Monday, July 13, 2009

The unlikely hero

Heroes turn up in unlikely places. They are heroes because of their deeds, not necessarily because the world (the media, primarily) talk about them, but because they make a difference. A difference to our lives, be it directly or indirectly. There emerged a hero yesterday, not for the first time, but he did emerge. This hero was responsible (as he claims) for the death of 6 people and serious injury to 15 others. I still call him a hero. Perhaps an explanation is due.

I’m talking about E Sreedharan, the Managing Director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), who resigned yesterday owning moral responsibility to an accident. An under-construction bridge of the Delhi metro collapsed, killing 6 and injuring many more. The reason this gentleman resigned, and I quote him, was – “For me even one casualty is too many. My colleagues advised against the resignation. Normally I listen to them but this time it is different. I have been in-charge of the project for 10 years. We have maintained a high safety mechanism. The first jolt was the Laxmi Nagar accident but this is a bigger setback".

I had heard of Sreedharan sometime in 2007, I suppose. He was the architect of the Delhi metro. This was one of the very few government projects that had been completed efficiently and well before time, quite unlike the Bandra-Worli sea link. Of course, this was not a first for Sreedharan. He had earlier achieved the near impossible, i.e. setting up the Konkan Railways. It was believed to be impossible and he did it in 7 years. The results are there for everybody to see. As a result of that, he was thrown the challenge of giving the capital its metro service. A challenge he accepted, on the verge of retirement, and achieved with distinction.

He had kept a reverse clock in his office, while the metro project was on, to keep people on their toes to meet the deadline. He was the one who made sure that this work ethic was imbibed among all that worked in DMRC, and they worked to achieve the deadline. And quality of work was not compromised. Yes, he was a hero.

Yet, this man resigns. Perhaps, because he is truly a leader. He did not rest on his laurels, and he has many. He could have come out stating that these things, however unfortunate, do happen. Given his impeccable record most would have swallowed it. But probably, he had his conscience to answer to, and that made him take the step he has taken.

I cast my mind back to the security lapses that have happened in India in the recent past. The last being the 26/11 incident. Shivraj Patil, with already a lot of blood in his hands, never resigned. He was sacked. The same with Vilasrao Deshmukh. The latter, though, has been rewarded with a minister-ship for failing in his primary duty as Chief Minister; that of protecting his citizens. The list of politicians is endless, who have failed miserably over a long period of time. Yet, they have no moral fibre that would make them own up a failure. Though they are responsible, they point fingers at others but hold on to their exalted positions. The never resign, but shamelessly stand for elections again.

But Sreedharan is different. In the past, he has given us a lot to be happy about. He has helped us save time, he has made distances disappear, made travelling a joy. Not just for us, but for the generations to follow. Yet, he could not take this lapse. It is an irony that a man this just and efficient and upright reports to a politician, the Chief Minister of Delhi.

He has taught us a lesson. He has taught us that we are just as good as our last performance, and not our past laurels. That there is a moral dimension to everything. What Sreedharan has done reminds me of a saying about a waterfall I read some time back – falling down from a somewhere so high has never looked as graceful or glorious. Well, Sreedharan has decided to fall with dignity. I guess this does make him an even greater hero.

Monday, July 06, 2009

There was a winner, and I didn't see a loser

Sport teaches. It enriches. And this isn’t restricted just to the people who play it, this extends to the people who watch as well, in fact the followers learn more. As I watched yesterday’s Wimbledon men’s singles epic final culminate to Federer lifting his 15th Grand Slam, a message was re-emphasised to me. The message was that in sport there is always a victor and a runner-up, but never a loser. This is not shown by a way a sportsman plays, but by the way the sportsman behaves after ending 2nd best. That is what Andy Roddick showed yesterday.
Roddick was the better player in the final, who never looked like his serve would be broken. Well, Federer won because he knows what it takes to be a champion, that he needs to stick around. He won because he hung on, because he refused to be a runner-up, because the grabbed the slightest opening (the only one in the whole match) that came his way. He did not win because he was the better player, for that was Roddick.
I cast my mind back to 2006. Michael Schumacher was racing like a dream, in Japan. It was his last season and he was fighting Alonso for the title. More than any of his fans he wanted to sign off as a world champion, for Michael Schumacher could never accept defeat. Then the unthinkable happened. His reliable Ferrari engine blew, with Schumacher leading the race, and with the engine went his chances of ending as a world champion. He’d never ever regain it. I thought that I’d see Schumacher walk out of the car disappointed, dejected, and walk into the Ferrari garage. After all, for no fault of his a championship, that was his for the taking, had gone away.
But there was a different script being written. Schumacher stepped out of his car, had a smile on his face. I don’t know what emotion hid behind it, but he was waving to the crowds as he walked back to the Ferrari pit, saying goodbye and thanking people. The Ferrari pit was a picture of dejection. The engineers and crew were heartbroken, because they had let Schumacher down at such a crucial juncture. But Schumi walked up to every one of them with a smile and hugged them all, consoling them. It seemed that he told them ‘forget about today, what you have done over the last 6 years is immeasurable. What happened today is a part of sport’.
As I saw that bit of magic unfold, this heartbroken fan learnt a lesson. That I should thank Schumacher for winning 7 championships and 91 races and not feel bad because he’s lost this one. The heart did not seem that broken then. I saw on screen a man who didn’t win, but who by no means was a loser.
A bit of that magic unfolded on Wimbledon’s centre court yesterday. Roger Federer walked all over centre court, carrying his trophy. In his corner, quietly sat the valiant Roddick. Teary eyed, with the runners-up plate, wondering what went wrong, but there was a difference. With those teary eyes he was looking at Federer parade and Roddick was giving his conqueror the most generous applause. It was genuine, it was dignified, it was tragic, and it was magical. He wasn’t moping and grumpy. He took his defeat like a sportsman. He lost to a man who did not play better tennis than him, but that did not stop Roddick from applauding one of the greatest feats in modern day tennis, 15 grand slams.
Maybe, Roddick’s day in the sun will come. Perhaps he would be a champion one day. He taught me the old lesson sport has been teaching me since forever, that why a defeated sportsman is not a loser. Maybe, he's a champion already...