Of the spirit, the grit, the fit

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 27 Jul 2017 12:34:44


Vijay Phanshikar

The first impression of the Nagpur University Playgrounds on Amravati Road nearly fifty years ago was one of a vast expanse of open space, every corner of which had been occupied by young persons engaged in different games. For a young college student like me who played for his college hockey team and also hobnobbed successfully with cricket, any open space was a playground.

But the Nagpur University Playground was a different place, almost magnetic in nature, attracting countless scores of youngsters who loved the sweat and grime and glory of sports and their triumphs and tragedies -- of  losing, of not clicking in time, of not leading the team well...! The University Playground was one place where the youth challenged itself, tested its mettle, fired its ambitions, let loose all its  energies and funnelled those into one point of performance. ...!

Today, the Nagpur University Playground is a changed place, with many modern facilities in place -- a good 400-meter track, a basketball court, a volleyball court, a football ground -- all well defined, well made. The facilities of today could not even be dreamt of in those -- good old -- days. Now are the good new days, full of great opportunities to excel, to compete in a very suitable ambience.

But those good old days had their own romance, something that one may not feel in the conditions -- of
opulence(?!) -- that are available today. Then, sports were a struggle. Today, too, sports are a struggle, of course. Yet, then, the nature of struggle had one indelible imprint -- of want. Then, everything was in short supply -- in terms of facilities. But what was in abundance was the spirit, the grit, the physical and the mental fit! And that made all the difference.

On the University Playground, I have played some of my life’s best matches -- in football and in hockey and also in badminton and table tennis (in Subhedar Hall, which was an integral part of the sports complex). In Subhedar Hall, I have had the good fortune of playing against some of the best badminton players in the land and even beating them on a few occasions. On most occasions, those used to be
mismatched matches -- in terms of skills and facilities the players from other places possessed. In their centres -- like Mumbai and Kolkata and Bangalore and New Delhi and Chandigarh and Chennai (some in new nomenclatures, though), they used to have all the modern facilities.
So, some of us could justify their losing to those players from big cities under the pretext of having comparatively less facilities that accounted for less skills.

Yet, the tendency of most of us from Nagpur was never to make undue comparisons. For, in our thought, sports meant effort and more effort to better ourselves. And that was all we really knew. So, occasionally winning or losing were parts of the culture of sports those days. Even losing a game had its own romance and we enjoyed it fully.

In those good old days, winning did not have such a high premium. Losing, too, did not have such a big discount. Those who won did not jump up, did not punch the air, did not pounce upon their team-mates, did not do any jig. They smiled broadly, but in a polite garb. For, showing too much of joy was considered rather impolite in those good old days. So, most winners gave only sedate response to the event of victory.

Likewise, those who lost also did not collapse or burst into tears or blamed their circumstances. For, the maxim, then, was: Polite in victory, and graceful in defeat. And thankfully, there was no television to affect people’s behaviour in a fake display of emotion.

In those days, even in critical situations in international matches, the bowler would generally turn away from a fallen batsman and start walking toward the top of his bowling run -- for the next delivery. For, staring at the batsman who lost his wicket was considered impolite.

It was at the Nagpur University Playgrounds that we learned these essential norms of sporting culture.
One really does not know if any such ethos still prevails in sports, or everything has changed due to the
invasion of television displays meant so much for the cameras.

In normal situation, there may not be any TV cameras. Yet, as one knows of things today, the sportspersons behave as if they are in the camera glare all along.
But at the University Playground, we also were taught how to clap in favour of the rivals if they lost. We were also taught to approach the rival camp and offer them consolation through just handshakes coupled with pats on the shoulders. For, at least until the time we played various games, being polite in victory and being graceful in defeat were the only norms that were ingrained in our personalities as part of cultural ethos.

Even today, we do come across examples of sublime conduct by players. Yet, it must be said with some sadness that today, things have changed a lot. Politeness in victory and gracefulness in defeat are not the strict norms today, thanks to the ill-effect of television coverage of sports.
At the Nagpur University Playgrounds in those days, elders -- senior players and the coaches and fathers -- made it a point to teach the youngsters never to stare at the defeated rivals or cut savage jokes about the competitors.

That sense of restraint, that sense of innate courtesy, that sense of accommodation of a reality that on most occasions in sports, winning is only by a whisker and that even losing, too, is by a hair’s breadth. With that awareness of ephemeral quality of outcome, one was told to be polite and graceful all the time. We learned that at the Nagpur University Playground that did not have even an inkling of today’s facilities. Yet, the unadulterated joy sports gave us, perhaps, may not be the lot of players of today.

True, there were rivalries -- individual and institutional. There were hard fought battles. There were jealousies, too, at work. All those added much spice to sports. Despite all those, sports, then, were a happy affair, a win-win type of thing -- even for losers.

At Nagpur University Playgrounds, we bathed in that culture -- and enriched our young lives. There, we broke records, and broke our bones, too, occasionally. But what we kept intact were the spirit, the grit, the physical and the mental fit ...!