Suresh Kalmadi deserves kudos for
effortlessly becoming the epitome of India’s
national shame and the source of some of the
funniest internet and mobile text jokes. I love the
reason why he couldn’t hang himself (the CWG ceiling
collapsed, what else?), and the anagram of his name
(“Sir, U made lakhs”).
As we move to the last week before the inauguration
of the CWG, the main newspapers pages have changed
tack to showing happy athletes and how all is well
in the various sites, especially the Games Village.
Probably the publishers got browbeaten by the
government. But till even five days ago, there were
enough stories which either reported the sheer
extent of this huge failure, or analysed why it
became such a pathetic embarrassment.
Here are my two takes on the CWG. The first is
rational. The second, offered by my wife Radhika, is
probably more accurate.
The rational story is that we just don’t know how to
coordinate in any way worth the name. There were
different entities and characters involved in the
CWG — Kalmadi, the Delhi chief minister Shiela
Dikshit, the Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill, the
Union Urban Development Minister and head of the
Group of Ministers steering the CWG, Jaipal Reddy,
the contractors, the PWD, the cops, the various
intermediaries, and every single what-have-you under
the sun. None communicated any. No single entity had
the final accountability. Everybody did as they
wished, thus doing nothing worth the while, except
lining their pockets, giving freebies to friends and
fellow contractors, and picking the coffer while
watching their fingernails grow. Nobody reviewed
things sufficiently enough. Thus, everything that
could possibly fall actually fell through the
cracks. Add to it gross incompetence, widespread
corruption and nepotism. As a noted journalist has
recently observed, this is yet another example of
how Old India shames India.
That, then, is the so-called
‘rational’ take — the one that you and I would have
to parrot when we meet friends from abroad. The
other explanation, offered by Radhika, is far more
simple. Here it goes...
According to Radhika, over 95 per cent of the men in
India piss, spit and scratch their nether regions
anytime and anywhere. She is right. If you looked at
the population of males in India in 2010 in the age
group 15-64 years, I reckon that no more than two
crore men of our country are conscious of not
pissing, spitting and scratching in public places,
in front of all and sundry. The other 40 crore in
that age group think the world is their receptacle,
Radhika’s hypothesis then turns to a simple
question: “Have you seen any country build anything
of significance involving thousands of people who
believe they can piss and spit anytime and
anywhere?” The answer is no.
Her point is this: no nation can expect a huge mass
of men who piss and spit anywhere to coordinate and
build world class facilities. The fact that the
managers cared little about work culture and
discipline only matters worse — creating, as it
were, even larger, state-sanctioned spaces to defile
It is an important point. It is about a culture that
doesn’t care a fig for public places, public goods,
and public propriety. A suited Indian executive or
malik sitting in the front of a plane can merrily
spray urine all around the toilet seat without the
slightest consideration about cleanliness, and care
for the next passenger. Cleaning it up afterwards?
Am I a sweeper or what!? Haven’t we all faced this?
So, Radhika says that if such is 95 per cent of this
country’s manhood, why should you expect anything
My guess is that the Chinese had their version of
this hypothesis. Up to five years before the 2008
Beijing Olympics, most Chinese men, especially the
elderly, were significantly loud and productive
hoickers of phlegm. Expectorating was a common sound
in urban China, especially as you walked along the
streets. And spitting the natural outcome.
Suddenly, the authorities decided enough is enough.
Within a couple of years, you stopped seeing the
Chinese spitting on the sidewalks, especially in
major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. By 2007, it
had disappeared. The Chinese decided to get rid of
an urban embarrassment. So they did.
Why was the Athens Olympics an embarrassment right
up to the inaugural? Because the Greek are like us.
Disorganised; argumentative; unproductive; often
devoid of managerial capabilities; with some of the
worst bureaucrats of Europe. And guess what: with
the largest proportion of European men who think
they can do what they want and piss and spit in
public. As their right.
The post-script: a nation of unmitigated male
pissers and spitters don’t punish the guilty. So our
glorious Shri Kalmadi will go scot free.
Published: Business World, October 2010