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Gambhir’s gesture deserves more than 100-word brief

Wisden India logo Wisden India 13-02-2017

Tucked away in a barely noticeable corner, in what in newspaper parlance one refers to as the Briefs column, was a sketchy 100 words under the heading ‘Gambhir extends financial support to boxer Dingko’. Clinical and sanitised. It’s news but also not eye-popping news. It’s feel-good, but hey, there are more interesting stories to pursue. Good on Gambhir, well done lad, but let’s focus on other things more important.

But what is more important than one human being helping out another in times of strife and need? Even if the one extending the helping hand is a celebrated cricketer and the recipient of his assistance is a storied Asian Games gold medallist who is now going through one of the toughest challenges life can throw up.

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We devote time and attention and print space and air time to the apathy of modern-day homo sapiens. We decry his insensitivity when he chooses to take photographs of an accident victim crying out for help instead of trying to get him medical care at the earliest. We slam the indiscriminate and self-defeating felling of trees in exchange for concrete – sometimes steel – jungles in the guise of modernisation. And yet…

And yet, we don’t feel the need to allot more than a couple of hasty glances in acknowledging the goodness of heart, the empathy and the unforced desire to help, of one human being towards another. Does that stem from the widely held notion that negativity sells more than feel-good? Or do we take these admittedly uncommon gestures so much for granted?

Gambhir, of course, has had his fair share of attention. For his purple patch with the bat towards the end of the 2000s when he couldn’t put a foot wrong, and when Virender Sehwag anointed him the ‘New Wall of Indian cricket, this time from the North.’ For his run-ins with establishment and opposition. For his shoulder-charging of Shane Watson, almost twice his size, and his foul-mouthed and well-reciprocated rants at Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal. For his unseemly showdown with Virat Kohli during an Indian Premier League match. For his surprise return to international cricket late last year, and for his spunk and selflessness in coming out to bat after retiring hurt with a shoulder injury to conjure what will in all likelihood be his last Test half-century.

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But this isn’t about Gambhir, and whether he needs to be eulogised or not.

To set the stage. Dingko Singh was one of the first boxing superstars from the country, capturing the imagination of the fans long before Vijender Singh arrived with a flurry of attacking punches and a wonderfully talented marketing team. When he was but 19, the Manipuri won the bantamweight gold at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, defeating the world No. 3 in the semifinal and out-punching the world No. 5 in the title round. Employed by the Indian Navy, he took to coaching after his competitive career ended prematurely due to injury, and was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 1998 and the Padma Shri in 2013.

Fate dealt him a cruel blow when he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer last August, following a bout of jaundice. Now 39, he underwent surgery in January during which 70% of his liver had to be excised. He is on the road to recovery and while the chances of recurrence exist, doctors are optimistic that he will be hale and hearty for a long time. That’s fantastic news, of course.

The not-so-cheerful news is that the treatment has come at a huge price, quite literally. Dingko has had to sell his house, and has already spent nearly Rs 10 lakh in his long battle against the dreaded C. For a while, it was a solitary battle, but now, he is the rightful recipient of not just words of support and encouragement, but also promises of financial assistance – from the Sport Authority of India, from the Boxing Federation of India, and from the likes of Gambhir and Sarita Devi, herself an international boxer.

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It isn’t just a dog-eat-dog world, inasmuch as we might tend to think otherwise. There is a place for empathy and a genuine, unsolicited helping hand that comes with no expectations or no agenda. Amid the cynicism that has become an integral part of our mindsets, it is worth at least highlighting, if not extolling to the skies, deeds such as Gambhir’s, however basic and obvious they might appear.

Almost by spooky coincidence, one woke up on Friday morning to a piece on Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese magician, which talked of him donning a white mask over his face and throwing a cape over his back to pick up his son from school on Fancy Dress Day. Few have polarised opinion like the gifted Real Madrid star has; sometimes, even his own legion of fans know not what to make of him. He is the acknowledged prima donna, the attention-seeker on the park and off it, and yet here is, making the most of the occasion to parade himself publicly but in complete anonymity to create a rare father-son moment that the pair is otherwise not privy too.

Buried well inside this piece was information that threw light on a fairly unheralded side to the mercurial footballer – that he had helped save some 80 dogs at a kennel back in Cantinho da Lili in Portugal. The dogs also needed very expensive treatment — $2000 per dog, the report said – plus other maintenance demands, so Ronaldo sent them a signed shirt to be auctioned off. Alright, so other people’s money, but what of the 5 million pounds he donated for earthquake relief in Nepal in 2015? Or the $75,000 he paid for a 10-year-old baby to have an operation? Or funding the treatment of a nine-year-old cancer patient?

In their own right, both Gambhir and Ronaldo, like many other top sportspersons, are role models and trend-setters. We hold them to high standards because they can influence opinions. Therefore, when they are out of line when it comes to behaviour in public, especially on the field during the heat of battle, we are justifiably quick to scythe them down as setting bad examples. By the same token, it is almost beholden upon us to also bring the human face of these individuals out, because that can also help change behavioural patterns in this day and age of I, me and myself. 

It’s against this backdrop that we must guard against going overboard with the ‘record’ deeds of Pranav Dhanawade and Mohit Ahlawat. Of course it is awesome to make 1000 runs in a single innings. Or to hammer 300 in a Twenty20 game. But always, it is important to focus on context, and maintain equanimity. Little has been heard of Dhanawade in the last one year, apart from the one time he was detained by the police for protesting at the cricket pitch being turned into a helipad for a politician. More will be heard of Ahlawat in the next few days, especially with the IPL auction a little over a week away. And while the 1009 not out and the unbeaten 300 can’t be dismissed, no matter the circumstances under which they eventuated, nor can be more meaningful but supposedly less glamorous acts.

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