that it is given – New Zealand’s reasons for supporting South Africa are ascribed to a ‘white solidarity line’ when in reality the reasons were more complicated than that.

“Followers of current news reports on the Games, …, may wonder whether India does in fact have enough sellotape to finally pull the whole thing together.”

It’s hard to quibble with the research that has gone into the book, or with sections devoted to the current state of Indian sports and debates like whether Abhinav Bindra’s shooting gold won at Beijing belongs to Bindra or to India – Bindra’s is still the only testimony to India’s emergence as a sporting force to reckon with. There are also more telling statistics, like the case of the boxing village of Bhiwani, which produced medals in the Beijing Olympics and has been producing Arjuna Award winners despite pitiful funding and being ignored by the media. Politics certainly has very little to do with sporting ability.

The book takes its name from the fact that it is traditional Indian policy to put everything together at the last minute and hope that there’s enough sellotape to hold the seams together. Demonstrated say Majumdar and Mehta, most aptly in films like Monsoon Wedding and summed up in the Punjabi word ‘jugaad, that wonderful yet utterly untranslatable word that roughly means a propensity to improvise’.

Followers of current news reports on the Games, which include leaky bathrooms, a snake charmer hired for Rs 1,000 a day to keep snakes out of beds and falling bridges, may wonder whether India does in fact have enough sellotape to finally pull the whole thing together. ‘A failed Games experience,’ write the authors, ‘ will add teeth to the murmurs that there remains a serious discontent between India’s new-found modernity and the masses who still inhabit pitiable conditions of existence.’

However, whatever ultimately happens to the Games, the book will continue to be a valuable source of information for those interested in the history behind the making of it all.

Sellotape Legacy – Delhi and the Commonwealth Games
Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta, Published by Harper Collins in India

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Buy book online
Buy book online
Sellotape Legacy - Delhi and the Commonwealth Games
by Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta

One Comment on "More Politics Than Sport"

  1. rakesh
    29/09/2010 at 16:05 Permalink

    This has been an excellent write up by the authors– and at the most appropriate time— hope some sense would rub in the political masters and serious anti corruption measures taken.

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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