Bindra, The Silent Killer

By Namit Arora | Aug 2008 | Comments


Until Beijing, the last gold India had won at the Olympics was in 1980; no Indian had ever won an individual gold. This dismal record has been a source of shame for countless Indians. Every four years, a puny contingent would trudge to a foreign city, crash out, and the question would arise again: Why do Indians fare so badly? Answers would again span the whole spectrum: economics, culture, genetics, climate, politics, cricket, and more.

I can't remember the last time India's Olympic record bothered me. I suspect this is because Olympic medals do not correlate with values I admire in a society. They do not suggest a high civilization, one that has evolved, say, a refined balance between justice, equality, and liberty. Sports to me is about having fun, being social, and engaging in friendly yet spirited contests. Sure, medals measure and reward excellence, but the Olympics are now so hyper-competitive that it's all about winning after a long and grueling regime of hi-tech training (and at times drugs) at sports academies, often sponsored by "national prestige" initiatives. Where is the joy? Are these sports "finishing schools" much different from those that produce beauty queens? Reduced to a spectacle of physical feats by people driven by vacuous notions of glory, fame, and success, I see no reason to care for the Olympics (save for a certain fascination that led me to trapeze artists in my boyhood). Richard Rodriquez wrote four years ago:

Historians tell us that the ancient Greeks attached no glory to losing. So, also, today: Only gold will get you onto the box of Wheaties. Only gold, not silver, not bronze, not a good try, will get you immortality. Only gold is immortal. As someone who feels his soul more Hebraic than Hellenic, I keep thinking that what is eternal about the eternal flame is the wish for immortality. The Olympics is a celebration of youth, of ripeness, of summer. It is the most sublime and foolish of human romances, and this is its liturgy. Appropriate now to the neo-paganism of today's America, where one senses everywhere the obsolescence of a word like "soul." The body is all, health is all, and death is the defeat of all. Let the games begin.

BindraIn Beijing last week, a historic sense of shame appears to have finally dissolved. Abhinav Bindra, 26, became the first Indian ever to strike gold (10m air rifle shooting). Indians are ecstatic and bursting forth with pride. Every honcho—including the PM, the President, and Sonia Gandhi—wants to honor or interview him. State governments are queuing up to award him millions of dollars of taxpayer money. This despite that he is extravagantly rich, being the "CEO of Abhinav Futuristics, the sole agent of Germany based Walther brand of weapons for India which now markets their arms to country's law enforcement agencies." His family owns a 500-crore (US$125M) firm engaged in meat processing, real estate, and weapons. Papa Bindra spent a whopping 10 crores (US$2.5M) on his son's training. Further,

On the outskirts of Chandigarh, on the road that runs to Patiala, you can't miss the Bindra farm in Kishanpur village. Security men and trained dogs guard the lush-green 30 acre estate of Abhinav Bindra, India's first Olympics individual gold medalist. The palatial farm house, with seven bedrooms, is visible only after you drive further through the estate. It looks like a dream world; nothing here matches with the real world of India. The opulence of the house, set deep within a large manicured garden, its magnificent facade, luxurious fittings and object d'art collected from all over the world; European paintings facing the visitor from every corner of the house, the well-stocked bar, heath-spa, the Olympic standard shooting range, the elegant bedroom of Abhinav and some dozen servants who keep moving in and out of the kitchen -- all amid the divine Guru Granth Sahib in one silent corner of the house -- make Abhinav's home the stuff of fairy tale.

Indiagold_600_2So what motivates the ordinary Indian's pride in this man—an unknown sportsman, alienatingly rich, playing an uncommon, solo sport? I detect a whiff of odious nationalism, the hallmark of a highly insecure people. I think the pride comes from the same place that cheered the Pohkran nuclear blasts ten years ago. In today's India (as also in China), that's no revelation to me. I was ready to ignore this story and move on when these words by his proud father made my jaw drop (reported by many sources with some variations; I've provided two below).

Silent killer, as described by his father ... who spotted his son's talent when Abhinav was 5 years old. "He kept a water balloon on our maid's head and began shooting, knowing little that a slight mistake could have proved fatal. But his aim was so perfect that I couldn't think about anything else but make him a pro," says AS Bindra. [link]

"He had a passion for shooting, fiddling with guns. When he was five he would place a balloon on the head of his maid and shoot them. We were fearing that a problem would be created if he missed the mark, the maid could get hurt. But he always shot the balloon. He is always cool, never moved by media and publicity. He is a silent killer, silent worker." [link]

If true, this exposes a highly depraved mindset. Many Indians are simply glossing over this comment but what's worse is that many are using it to illustrate how talented their hero really is. The gold, the quote above, and the public's reaction to them encapsulate so much of the worst of Indian culture, lending credence to my theory above: there ain't no correlation between civilized life and Olympic golds.


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