Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thoughts on Abhinav Bindra (and: eat the rich)

Predictably, millions of people are enjoying the reflected glow of Abhinav Bindra’s medal, many of them going on about “national pride” and such as if they had personally fired the shots that clinched the gold. Equally amusing are the dining room/water-cooler conversations about how the boy “held his nerve”, “didn’t succumb to pressure”, “kept his hands steady at the vital moment”. I’m sure all this is true (and it might be equally true of the silver and bronze medallists, as well as dozens of others who didn’t even make it near the podium), but the way people learnedly say these things in casual conversation you get the impression that each of them knows about the finer points of 10 m air-rifle shooting and that they were closely following Abhinav’s shot-by-shot progress right from the start of the tournament (as opposed to merely switching on their TV sets after the news came in).

It’s also interesting that many of these opinions come from the same people who somehow know for a fact that Sania Mirza is potentially top-5 material but has failed to achieve everything she could have because of lack of focus or because of the media hype/endorsements. (Personally, I think it’s at least equally probable that Sania was never even top-50 material to begin with but managed to over-achieve her way into the top 30. But that hypothesis doesn't make for a nice bitching session, no?)

You’d have to be soul-dead not to feel happy for Abhinav, of course. It’s a great achievement and a lot of hard work must have gone into it. But on this post, Aishwarya mentions an astonishing quote by his dad:

“[As a 5-year-old] Abhinav kept a water balloon on our maid's head and began shooting, knowing little that a slight mistake could have proved fatal.”

The picture that springs to mind after reading the senior Bindra’s words is that of a little nawab clapping his hands regally, whereupon a coterie of subservient maid-servants queues up, each eager to be the one to sacrifice her head for the Greater Cause (i.e., getting India an Olympic gold 20 years hence).

Which means the Olympic win could be a landmark in more ways than one. Up to now, the most appealing story in Indian sport has been the rags-to-riches tale; the poor little boy battling the odds to make it on the big stage. This could change now, as the focus shifts to little tykes in fabulously wealthy households. I can just see preparations for future Olympic glory getting underway in mansions, palaces and farmhouses around the country. Fat kids, overfed on greasy snacks, will pin their emaciated cooks to the floor as they rehearse for the heavyweight wrestling title of the world. Spoilt little rajkumars with a fondness for equestrian sports will climb onto the backs of their personal chauffeurs, dig their spurs sharply into their sides and make them gallop from one end of the 100-acre farm to the next. (For all I know, they already do this, but from now on they’ll do it with a medal in their sights.) Aspiring pole-vaulters will stack up the domestic help one on top of the other to make a post of just the right height (and a cushion for the landing).

I also predict that the general tone of the comments on will soon change from “Abhinav deserves 20 Bharat Ratnas” to “Abhinav and his filthy-rich family should be arrested for bribing the Olympics committee and depriving poor people of the opportunity to win medals.” In fact, it’s already started happening: see a few of the comments on this piece. There's a suggestion that this medal win doesn’t count as a “real achievement” because Abhinav's background doesn’t have the romance of Irfan Pathan’s. And here's a gem:
Looks like they bribed the judges to get Abhinav to win this false medal. I think a CBI inquiry must be instituted. If the Fat PAPA Sardar can spend crores of Rupees to train his worthless son why can't he bribe the chinkie and other beggar Russian judges...
Nothing explains the human condition as lucidly as a Rediff messageboard does.


  1. this post shows the typical indian mentality of belittling someone successful .. of finding excuses for his success... he is the FIRST indian to win an indiv. medal ... it doesnt matter what his background is ... we should celebrate his win

  2. Anon: yes, that's pretty much what I was implying, and the "belittling someone successful" applies in many other contexts, like the Sania one that I mentioned. But the childhood story supplied by Bindra's dad is definitely not something to celebrate.

  3. Jai, I beleive one has to keep all this in perspective. Abhinav's Dad is a rich 'Punju' obviously given to a lot of pompousity. He is obviously over the moon and has just shot off the comment. On the other hand Abhinav comes across as reserved and articulate in his inetrviews. The man kept calm and composed when being interviewed by the media.

    There was no typical 'North Indian' breast beating after winning the Gold. The guy should be admired for keeping his emotions under control. I was pleasantly surprised when one of his relatives disclosed on 'Rediff' that he just wants to invite 25 people for his wedding as he is reserved and shy. The point is not every rich kid can win an olympic gold. It is a coincidence that the man had the Talent and then of course the resources to toil in this regard.

  4. Kudos to Abhinav for winning a gold medal but the way his dad proudly said they treated their maid is shocking. Criminal slavery exists in India in the way many servants are treated. In fact the word servant/naukar itself says a lot.

  5. Shwet: I agree about Abhinav. The post wasn't meant as a criticism of him at all. It's quite possible he was embarrassed by his dad's remark, and anyway that anecdote about the maid says far more about the parents who allowed the incident to take place than about a 5-year-old kid who wouldn't have known any better at the time.

  6. Two things here.

    I don't know if that maid story was a just a funny remark which is being misinterprated as slavery.

    Plus, this story just shot to oblivion the 'gays are pshchos' thread at TOI by a big margin.

  7. Rediff message boards are exhibits of depravity, stupidity, ignorance, and are, I presume, the favourite hangout of people with too much time, too little knowledge, and an acute penchant for voyeurism and self-important opining, regardless of any understanding of the topic concerned. And unfortunately, there are too many such people around.

    Of course, this wasn't the state of affairs when I was naive enough to write for them - at that time, the only way sub-editors amused themselves was by mauling my articles into unrecognisable atrocities with bad grammar.

    Phew. That was cathartic. Somewhat.

  8. The media would have rather had a more "appropriat" medalist....middle-class,bumbling,thanking God thousand times in each sentence..what they have got is a reticent but confident scion who answers stupid questions like"what was going thru your mind while you pulled the trigger" with a deadpan "nothing"..

  9. Kudos to Bindra, his success is genuine.
    Here is the wiki entry for Mr. Bindra. It is certainly written by a very informed Indian citizen who makes it a point to mention that Bindra's sister is married into ATLAS family !!

    I just found that part incredibly amusing.

  10. I agree about the dining room conversations, the source of some of which might come from editions of TOI that got into trivial technical details, like they did it for Michael Phelps, giving his blood lactate level for every season of his career.

    I am happy for India, and glad that Bindra did that for us. However, I myself was disappointed to read his shooting endeavours aiming the maid's, and not the bull's eye, and then hearing about monetary rewards by everyone, including poor states like Orissa and Chhattisgarh, which had no hands in his victory. Of maybe the domestic helps in Bindra's household had come from these states.

    And yes, the way he handled victory was like "Yeah, I knew it was coming, after all, that's what I did my entire life, with my uber-rich Dad, I had nothing else to do".

    Lets see if he (or anyone who is showering money on him) does something to bring up our lesser fortunate coutrymen by providing them the proper facilities and trainings. Or are we just happy at being citizens of the same country where an individual brings in a gold medal out of his own resources and of course, talent.

  11. Shimmering Mercury: Despite being wordy, you are still naive.

  12. Thanks Anonymous, I do not refute any of those - I am wordy and naive.
    Why are you telling me this on Jabberwock's comment space, though?

  13. It was amazing to see Abhinav's performance live. By the fifth and sixth shot of the final, it was sure he will get a medal and I was sending frantic IM's to friends to come online and watch him win a medal.
    ( has amazing feeds and you can essentially follow any sport you want.)

    It was really heartbreaking to see Dola Bannerjee lose in the tiebreaker and Saina lose in a very long match. Unfortunately, they did not show Mangal Singh Champia who surprisingly lost very early. I look forward to watching the rest of the shooters and the tennis duo.

    I believe the biggest problem with these dining room conversations is what Mukul Kesavan pointed out. Most of these people haven't moved their asses in ages. At least they (or their kids) will do that now and appreciate sports, in general, better.


  14. "Nothing explains the human condition as lucidly as a Rediff messageboard does."

    Hear hear!

  15. That's just mean, Jai. All this biting sarcasm could have waited another day...

    As for

    Up to now, the most appealing story in Indian sport has been the rags-to-riches tale;

    I am sure rags-to-riches tales appeal to people but I'm not sure which world-class Indian sportsperson, (and I want to exclude team sports like hockey and cricket) actually had a rags-to-riches story. It seems to me that they call came from middle or upper-middle (or upper!) class families and always had highly motivated parents behind them (Leander Paes, e.g.).

  16. Meh. If shooters had to become national heroes then Rajyavardhan Rathore would have been a lot more high profile.

    Even with his loads of charisma and good looks, Rajyavardhan has nowhere close to the personality cult of even a middling cricketer.

    Bindra, not to take away from his achievements, has as much charisma as a wet blanket.

    As for his dad, I'm really really hoping for the old man's sake that TOI's impeccable journalism standards are to blame for this fiasco.

  17. It's only a matter of time before we have a reality show on TV where teary eyed contestants try to shoot water balloons (or apples) from each other's head. And every 5th show there will be a meeting where one of them get's knocked out... the rest cry, and the loser gets to walk out in slow motion, with camera zooming in and out of fast edits with sound effects...

    I could go on with this... but the vision made me throw up a little.

  18. one of the news channels had this re-enactment of the william-tell overture with baby bindra and the maid - weird. i wanted to know - how come a little tyke was allowed to play with a gun unsupervised - i know of one boy who got blinded by an air gun - they can be lethal. if the bindra parents allowed him to play with it when they weren't there, that's serious negligence. if they were there, watching benignly as he asked the maid to pose, that's criminal. i wonder if they are re-tell-ing the story as it happened. if it happened. chances are he asked the maid to stand and nothing happened - or there is a dead/blind maid in their entourage.

  19. Jai,
    This was really funny. Guys, don't take things too seriously.

  20. agree entirely with the comments about bindra pere

    there are already copycat killings - fueled no doubt by the hysterical media coverage

  21. Agree with most that you have to say, except the part about Indians talking of national pride and basking in reflected glory. But of course we should do that..wouldn't it be awful if we didn't feel any national pride and didn't discuss this awesome achievement?

    Bindra senior came off as really pompous and loud, what with his ''Akshay Kumar is just an actor;my son is the real king'' statements. The maid story just clinched it for me. As for Abhinav, he could be a little less stand-offish at a time like this..he looked and sounded incredibly impatient in his interviews. All he wanted was to be left alone and given time to celebrate his win with his family! If no fuss had been made, he would have complained that India has no national pride..really no pleasing most people, is there?

  22. How long do you think it'll be, before Aaj Tak tracks down the maid and interviews her as 'BREAKING NEWS!'?


  23. Jabberwock, I never thought that you of all the people, would ever quote from a rediff messageboard!! even if it is to prove a point......

  24. Sunshine: I'm surprised that you're surprised. I've quoted from Rediff messageboards several times before on this blog - in fact, I've even written a Metro Now column about comments! Reading them is both very illuminating and an excellent stress-buster.

  25. guys I live in Chandigarh... So let me tell u something. If u think abhinav bindra is rich... You are wrong... He's really really offensively effing rich :D I passed by his farm house a couple of times and its giagantic. And I think the way he handled the media was extremely classy, I hate over the top loud people who go media crazy and look like they've done meth. I think the man's classy, bit sissy but talented.
    and I think people who donated him the money very publically were expecting that they are helping a poor Indian guy earn a decent living... I feel proud that now the image of "rich India " is taking form.

  26. I just came across this today and thought it was an insightful, pertinent analysis of the Abhinav Bindra phenomenon. I certainly hadn't read previously about Abhinav B's childhood antics! Furthermore, bang on target about the fantastical universe of rediff message boards. Is the Metro Now article you wrote about it available online?