The Beijing Olympics have proved one thing at least: the prophets of doom who claim that India is only cricket -- sorry, cricketer -- crazy have mud on their collective face.
A keen sporting instinct has taken root in the Indian psyche as never before. The sheer genius of the media in popularising sports and mentoring the public is worthy of salutation.
Take Indian middleweight Vijender Kumar's momentous quarterfinal bout Aug 20, which earned him a bronze.
Most newspapers had photographs of the comely young lad in Beijing boxing gear, including a helmet.
What colossal stupidity to publish a photo with that cute face hidden! As we all know, love for sports begins with love for sportspersons - sportsman in this case.
One national newspaper stood out for its sheer genius. It splashed Vijender on page one and inside as pin-up, as pure fantasy, as The Body. The photos were part of a shoot by a men's magazine.
On page one was the photograph of Vijender seated on a chair in classic Hollywood hero style, the lighting playing on rippling muscles and clear cut jaw line. He was a picture of easy, urbane nonchalance, a cigarette dangling from the lips...
It was an image calculated to trigger an epidemic of male envy and female fantasy.
Gosh! How many boxing fans must have been born that instant! People who would never go anywhere near a violent, sweaty, grimy sport, looked at that dandy image for such a
As for rumours of old-fashioned sports lovers getting together to launch a campaign against trivialisation of sports and sports coverage, a metaphoric upper cut to them.
Seriously, who wants to see photos of sportspersons in real life, as these dull fogies indicate. They say the photograph must be able to give a glimpse of how the boxer tunes his mind and muscles into compact energy, waiting for that precise moment of unleashing it in an awesome demonstration of power and skill.
The fogies say an individual boxer's photograph should be able to capture the moment of concentration through a facial expression or stance. Some go gaga over the shot that freezes a moment of a punch, with sweat droplets flying.
Ugh! Listen to them and boxing is going to go nowhere in the public mind.
But here one photograph created armies of adoring boxer fans precisely because you were not required to learn the basics of boxing and all that blah.
All you had to do was to take pleasure in this perfect, de-odorised fit for the smouldering 'he-man' mould with a macho body and boyish face. It proved you were a sports lover at heart. For, wasn't this guy a boxer?
Think what heights this boxer could take his sport to, getting snapped up by some branded company to flaunt the briefest of briefs now that Sunny Deol is an ageing lion. Think of Vijender's personality development - from the land of rustics to the suave game.
Think of yourself. Love for sons of the soil is fine, but it makes life easier to appreciate sports and sportsmen once they have the right veneer. What's wrong with that?
One is tired of the gloom brigade, which talks about how glamour and tinsel have invaded sports.
Which elitist world are they living in, with their mumbo-jumbo about 'knowing' the sport?
How about knowing sportspersons and wanting them to win at all times? Doesn't that show an equally deep love for the sport?
Thank god for the philanthropic convergence of sport as entertainment and business in a world of 24-hour pixels, and print. It has brought sports out of the stadium and into our lives.
So, lap up the photos of Vijender posing for a men's magazine shoot; linger on the list of the 10 hottest women in the Beijing Olympic Village, some who have gone as far as Playboy.
Know more about the American female swimmer Michael Phelps has had the hots for; go gaga over the cool antics of that guy Bolt something who ran fast.
All this is truly sports coverage with a human face.
The rest is just statistics.
Take a cue from those magnificent sports lovers, the television channels. One of them stopped a Haryana Roadways bus for Vijender's father, Mahipal Singh Beniwal, to pose as the driver he is.
The channel disrobed its driver so that Beniwal could wear a uniform-like shirt and look like a 'real' driver.
Sport has never been so true to life.
(Chitra Padmanabhan is a journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)