Human endurance and endeavour

SPORTING excellence lies not only in conquering new frontiers; it is embellished beyond measure when triumph over spirit, with skill as the adjunct, gives rise to something phenomenal.

SPORTING excellence lies not only in conquering new frontiers; it is embellished beyond measure when triumph over spirit, with skill as the adjunct, gives rise to something phenomenal. History is replete with instances of men and women overcoming adversities, often to the point of enduring torture to prove a point or cross a milestone. The key element in such achievements is determination, the willingness to subordinate pain, stretch the fund of energy to the extreme in pursuit of a goal that eventually takes the achiever into the realm of immortality.

A Dorando Pietri in 1908 in the London Olympics marathon and a more recent personality, the cyclist extraordinaire, Lance Armstrong, symbolise human endurance and endeavour. Hearteningly perhaps, Indian sport boasts of several practitioners, whose fortitude and fighting qualities figure in the realm of fantasy.

Leander Paes is one such personality. The performance of this gallant warrior against New Zealand in the Davis Cup is an illustration of how passion, patriotism and perseverence can synthesise to overlap a physical problem in quest of honour and glory. Achievements have been there by the dozen, even by Indian standards on the world stage, but what Leander conveyed to the international audience recently was the quintessence of heroism. Here was a man, given up as having reached the end of the tether on discovery of a tumour in the brain. There were doubts whether he would ever get off the wheelchair for the rest of his life.

But Leander, a born fighter who had proved times without number that he would never take defeat lying down, recovered in a fashion that can well be described as a miracle. He figured in the mixed doubles final of the Australian Open with the legendary, Martina Navratilova, and played a stellar role in the Davis Cup.

What more, Leander exudes confidence of winning a medal, even gold, with Mahesh Bhupathi at the Olympics in Athens. Leander won a singles bronze in the Centennial Games at Atlanta in 1996.

Leander is a living symbol of hope; a shining example for sportspersons in the country that nothing on earth can extinguish the fire of spirit which noticeably enhances the mental strength to confront challenges, even if the body is impaired by illness of the kind he faced.

He always wore the flower of patriotism on his lapel, and demonstrated that in almost every Davis Cup he has participated in. Small wonder, he equalled the record of the nation's icon, Ramanathan Krishnan, who enriched the image of tennis, nay sport itself, by his exemplary conduct on and off the court.

Just as the nation leaned on this wonderful touch artist to win the coveted Wimbledon crown, he was troubled by a painful cyst in his playing arm. Krishnan braved the pain on many occasions and ensured that India reached the pinnacle of the Davis Cup final.

These are not definitely isolated instances of valour in the enrichment of the country's sporting ethos. Is it easy to forget the historic one-handed winning stroke of Syed Mushtaq Ali against the First Commonwealth team in 1949 with the other arm almost in a sling owing to a fracture, or the gallant knocks of skipper Nari Contractor impervious to pain from a crack on the ribs while facing a barrage of bouncers, delivered by Trueman and Statham, with beaming non-chalance? Was he not the same man who took the field after being felled by a brute of a ball from Charlie Griffith in 1962 that forced more than one operation to have the blood clots removed from the brain? True, he did not play Tests after that, but surely he was back on his feet for the sport as a coach.

What impels these sportsmen and women to risk their life for the cause of sport? A cynic or a pervert will argue that this as a misplaced motivation for money. Only the genuine lover of sport perceives this desire to pump in the best for the glory of the motherland.

A commentator during the recent Australian tour labelled Dravid as carrying the bat in one hand and the tri-colour in the other. The glee of Dhanraj Pillay waving the flag with Gagan, Prabhjot and the rest in tow mirrors the mood of the nation. The comeback attempt by the golden girl, P.T.Usha from a heel injury, or by Baichung Bhutia after a foot problem, or by Kapil Dev from more than one knee-surgery did not merely proclaim them as devotees of their chosen sport, but also sung the values they strove for and which established them as national heroes.

Leander's hour of glory in New Zealand is heroic all right, but the efficacy of it all will carry some meaning only if it inspires the youth to imbibe and emulate the men and women for whom sacrifice and national honour are paramount.