Spaceship 502: Landing on Plant Earth 2.0??

Greetings Friends! Happy Independence Day! Cheers, looks like Spaceship 502 has landed! Here we are, back on campus after nearly a year and a half. Tired of travelling on a Spaceship, in confined space with few co-passengers! Well, our Spaceship has landed on Earth 2.0. Or have we landed yet?

On this joyous 75th Anniversary of Indian Independence, I had the honour of hoisting the National Flag with the Vice-Chancellor of the University. After a long time faculty and staff met, oh what a landing!

Where do we go from here, what do we strive for? Here is the bref address I had the honour to deliver to our esteemed faculty and staff:

There is no better example than what we saw in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympic 2020. Faster Higher Stronger! Was the Olympic Motto since 1894 at the urging of founder Pierre de Coubertin. The international Olympic Committee changed this in 2020 to Faster Higher Stronger-Together. It included the word ‘Together’ highlighting the need for solidarity during difficult times such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do we strive for? There are many lessons that we can learn from our Olympic contingent who had to compete under adverse circumstances living within a bio-bubble. They were there as they had struggled and excelled for perhaps a decade before that one day.

The Indian Olympic contingent came back safe, which is very important. We are proud of the 7 medals and many more laurels they earned. Neeraj Chopra became only the second Indian individual Olympic champion gold medalist. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold medal. The men’s hockey team won an Olympic medal, ending a 40 year drought since 1980.

As for women, PV Sindhu won her second Olympic medal, another landmark for us. Of the seven medals, three were won by girls. And the Indian Women’s Hockey Team reached the semifinals for the first time in India’s Olympic hockey history.

It was no easy ride for these Olympians, it was Strife and Struggle all the way. The media is filled with stories of how these young men and women, largely from humble backgrounds, made it to the top by sheer grit and support of their family and friends. Mirabai Chanu, from Manipur, said that she had visited her home only for 5 days in 5 years. That is the kind of intense training and single minded focus that excellence entails. In Assam, Lovlina Borgohain’s father was a small scale businessman and struggled a lot to support her. Two times Indian Olympic medal winner PV Sindhu came from a middle class background in Hyderabad. Both her parents were volleyball players. Stories of all the wrestlers, athletes and other players are heartwarming.

The participation and success of girls from Haryana is particularly intriguing. As a social scientist it puzzles me how a state that has one of the worst sex ratios can achieve such excellence. Low number of girls compared to boys is an indicator of the poor status of women in the state. How is it that this state produces so many girls excelling in sports? This is truly an area for interdisciplinary research. Imagine the social strife and struggle these girls and their families went through to reach here. This reflects sheer girt on the part of the girls and the excellent support from the family and community around.

Every sport requires team work as many Olympians have highlighted. It is the sportsperson plus the coach, physio-therapist, nutritionist and the entire team that creates the final Olympian we see. But team sports like hockey, football, volleyball truly depend on the ‘together’, with or without the pandemic, teamwork. The diversity among the participants in these sports is another feature that needs recognition and celebration when we talk of group work and teams.

Coming back to the Olympic motto – Faster Higher Stronger – which means a goal of giving one’s best and striving for personal excellence. The new addition to the Motto-Together means that every effort, every task, every personal experience is team work. I was really struck by a statement recently by the biomechanical expert, Klaus Bartonietz, who was part of Neeraj Chopra’s team. He built on a quote by Bruce Lee, the martial arts expert, to say:

“Take power from the ground…In the Javelin you must be grounded. Only then you can bend like a bow”.

Together we strive, together we excel! Standing under our national flag, flying high, makes us proud. Let this be our motto for tomorrow. Together we stand with our feet firmly on the ground, bend like a bow, move forward and fly like Neeraj Chopra’s javelin!

Jai Hind!

On this auspicious day we also undertook a Tree Plantation exercise on campus to help save Planet Earth 2.0. Each of us planted a separate species. I got to plant a Tecoma tree! Hopefully it will bloom next summer with yellow flowers! And hopefully we will not have to lock ourselves up in a Spaceship again next year!

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