Spotting talent: go to the hinterland, if you have time
When Milkha Singh ran for a glass of milk as special diet and when Paan Singh Tomar ran because it meant extra food as an athlete, I was not there.
Two wonderful movies on these two great athletes took me there. Many cracked up, laughing at the scenes when they played out in the theatre. Some cried. I am in the category of the criers.
The hunger of the two men got to me in an extremely visceral way.
Perhaps, in the same way, hunger — for better food, personal improvement and success — drove Milkha Singh and Paan Singh Tomar to great sporting heights.
In a country largely bereft of sporting heroes, barring cricket and a few individuals who excel in their chosen field of play, it is this hunger that needs to be spotted.
For a start, we must simply refuse to accept that a country of 1.2 billion plus people cannot throw up sporting talent across events.
Are we not looking in the right places?
Other sports in India cannot hope to match the craze of cricket, but the game has definitely laid down a template worth emulating.
Cricket, of late, has shown us achievers can emerge from beyond the bright lights of cities.
If captain MS Dhoni calls the modest Ranchi (okay, Jharkhand’s capital can afford to be not so modest now) home, fast bowler Umesh Yadav grew up in nondescript Valli near Nagpur.
A coal-miner’s son, Yadav’s pace is pure gold, somewhat akin to the black gold he grew up around.
Cricket lovers know he tried becoming a police constable, but failed. The rest, fans will hope, is history in the making.
Yadav for sure is hungry and there are many out there, waiting to be spotted and plucked out of obscurity, with a little bit of that thing called luck by chance.
For all that we know, our coastal areas that see regular floods could throw up world-beating swimmers.
Go to a coastal village and be amazed at how children cross the entire length of ponds underwater, in one breath. I have seen it and hope others have too because it is fascinating, as is the diving off the bridges.
We could get our Michael Phelps from such villages. Take swimming clinics and tryouts to villages. Try it.
When so much money can go down the pools in cities, why not some down the ponds in villages?
To spot potential javelin throwers or fast bowlers, check out children who hurl stones. Let’s not restrict ourselves to only those that throw stones to bring down mangoes, but also consider strife-torn areas.
In unguarded moments, security personnel do tell you that young protesters throw stones great distances and with accuracy. The whipping action that propels the stone can be harnessed in the exceptional for a javelin or a cricket ball.
It works. Polio-affected Prakash Panda was the most highly-rated stone and cricket ball thrower in his colony before he worked his way to winning javelin medals in Odisha.
You haven’t heard of Panda, but he is star in his own right.
For long distance runners, go to the hills and tribal belts.
The hills make for sturdy runners with above average lung capacities and tribal people have the most astounding stamina.
Food in the belly and high-end sporting shoes could do the trick.
If you are a hockey lover, plead with the authorities to organise tournaments in pockets of Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and everywhere else where they love the sport.
Go a step further, allow local children who have grown up in the cradles of hockey to play on the artificial turf during intervals. You will be amazed. Some of them have probably been born to run at speed, while bent and dribbling the ball.
All of what has been written above can be easily dismissed as wishful thinking, but where is the harm in deputing our coaches to go as talent spotters to the hinterland.
Take the coaching camps to the interiors because talent blooming there may not have the means to make it to you.
Fans know it turned out badly for Paan Singh Tomar, but that’s for another day.