05 Aug 2018 19:03 IST

Pictures tell words

Up close and personal with triumph and disaster

As Rudyard Kipling reminds us in his poem ‘If’ — quoted in this column many moons ago — both Triumph and Disaster are imposters. Kipling is right and that’s probably why I reacted so strongly to the picture of Virat Kohli celebrating his century at Edgbaston, Birmingham. His joy is understandable. He’d been having a poor run with the bat in England and he had dug deep into his resources to reverse that trend, and he did it. The media, which was threatening to sing his dirge, immediately began to heap paean upon paean of praise like there was none other like him. Then, of course, there’s the other reality of his team having eventually lost that match, but that’s irrelevant here.

At the risk of being lynched by fans and others, I must admit to feeling a bit nauseous upon seeing the picture: bat in right hand, helmet in left, body arched back, mouth screaming wide open, face contorted. The image conveyed a sense of over-the-top aggression so excessive as to seem, quite frankly, ugly. Certainly not sportsmanlike. And certainly not becoming of the captain of the Indian team, the leader of any team for that matter.

Checks and balances

If a child were to do this, we’d indulge the moment but we’d also caution against reacting overly in the face of victory — as we would caution against taking defeat too much to heart. In this instance, yes, it’s a milestone, one more, and a harbinger of many more, we hope. But, face facts, this is a grown man and he’s not the only one to have accomplished this: many before him, in similar and more trying circumstances; many more will come to better these deeds.

Governments in India over the years have stressed the need for sport to be made a regular part of the school curriculum. This call has come again, now. We all know what the physical benefits are, we also know that it builds team spirit and character. A person’s true personality often reveals itself on playing field, especially when you play with passion and you give it your all. There’s no way you can hold back your emotions and so, your behaviour. We attribute that to the heat of the moment and make the excuse that we’re only human. This is why some field games have inbuilt mechanisms to keep matters in check, such as in football. Yellow card, red card and you’re out of the game.

As Zinedine Zidane knows only too well. This genius footballer, captain of France, on the brink of winning the 2006 World Cup for his country, was given a red card in the final for head-butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi after he was provoked by something the latter said. All of France collapsed in disbelief as Zidane left the field, never to play for the country again. Later, in an interview to France Football, quoted in a report in The Telegraph, he said, “It (the sending off) was a very good thing. It’s good that (Italian keeper) Buffon signalled what I had done to the referee because it was not pretty. I don’t know how I could have lived with it had France become world champions and I had stayed on the pitch.”

Staying strong

There are times when you are duty-bound to keep passions in check. One of them is when you are a leader. There are many famous examples of this. Let’s take one: Nelson Mandela, for instance. He was a hot-blooded young man with the solid fists of a boxer and the razor-sharp mind of a lawyer. He was not born the wise president and elder statesman the world mostly knows him to be. He grew into that role with effort and introspection, plain good sense and maturity. The other equally remarkable example is Gandhi who doesn’t or shouldn’t need to be explained.

If you think this example is too extreme and impossible to emulate, let’s look at our prime minister, Narendra Modi. Whatever you may feel personally about his politics and his stewardship, the fact is he once was just an ordinary RSS pracharak with not too much academic ballast. He hung around, tried to be true to the RSS spirit, worked hard, and slowly rose up the ranks to become a figure to reckon with in political circles. Today, there’s no country he hasn’t visited, no world leader he hasn’t either hugged or slapped the back of, or shaken hands with. He, along with his trusted advisor in the party, carries the BJP on his shoulders, and is trying, for better or for worse, to do the same for the country. This is not a judgement call on leadership, it’s a comment on building personality.

There’s always a choice

Many years ago I read in an interview that after Mark Taylor had been appointed captain of the Australian cricket team, he was given lessons in public relations, with an emphasis on how to conduct himself in public and address the press. He was made to understand that he wasn’t just a sportsman, nor even just the captain of the team, he was an ambassador for Australia and as such he had to acquit himself in consonance with that position, both in word and action.

Somewhere else I read or heard that when the Indian cricketer Hardik Pandya once overreacted inappropriately after getting an opposition batsman out, his captain MS Dhoni took him aside and quietly told him something to the effect that he could choose to do one of two things: continue to behave like this and receive match bans and whatever else that ensued, or tone it down a few notches and become a great player.

What this means is there’s always a choice to be made: you can decide which path to take. Sometimes nobody notices which path you choose. But sometimes, pictures can tell a thousand tales far louder than words.

Since heroes come and heroes go, isn’t it true that less is always more?