The other day, while sitting at a regular coffee house in Prashant Vihar, I asked a friend: "The Commonwealth Games in 59 days. What do you think about the preparations?" He said, "As good as I could imagine. Wealth pours in for the officials, while they play games with the common man." Lame, but not untrue.
Talking of pouring in, let's not forget the extra preparations that the participants will have to make this year. I hear that many have already perfected the art of standing in the rain or in the sunshine without getting sick. Next week, they practice not to poop for as long as they can. If I were one of them, no amount of gas would make me buy a toilet paper pack worth Rs.4000. Nor would I rent an umbrella that costs 6 grand. I repeat, an umbrella on rent costs Rs. 6000. I wonder if the Rain Gods are getting a commission.
This, my friend, is Commonwealth.
When you first found out, a few years back, that Delhi was to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, you were cynical. You said to the guy sitting next to you, "If we spent 22000 crores on the betterment of sports and sportsmen in the country, we'd have more gold medals in 2010 than the land of El Dorado." But they made you believe you were wrong, that it was a good thing India got this opportunity, a chance to warn the world about our entry in international events. You took the bait. You fell prey to the sweet talk. The optimist in you even believed that, for once, the Organising Committee might set aside their personal interests for the sake of 2 billion hopefully watching eyes. You thought that the next time your cousin from New York came to visit, you'd stand up to him and say, "Who's backward now, white boy?" But that ain't gonn' happen now, is it?
An English teacher of mine, at school, once defined 'committee' as any working body that doesn't work at all. I've been watching the news for a couple of days now, and I say to myself: Oh boy, wasn't that a prophesy? I kept switching the news channels, hoping for something that would cheer me up, but I got zilch, and a little bit of humiliation. I saw a stadium roof that leaked, probably a way to advertise the aforementioned umbrellas, a hockey field that was still a pit, a Commonwealth Village that was, pretty much, an ordinary Indian village. I also saw a flash flood in Leh, and I swear, it didn't look very different.
I also hear that in 2006, the budget for the games was estimated to be around 22,000 crores. Over the years that followed, it just kept rising. The reasons were very simple: laziness, mismanagement, inefficiency at everything they did. But we all know what it all comes down to in the end: corruption.
Now, corruption is not a new trend in the Indian society. It has been prevalent for as far back as I can recall. Everytime we hear a new instance of corruption, we raise our voice in indignation. Yet, eventually, we all get used to it. I, too, have made my peace with it. In fact, a couple of months ago, I made a pact with myself never to watch the news again. It just depresses me, so I chose to ignore it completely. Ignorance is bliss, they say.
Lately, however, it has become a little hard to ignore as the budget swells to a roaring 30,000 crore (and rising), turning our pockets inside out with I-can't-even-count-how-many taxes, and subsidy roll-backs. I mean, I look at an innocent petrol pump employee, and I see the Mafia's right hand man asking for hafta. Is it just me, or does that happen with everyone? Anyhow, I say to myself, "I've had enough. Let's put an end to this insanity, once and for all."
The nerd that I am, I begin by making a list, titled 'Who Is Corrupt?' and double-underline it. The politicians, the organizers, the officers, the managers, the clerks, the peons, the... Damn, I don't even know the ranks or the designations or the names, but in my mind they are all pigs, greedy ones at that. I feel like Musaddilal from "Office, Office"! We, the people, are all Musaddilals. I laugh to myself; it's not a good-natured laugh that we used to have while watching the sitcom. It's a laugh of hopelessness...of despair.
No, no...don't misinterpret my words. This isn't a complaint. I know the situation is much better than what they show us on TV. I know that we'll have it all done before the games start. But with the games looming merely 2 months ahead of us, I expected there would be a little less unfinished business. I wished to see a new face of Delhi, a prettier face of Delhi, sooner. I didn't want the biggest sporting event India has ever hosted to be "just fine"; I wanted it to incredible. I envied the applause that South Africa got after hosting the Fifa World Cup 2010. I wanted that too. What I did not want was the entire world questioning my nation's capability. Maybe I asked for too much, and I have nobody but myself to blame for it. So, if anything, this is an apology. I am sorry Mr. Government, I believed in you.
(18 August, 2010)
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