I have never been too enthusiastic about the Olympics. After all, there is a limit to the appreciation I can show to people winning medals in sports that I have not even seen being performed on Indian soil. My reaction to our abysmal performance for the ones that we do compete in are usually disgust. I then follow it with a series of complaints blaming the poor state of sports infrastructure, the lack of government interest and the poor physique of Indians in general.
However, in a recent discussion with someone, I came across an illuminating counter-argument stating : “We don’t perform well in sports since it is not in our culture to pay too much importance to it.” It is a commonly heard argument and earlier I used to dismiss it lightly on the grounds that it was too generalized. However, maybe it makes some sense after all. India is different than a lot of countries. Since it is a civilization thousands of years old, it is likely that through the generations, we have carried with us the set of guidelines by which people lived lives even then. According to the old social structure, the four major classifications of people – kshatriya, vaishya, brahmin and shudra – had four different lifestyles. Physical exercise probably featured in the lifestyles of only the Kshatriyas – the warrior class – with no other class devoting their time to it. However, even though similarly, the pursuit of education featured highly in the Brahmin class, it pervaded into all the other classes too. With time these class boundries have blurred. Though it is still more comfortable to stick to the class you originally belong to, the lifestyles and the habits of other classes are free to be adopted. Now imagine that we carefully pluck out the features of each of such lifestyles like leaves from a plant and put them all in a big pot. In the end, what we will find in this massive pot are several aspects of life which may or may not be common to all the classes. I hope to find a lot of ‘listening to music’, ‘travelling’, ‘good food’ and ‘nice clothes’ in it. After all those are desires which are common to all. Similarly, I hope to find a lot ‘pursuit of education’ in it. However, what I expect to find a dearth of is ‘exercise’. Since it featured only in the lifestyle of one of the class, the number of leaves will be limited. So now if someone decides to leave all his class sterotypes, and grabs a handful of leaves from the pot hoping to find the best of all that is on offer, how likely is it that he has a leaf named ‘exercise’ there. Very unlikely! The irony is that if his fistful contains the leaves of ‘education’ and ‘the pursuit of money’, he might not even notice anything missing. Those two leaves in themselves are enough to keep him occupied for most part of his adult life, like they do for numerous others. And since so many of are occupied in either of these two pursuits, we excel in them. If we look at the present state of India, it is no hyperbole to state that we are one of the most educated and intelligent set of people in the world. We enjoy the returns of what we invested in. Yes, we may not lead the medal tally in olympics and lie behind non-entities like azerbaijan and mongolia, but when it comes to the ability to study, apply, earn and live a life of comfort, we are second to none.