Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More dust in our eyes

What one had feared has come to pass. The Commonwealth Games are in a sorry mess. Even taking media reports which have been so gleefully salivating over the idea of national shame with a sackful of salt, it is clear that pretty serious things have gone and are still going wrong with every aspect of the Games. It began with quadrupling budgets and major corruption to sub-standard work and a complete rout of the timeline. Now a footbridge has collapsed and strictures have been passed about the lack of cleanliness and maintenance in the Games Village apartments by the Commonwealth Games Federation.

It will take us a long, long time to forget the faces of Organising Committee members, Mr Mattoo and Mr Bhanot as they addressed the new problems thrown at them by the Press and television channels. Mr Bhanot’s was webbed with indignant lies while Mr Mattoo’s offered a serious challenge to frogs sitting on lily pads. What they said was totally unbelievable. Mr Bhanot said something like the following, in a voice that was full of irritation with people who were not getting the obvious: “See, their standards of hygiene are different from ours. That doesn’t mean we are wrong. We are right and there’s nothing wrong with the apartments. But they are complaining so we will bring the level of hygiene up to their expectations though their ideas are different from mine or yours or everybody’s.”

A sportsman on a TV talk show, offered a gloss on this outrageous statement. He said people like Mr Bhanot were used to our sportspeople being given dumps as accommodation. That’s what he meant by our standards of hygiene. E and his colleagues appear to have assumed that the same rule must be holding for sportspeople from other countries.” It’s come as a shock to Mr Bhanot that other countries expect clean, well-maintained apartments for people who run and jump and swing a raquet or two.

Mr Mattoo assured viewers implacably that they would do their best to rise to international standards. It wasn’t a major problem. When it was pointed out that a bridge collapsing and injuring 27 labourers, five of them seriosuly might be seen by many as a major problem, he nodded yes-yes, while still sitting securely on his lily pad.

One is reminded of the time Prince Philip of Britain made his famous diplomatic gaffe when he remarked that a loose screw or wire or whatever it was that he had noticed must have been the handiwork of an Indian. How shocked and angry we were then. How dare he? We who send some of the best engineering and computer brains to the UK and the USA to be held responsible for loose screws?

But bad reputations are not fabricated out of sheer malice. Prince Philip did not have a history of India-bashing. We must give him credit for simply going about his business with eyes and ears open and perhaps reading newspapers. He might be doing that even now, shaking his head and saying to his wife, “Didn’t I tell you Beth? These fellows are dangerous old eggs. Can’t deal with nuts and bolts.”

Nuts and bolts mean detail. We go for large gestures. A passing remark made by someone on a television talk show should have been grabbed and a whole new talk show built around it. This someone said that elsewhere in the world, apartments built for sportspeople at international games meets were clean, efficient and functional. No razzmatazz. What we have created apparently is 5-star accommodation. Since none of the organizing committee people were called upon to comment on this aspect of the games in any talk show, we are short on specifics. But if this is true, it will not surprise us because it would be absolutely true to type.

Today Jaipal Reddy, who heads the Group of Ministers for the Commonwealth Games, is quoted as saying the Commonwealth Games Federation is complaining “only about maintenance. The top end flats I tell you will go for a million dollars.” They have to be 5-star for him to make that claim. He also gives away the centre of focus of the Commonwealth Games. It is not the comfort of visiting teams. Right?

Mr Reddy also seems to have misread the Federation’s complaint about filthy flats. Deeply aggrieved, he says, “What the delegates want is 5-star hotel kind of maintenance. Now tell me where can we get liveried staff? We can only employ semi-skilled casual labour for these jobs.”

The complaints are not about our national obsession with stars Mr Reddy! Nor about the liveries. It’s about the work. Casual or not, workers must be fully trained for the jobs they are expected to do. If staff is hired for maintenance work, they must be trained to maintain, no?

So please stop justifying the mess. Stand up Messrs Bhanot, Mattoo and Reddy, hang your heads in shame and say a simple sorry, first to our visitors, and then to the nation.

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