Sir, if you want to invite us, it’ll cost money. Nobody offers us anything. Athletes put in a lot of hard work and money to win medals." One of my senior colleagues was shocked to hear this from the coach of a woman athlete, who had just returned home after winning a medal. We wanted to invite her to an event organized by Hindustan.

Did the coach say anything wrong? The player he coaches is the daughter of an auto rickshaw driver who manages to earn 200 every day with difficulty. How could he have managed to bring up a large family? On top of it, his daughter began to nurture dreams of becoming an Olympian. Even when caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation and distress, she didn’t let her tiny feet waver. Every new challenge brought about a steely resolve in her eyes and strength in her muscles. Having won a gold medal, today she is on top of her game. She knows the state government will give her 10 lakh in cash. She is likely to get employment offers from a big corporate house or the state government. But all this is taking place after she became a celebrity.

When a rough diamond comes out of a tattered mattress, its sparkle attracts everybody, but only a few are aware of the agonizing journey undertaken before the person reached that stage. Today she may be a star, but does anybody bother about her coach? At the most he’ll get a round of applause and words of respect from the star pupil. But respect alone isn’t enough to fill one’s stomach. Our Republic loves to wear roses on its chest, but it never spares a thought for the gardener. That is why a country with a population of 125 crore is gloating after winning 69 medals in the Asian Games.

Can this be a moment for self-aggrandizing when relatively smaller nations, such as Indonesia and Iran, are ahead of India in the medals tally?

But we Indians are not easily shamed. If that were the case, Delhi’s Harish Kumar wouldn’t be selling tea at Majnu Ka Tilla after winning a bronze medal in Sepak Takraw. Special Olympics gold medallist Rajesh Verma wouldn’t be standing in a queue of MGNREGS workers in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar. This is true of most medal winners. Their families are firmly in the grip of poverty. If one medal winner’s brother is a daily wage labourer, family members of others have just one abiding worry every night: How to quell the hunger raging in their bellies? The story of Sarita Gayakwad, who helped India win a gold medal in the 4X400 metres relay, is not any different. She could only look and sigh at the expensive articles on display in the markets of Jakarta. She wanted to buy gifts for her family members. She was also craving for a few acquisitions, but the lack of money killed those plans.

Now each of these champions will become a lakhpati or crorepati, but as I’ve said earlier, rather than felicitate them after the victory, it is better to prepare every child to become a winner. Our country doesn’t have the requisite infrastructure for this, yet. It is worth noting that as many as 10 states in the country don’t reward their athletes after winning a medal. Despite this apathy, if India’s young athletes manage to defeat players from countries rich in resources, it should be perceived as a victory for the common man. I’ve used the phrase “common man" deliberately. Our country is divided into two classes. One that takes decisions and passes orders, and the other deprived class that silently carries these out.

Since independence, this tragedy has become bigger with every passing year. Political families have taken the place of royal families today. The result, not just do children born in families of billionaires own enormous wealth from the day they enter this world, but power awaits them on a platter. While on the subject of politics, let me tell you that 450 of the 543 members in the Lok Sabha are crorepatis. The average wealth of the members of the Rajya Sabha is more than 55 crore. Once considered the abode of intellectuals, thinkers and learned men, the Upper House today has just five members whose riches are less than 10 lakh. These honourable members may not have managed to evolve a realistic policy in more than 70 years. But can they each adopt just one sportsperson?

Trust me, we’ll stand first in every competition.

If they want, they can begin immediately because the young athletes who won the Asiad battle are now preparing for the Olympics. They have already displayed their mettle. Now it is the turn of society and the government. Will India’s honourables wake up? Or, will their eyes keep looking at material riches and seats of power with admiration?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin

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