Commonwealth Games Blogs

Don't judge India on Delhi debacle

MUMBAI, INDIA - I see India in extremes. The food here can rival the best in the world and also land you in a hospital bed. Rice paddies surround world-class business complexes, the highways are shared by both BMWs and donkey carts, and McDonalds restaurants pop up around the most revered old shrines.

The rich and the poor. The urban and the rural. The corrupt and the idealistic. You get modern and middle age within a kilometre, within a block, within a sentence. And fittingly, you either love India or you hate it.

I'll make it clear now that I'm in the love category. India overwhelms me, humbles me, impresses me, confuses me and sometimes disappoints me. I love it.

Before I delve into my sport of the day (which follows in the vein of extremes), I think it's important to discuss these extremes in the context of what's going on in Delhi just days before the opening of the Commonwealth Games.

The Delhi dilemma

The list of disappointments in the host country keeps growing: stray dogs and/or labourers defecating in the athletes' accommodations; the collapse of a footbridge leading to the Games main stadium; falling ceiling tiles in the weightlifting stadium; terror threats; a flare-up in India's Kashmir region, devastating floods; and rampant dengue fever.

The 10-days-to-the-Games signs in newspapers seem more like the countdown to a bomb detonation than to a world-class party.

Some top athletes are pulling out and I don't blame them. Being stressed about your performance is one thing, but worrying about where you sleep at night is another.

The "terminal smugness" of the Delhi Games officials to the brewing disaster has brought in little confidence that they can make things right. Officials have chalked up comments about the athletes' "unlivable" village to different standards of cleanliness between Westerners and Indians. They have also downplayed the footbridge collapse as a "minor" thing, explaining the bridge was to service the public, not the athletes (as if that makes the situation better).

Organized chaos

There is a part of India that is mismanaged, corrupt, and full of red tape. And unfortunately it seems like the group selected to organize this year's Commonwealth Games fits the prototype.  

But it is important to differentiate between the Delhi Games committee and India. Over the last decade, India has made a name for itself with burgeoning IT businesses, call centres, and top-notch hospitals. This India was built on the backs of private business and entrepreneurial spirit a la Slumdog Millionaire. On the streets of Mumbai there's an overwhelming optimism that anything is possible if you work hard enough. It's a refreshing optimism that I can't say I've seen in many places during my years on the road.

India is chaotic, but it isn't the mess that the international media is making it out to be.  India hosted the Asian Games in 1982, a few hours outside Mumbai. I visited the site last week and it's still an impressive facility. And two years ago the country also launched the Indian Premier League cricket loop to booming accolades.

You only have to look at the Taj Mahal and the freestanding Qutub Minar to see that India has always had the potential to create a world-class venue. Yesterday I visited an archaeological site for the Harrapan civilization (circa 2000 B.C.) in Lothal, Gujurat. The kiln-fired, perfectly geometric bricks have held up over some 4000 years.

The infrastructure and image of the Commonwealth Games are not a reflection of India so much as they are a reflection (success or failure) of a handful of people that wanted to run (re: steal from/ruin) the show. If they had outsourced (fittingly) the management to the competent private sector from the start (like many people suggested), the Games officials and India wouldn't be in this mess.

Indians across the country are rightly appalled at the situation. In poles, 97 per cent of people say that the Games officials have tarred India's image. The Games are being called "India's Shame" because people here know their country can do better.

I know India could have done better, and judging from some of the readers' comments on, you need to be convinced of the same.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I invite you to stay tuned to this blog for a true picture of India, outside its Delhi dilemma.

Next up: I check out another extreme - the ancient martial art of Kalaripayattu in one of Mumbai's newest neighbourhoods.

Anjali Nayar will be blogging for before and during the Commonwealth Games, which begin Oct. 3 in Delhi. For real-time coverage, follow her on Twitter.