In a postscript to my note yesterday (Nov. 29) on the age factor of spectacularly successful sportspersons, we had noted the ambivalent mood of the glamorous and much-loved cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar of India (aged 39) and Ricky Ponting of Australia (38) in the context of their impending and inevitable retirement from the game.
Being a very senior citizen, I can only think of Sachin and Ricky (who are of about the same age as my son Vijay) as "those young fellows". It's very difficult to digest the fact that they're already too old to go on pursuing their passion, which is to achieve excellence as master batsmen at the highest and toughest levels of performance.
In this intriguing context, I can't help recalling a psychologically significant article I had written in 1976, when these boys were all just two- or three-year-old toddlers!
Evening News, New Delhi
6 August 1976
6 August 1976
Gold is old!
Gold is old!
My wife Raji believes in scolding my 7-year old son Vimo whenever he misses his homework or creates any kind of trouble (which he's always doing!). But I believe in giving occasional deterrent punishment and in offering incentives/disincentives.
In fact, on the second day I didn't switch on the television set, just to show him that I meant business. But there was no improvement in his behaviour. To my great shock, I found out that the boy wasn't at all interested in the Olympics!
After a few days the problem was how to get him interested at least in the highlights. He had a knack of sitting down for a few minutes to watch some routine events, and going away just when something exciting was about to happen.
"Vimo! Vimo! Come on! Boat race!" I would scream. But the boy would just peep in and go away again, to do some more pranks and make his mother's life miserable.
"Vimo! Vimo! A knock-out! The white man has fallen down! Are you coming? VIMO!" -- but there would be no sign of Vimo.
I waited breathlessly one day to see the Russian giant Vassily Alexeyev lift 255 kg in the clean-and-jerk. When Vimo missed that event, I became really anxious, and decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with the child.
"Vimo, why don't you see the Olympics?" I asked.
"I am not interested."
"You don't want to grow up into a champion?"
"Why not? Don't you think it would be wonderful to get up on the victory stand and receive a gold medal?"
"I can't be a champion for a long time, can I, Papa?" Vimo asked. "But if I become a famous writer or something, I can go on being famous, can't I?"
What the child said set me thinking hard. Yes, indeed, where are all the glorious sports stars of yesterday? Where is Mark Spitz, the wonder boy of the Munich swimming pool? Where will Kornelia Ender be four years from now?
The whole world marvels when a young man like 24-year-old Teofilo Stevenson retains his heavy-weight Olympic boxing title. "First man ever to do it!" scream the despatches, as if at 24 a man ought to be a spent force!
When a young woman of 30 like Irena Szewinska wins a gold medal in a track event, the whole world recalls that she had been a great star in the 1964 Games, and wonders how she still happens to be around.
"This tall, graceful athlete is still a track-and-field evergreen!" says the sports writer. Or else: "The day's human-interest story was the phenomenal success of the age-defying wonder, Irena Szewinska...."
As if at the age of 30 a young woman has no right to be physically fit!
"Oh, yes, the child is right!" I thought. "Where are Paavo Nurmi and Emil Zatopek today? Where will John Naber and Juantorena be in 1984?"
"Papa, have you seen the old man with a paunch who runs along the road early in the morning when I wait for the school bus?" Vimo asked, interrupting my thoughts. "I think he must have been a champion when he was young."
Oh, yes, I've seen the gentleman all right! Around 40, I should say. I have just crossed 40 myself, but my son never called me an old man.
Thank God I have nothing to look backward to -- no gold medal as an athlete, no silver as a sportsman! Whether I even win a tin medal or not as a writer and artist, I can at least live with my dreams till I die!
Oh, yes, never reaching the peak is better than climbing down from it too early in life! Isn't it sad to think of all the wonderful young people who feel so old so soon after winning their Olympic gold?