Mexico city, 1968: The American Jim Hines sprinted his way to Olympic glory winning the 100m Gold Medal smashing the 10sec barrier. He was the first human being to accomplish this feat. He clocked a World record breaking 9.95 sec. This record stood for nearly 15 years. As a 10 year old I was totally bowled over. I fell in love with the idea of speed on the athletic track. We had just moved to Hubli and I had joined the Kendriya Vidyalaya in class 3. This was the first time I was attending school while staying with my parents. I say this because prior to this I went to school living with my mother’s sister at Lucknow and later at New Delhi.
My mother told me that sport was in our blood. Two of her brothers were athletes who had performed with distinction at the University and State levels. One of them also had the unique honour of participating in the torch relay during the inaugural Asian Games of 1951 that was held at New Delhi. My mother too was a sports woman. and had been part of her college baseball team. Listening to all this sport talk, not to be left out my father piped in saying that he too was part of his college hockey team. He was however quick to point out that he was in the side since the coach could only find 9 players who had played the game before. My parents felt it was high time for us kids to be initiated into sport.
My brother and I started going out for morning runs. These sessions included long jogs followed by sprints and rigorous work outs. Soon, some of our school mates who lived in the neighbourhood also joined in. We started doing cross country runs, short races across the colony and some days we ran up the Nrupathunga Betta- a hill close to our house. These sessions were very enjoyable and invigorating.
Every year the school organised the Annual Sports Meet which comprised separate competitions for children of the primary, middle and the senior schools. In each of these three age categories the children were further classified as sub junior, junior and senior based on height and weight. I was a little on the heavier side and invariably found myself in competition with children who were older. This however did not deter me. Right from class 3, I entered all the running events. I participated with enthusiasm and energy, imagining myself to be either a Jim Hines or a Steve Williams, both sprinters who had covered the 100m in less than 10 seconds. I must confess that I relished the races in spite of poor finishes. One year, while in middle school when I lined up at the start of a race, the teacher asked me why I was taking the trouble of running since I already knew that I was going to end up last. “I run because I enjoy it” was my simple response.
Then in 1973 I entered class 9, my first year in senior school. As usual, I lined up for the 100m dash. The competition included students from class 9,10 and 11. The prospects were not good. I took up my stance with a clear head, no aspirations, just a mission to enjoy. On your marks, get set, go and off we went. I had made a brisk start, the rhythm was good, the adrenaline was flowing and I felt on top of my game. I suddenly heard my name being announce through the PA system. Apparently I was leading the pack and was speeding towards the finish line. I could not believe my ears. Later that day as I was taking up my position for the finals, the teacher asked me how come I was there. I told him to check his list. He simply smiled and patted my shoulders. The finals happened and I finished second. This was incredible. I had certainly dreamt of it but did not quite expect it. The following two years I was the fastest over 100m in the school. I represented the school in several inter school athletic competitions both at the District as well as the State level.
As I stood mesmerised watching the blind kids playing cricket, that 1989 morning at the NIVH *National Institute for the Visually Handicapped) Dehradun, I realised that sport was not just about passion. It had the power to transform people. As the late legendary West Indian cricketer Conrad Hunt put it to me several years later, sport provides people with the mantra for success in life, the 5 Ds. It offers people opportunities to Dream, it instills a Desire to fullfill and achieve. It teaches Discipline. It demands Dedication and fosters Determination. All essential qualities a person needs while moving up in life. Further in a cricket crazy country like India, the game could provide for a powerful and effective platform to project the talent and potential of the blind cricketer and influence perceptions and attitudes. Finally I also saw very clearly the possibility of taking this sport right up to the International stage. Cricket for the blind indeed was a big idea. My mind was flying, energy was flowing and I was prepping to take my stance at the starting block of yet another mission in life.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!