India was the first colonised Asian nation to take part in the Olympics, in Antwerp, 1920. As such, the story is worth telling. Sports scholars Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta set about the task with impeccable research, in workman-like prose.
The story starts with the early sporting clubs, their role in shaping the Olympics movement in India, and the founding of the Indian Olympic Association. Pioneers like Sir Dorab Tata get a look-in, as do princely intrigue and a conscious attempt at nationalistic identity-making.
Quite fittingly, Indian hockey gets special treatment. The Games from 1924-32 were magical; equally glorious was 1936—held in a nation where only one voice was heard, and only one arm raised—but after much angst at the team’s fallibility. The authors show how decline had set in by the early ’50s, before the blows of astro-turf and new rules.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the book is its emphasis on how sports and politics are braided. Two chapters put Indian Olympism in its post-Independence socio-political and nation-making contexts. The competitive politics of the newly independent nations of Asia unfolded through the Asian Games—itself a part of the Olympics movement. The Delhi Asiad of 1951 is seen through the prism of the Nehruvian idea of India’s centrality in a new world order. Likewise, the 1982 Asiad is mined for the transformative energy it unleashed—the creation of a new national network led to a revolution in advertising, helped create a new consumer class, and built a base for the satellite TV boom.
The statistically inclined ought to be excited by the appendix—a record of all our Olympians and their performances. It’s quite a feat of collation. The authors grapple with a huge cast—players, administrators, patrons—over nine decades. Thematically arranged and cogently argued, their central task of recreating each role is admirable.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Indians are not a sports-crazy people.
The ricksha-wala has neither the time nor money to spend on sports.
The 'upper caste' doesnt like sports because it finds that sports involves sweating, and sweating is for the underclass.
If growing 20-inch fingernails was a sport, the upper-caste would be sports-crazy.
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