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For whom the torch burns

June 12, 2004 11:10 IST

The business of image building does not mean plastering the streets with cloth banners sporting a corporate logo. Image building does not mean elbowing out the deserving by flashing a cheque book and displaying the ugly side of commerce.

Image building is a subtle art of winning hearts. It is the art of not saying the obvious and simply touching a chord. Just as an Olympic Torch would have, in the hearts of all those who stay glued to their TV sets watching an Olympic Games.

The organisers, promoters and sponsors of the Indian leg of the Olympic Torch Relay may defend their actions till kingdom come. We may or may not win any gold medals at Athens, but long before that we wasted a Golden Opportunity to showcase what little we have of a sporting history.

I don't know what P T Usha was doing, when Aishwarya Rai, Rani Mukherjee or Bipasha Basu were running down the streets of Delhi with the Olympic Torch. But I heard her on various channels and saw pictures of her dusting the showcase filled with medals. She was enraged, upset and hurt.

Similarly, I wonder what Leslie Claudius, the only Indian alive with four Olympic medals, three of them gold (1948, 1952, 1956), was thinking when the less deserving held that torch in their hands.

But I was really hurt thinking about his old age, and of the tragedy he had to face in his later life when he lost his young son, Bobby Claudius, in a road accident. Bobby like his father played for India -- at the 1978 World Cup -- but before he could flower, fate snatched him away at the age of 21. An Olympic Torch in his hand for a few moments could have lessened Leslie's pain.

Unless they have been tutored in the last 24 or 48 hours, I can bet that the Bollywood hunks and babes we saw on the streets of Delhi may not even be able to name the cities that hosted the last five Olympics or which event Usha, Shiny Wilson, Milkha Singh or Gurbachan Singh Randhawa ran. Or who Claudius or Harbinder Singh or Vasudevan Baskaran are.

Hats off to Aamir Khan for admitting that this was a function meant for sportspersons. But he could do little. They pay and he performs.

Many years ago, Sunil Gavaskar once said that wearing an Indian shirt was a matter of pride and it should not be devalued. Which is precisely why an Olympic Torch should not be carried around by all and sundry. Only those who have known the pain of working for India colours should have been given the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch.

Milkha Singh once refused to accept the Arjuna Award, because it had been rendered meaningless. This time that other great athlete, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, did something similar.

He may officially have stated he was not feeling well, but the truth is he was disgusted at the treatment meted out to sportspersons. He was to run a segment in an obscure part of the 33-km route while the premier segments were reserved for film stars and their ilk.

Yet, giving them the benefit of doubt, I frankly think none of those who held the Olympic Torch in their hands realised what injustice they were doing to the heroes of Indian sport. When they got an invitation from the sponsors' to run with the Olympic Torch, they treated it just as they would a free pass to a film premiere or a one-day cricket game. They accepted, and in one unthinking moment, negated all those hours the sportspersons had spent toiling.

Participating in an Olympic Games often happens only once in a lifetime for a competing sportsperson. And the honour of carrying an Olympic Torch is even rarer. Only once before has it happened in 40 years for Indians.

And now when it did, 'they' snatched it away. Do I still need to tell you who 'they' are?

Shame on you. Shame on me. And shame on all of us.

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V Krishnaswamy