As I write this article, I am getting my room repainted and that means my decade old Lee-Hesh poster (torn at the sides, and a tear in the middle) has been pulled down. This poster has seen it all, the rise, the fall, the break-up, the patch-up and then the break-up again. It now lies in the dustbin, waiting for the garbage guy to come tomorrow morning and ferry it to the dump yard, where it shall get lost forever in the melee of all things of no use anymore, and probably very soon, get erased from my memory.
Every child needs a sporting hero. Some make us feel like winners, some we model ourselves on, some we play against (you against the wall), and some are there without any particular motive. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, as a pair, were my sporting heroes. Leander Paes was not only the first ray of hope for sports lovers in India, who dared to live any other sport beyond cricket, but also a catalyst who instilled belief in me. When I watched Paes vs Ivanisevic, Paes vs Sampras, Paes vs Leconte… it helped the David in me defeat the Goliaths of fear.
And if Paes was the David on court, Bhupathi was the spotter to the sniper, a processor to the motherboard. Within two years of their partnership, between 1997-1999, Lee-Hesh snapped up 12 titles between themselves, with an astonishing feat of reaching the finals of all four grand slams, winning two of them. They were on top of their game, top of the rankings, and oddly, that is when my Lee-Hesh poster experienced its first tear.
But again, it wasn’t that odd. After all, success, rarely with exception, goes into the head of humankind, and more so, if it’s Indian-kind. The Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi spat symbolises the general Indian mentality, be it in sports or anywhere else. The mentality of self before the nation. As Oscar Wilde says – “All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction.”
We, as a nation, have always been fed and grown up on individual greatness— whether Sachin Tendulkar in cricket or Gandhi in freedom struggle. The individual is always placed on top, often at the expense of the nation. Brazil, too, puts individual triumph over everything else. Fortunately, they are so good in their staple sport that individual triumphs don’t hamper them often. And if you research a bit, it is evident that countries with a larger poor population tend to celebrate and nurture citizens who rise above all, often at the cost of others.
While we still hope that it’s just a locker room fight between the two boys, the water has spilled to the two respective households as well. And when your dads join in the chaos, even a national situation can look like a petty fight. Mahesh’s father is of the opinion that Leander and his son don’t make a good pair. Well Sir, please spare us the opinion that Rohan Bopanna is a better partnering option for your son. I am not undermining the youngster’s talent and ability, but even he in his dreams wouldn’t compare himself to the man who got India its first individual Olympic medal.
It doesn’t need telling for the two of them to understand the might of their partnership on a tennis court. Had they been together for all these years, they would have easily left behind Woodford-Woodbridge and the Bryan Brothers as the greatest of all tennis pairs.
It is clearly evident that Mahesh Bhupathi chose to partner Bopanna for the Olympics only to ensure he lasts longer and reaches farther than Leander, who is left with the option of partnering one of the younger guys (still at the junior level). It is to ensure the individual rivalries are valued and India’s medal prospects aren’t cared for.
But on many an occasion, the ego of an athlete drives him to run for that extra rally. The legendary pole vaulter from USSR, Sergei Bubka is a perfect example. And sometimes, as predicted in this case, it destroys the legend. Saurav Ganguly can be served as an epitome of that fact, fresh from our memories. He shunned the mic and padded up again for the Pune Warriors in the recently concluded IPL, to only further diminish the legend we associated him with.
It remains to be seen what this fresh spat between the two self-concerned legends pour out on court, but the hopes have been dashed, expectations have been killed and a nation’s pride has been sacrificed. And the tapes of the poster have been yanked.