28 Nov-04 Dec, 2012
small world
India’s 88-Year-Old Athletic Champ

KOCHI ~ In the recently concluded 17th Asian Masters Athletics Championship held in Taipei, Krishnan Nair clocked 6 min 22 sec in the 800 metre race to win the silver medal. He did this with a painful calf injury, but that is only half the story. He is 88 years old and probably the oldest to win a medal for India at an international meet.

“I had to participate in the 500 metre walk too, but the injury did not let me,” he says. The organisers of the championship were not confident of his participating even in the 800 metre event. “They advised me not to try if I was not fit,” Nair says, “But the pain vanished once I heard the whistle blow.”

Nair, who lives in Thiruvananthapuram, has been running since his childhood. “It was my favourite pastime. It developed into a passion once I went to Madras University for higher studies.” In the 1930s, he ran the 800 metre in 2 minutes and 2 seconds to create a university record.

Athletics took a backseat after he joined the Indian Forest Service. But Nair still walked five kilometres every morning in the 30 years of his work life. This was in addition to the “official long distance walks” through thick forests across India. After retirement in 1984, Nair started running again. His first victory was in 1994 at the National Veterans Athletics Championship, where he won gold in the 500 metre walk in the 65-plus age group.

Since then, Nair has become a regular winner in state and national meets for veterans. He won two gold medals—800 metre race and 500 metre walk—in the 32nd National Masters Athletic Championship held at Chandigarh in 2011. “Somebody even lodged a complaint against me saying I was younger than my age,” he says.

For the Taipei meet, he started practising two months in advance, but a few weeks before the event he got the calf injury. He was sceptical about going because of the severe pain, but his three sons coerced him into it. “They told me to go and enjoy the trip,” he says.  Now, Nair is setting his sights on a gold medal at the International Masters Athletic Meet that will take place in Brazil next year.

Take Two
Suicide Mission Accomplished
The many ironies in the speedy hanging of Kasab

You and I want to live, preferably with happiness and prosperity, but even miserable and penniless we still hang on. The jihadist has the opposite consideration. His objective is to die. He is in a sense already dead. To you and I, capital punishment is a lesson in good citizenship. When the state kills someone, it is to say this is what will happen to you if you do what this condemned man did. When the state kills a jihadist, it is to him only the successful culmination of his mission.

Ajmal Kasab came here to die. It would not matter to him if it was by the bullet of a soldier like the others in his group or by a noose after due process. That is why when Indians erupt in glee at Kasab’s hanging they don’t comprehend that it is in fact Kasab who has got closure.

You can still make this argument without saying capital punishment is right or wrong. In a country like India the idea that life is sacrosanct for the state is absurd. From Kashmir to the North East to the Maoists, the state’s hand in the killing of people has never been in question. Even the local trains of Mumbai kill 4,000 people every year and it’s been decades since any government’s conscience batted an eyelid on that. If Indian liberals should now quibble about a judicial killing, then they just don’t get the farce.

What we do need to be clear about is that Kasab’s execution was not a deterrent. No one in his right mind could believe that. For a terrorist  planning another strike against Mumbai, fear of death is the last thing to hold him back. To the vast majority of India, Kasab’s killing was an act of well-deserved revenge. There is nothing wrong in that except what purpose does it serve?

Those who planned the 26/11 attacks are still alive and a foot soldier is, well, just a brainless trigger. One jihadist completed what he came for. And now the government will tie itself up in knots over Afzal Guru and all the others in death row.

In a sense, Kasab was fortunate. Instead of spending decades waiting for death, he got something few other Indians get—speedy justice.

Mystery of the GCA Rooster

The mascot of the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA), which hosted the first India-England Test in Ahmedabad, is a cockerel. You see large images of the bird at many places on the ground, including the nets. This never fails to amuse and/or intrigue visitors. During lunch on the final day, Ashok Saheba, GCA’s joint honorary secretary, solved the mystery of the omnipresent rooster. “In the old days the British would pass time by playing cricket with teams from different regions,” Saheba said, one hand holding a bowl of vegetarian manchow soup. “Districts were suggested symbols based on their culture or preference. Baroda had kings, so they picked an elephant. Gujarat got the rooster because Bahuchara Mata, one of the most worshipped deities in Gujarat, is always depicted astride a rooster.”