(This story is inspired by and dedicated to Captain Saurabh Kalia, one of the greatest martyrs of the Kargil war)
"Saurav, the topic for the elocution has been announced," yelled Arif waving to his friend.
Arif was standing in front of the school notice board. Saurav had just emerged from the library. What is it?" he asked walking towards Arif.
"It is quite interesting. 'My Role Model'."
Saurav, a class nine student of G.T. Public School was the best debater of his school. A health drink company was organizing an elocution competition among school students of Pune. The preliminary round had been conducted in different schools. From G.T. Public School Saurav and Arif had been picked up.
That evening, after school, as Saurav cycled home the topic kept buzzing in his head. However, when he reached home all thoughts of the competition flew out of his mind. He was greeted by his kid brother Gaurav at the door.
"Saurav, terrific news! India is batting and Dravid and Ganguly are going great guns."
It was a vital encounter between India and Sri Lanka in the 1999 Cricket World Cup. A loss to Sri Lanka would send India packing.
Saurav was crazy about cricket and even crazier about his idol Saurav Ganguly. Like his more illustrious namesake our Saurav was a left handed batsman. He played for his school team and on the field was called Gangu by his friends.
That evening Ganguly smashed a record breaking 183 runs and his fan Saurav was on cloud nine. As his idol walked back to the pavilion after tearing the Sri Lankan attack to smithereens Saurav knew who his role model was. It was none other than his hero Saurav Ganguly.
The next few days Saurav spent in jotting down his points and polishing them. One evening he switched on the Star News channel at ten. There was a special report on the war in Kargil. Six bodies of Indian soldiers had been received. Post-mortem had revealed that the soldiers had been tortured for days and their bodies badly mutilated. He sat for an hour watching the grim pictures and listening to the correspondents describing in graphic detail the savagery and the cruelty of the enemy and the brave martyrdom of the Indian soldiers. He watched mesmerized as an old father spoke about his son's sacrifice, a feeble mother, pushing back the tears, expressed her pride in her son's sacrifice......
That night Saurav couldn't sleep.
Two days later was the elocution competition.
There were 22 participants and Saurav was the fifteenth one.
"Honorable judges and friends, when I came to know the topic of the elocution competition I was quite pleased. It really wasn't very difficult for me to choose my role model. It had to be Saurav Ganguly, the batting sensation of the 1999 Cricket World Cup. With two 'Man of the Match' titles under his belt he had outshone even the incomparable Sachin Tendulkar. And with the World Cup reaching its final stages and the cricket fever reaching its peak, a cricketer as a role model would be a politically correct choice too. After all cricket is the only thing that drives the nation. Cricket is our passion, our obsession.
There is a war going on in Kargil. Our valiant soldiers are braving the most unforgiving of climatic conditions and the most inhospitable of terrains but we Indians are hardly concerned. We are more bothered about the bouncers of the Pakistani fast bowler Shoeb Akhtar than the mortar fire of his countrymen. We are more concerned about the state of the Old Trafford Pitch than the conditions at Batalik where our soldiers are battling the enemy at a height of 14000 feet and dying by the hour. To us cricket is more important than country.
Why should we pay attention to Kargil? We are a nation of peace lovers and cricket is all about peace whereas Kargil is all about war - declared or undeclared.
All our patriotism, all our jingoism is restricted to the cricket field. When India beats Pakistan in cricket we go berserk with pleasure. But when Indians die fighting in Dras we scarcely spare a thought. When Saurav Ganguly twists a knee the entire nation suffers cramps. But when Lieutenant Saurav Kalia's mutilated body is received on the border, hardly a tear is shed.
Even an intellectual actor like Nasiruddin Shah sings paeans to cricket. The game, he says, is all about character, ability and will power. And what is Kargil all about - surviving at altitudes of 14,000 feet, in temperatures which are minus thirteen degrees Celsius on a normal day, inching up gradients which are almost vertical, meeting headlong artillery fire, heating snow to get a few drops of water, going without food for days.... But to most people this doesn't require character, ability and will power only cricket does.
Honorable Judges and friends, you may accuse me of jingoism but my heroes are not the flannelled icons jumping up and down on cricket fields but the brave young men fighting for their country's honor in conditions which are sub human.
I do not know whether you are aware that while our beloved cricketer's enjoy six course lunches, eleven course dinners with Presidents, Prime Ministers and High Commissioners our indomitable soldiers have to survive on a diet of ghur chana and mathri. While our cricket demigods bask in the warm glow of adulation and adoration our courageous patriots struggle to breath while inching up walls of rock and snow which go up to a height of 17,000 feet.
While our cricketer's spend their time and energy in persuading consumer's to buy colas and cars, tyres and TVs our soldiers give their life and blood defending the borders of the nation. While our cricketers get paid in crores for endorsing luxury products, our soldiers earn a pittance in comparison, to stake their life for the honor of the country. I learnt just the other day that an Indian Air Force Pilot's monthly pay is Rs.14,000 while a cricketer's one day fee is Rs.90,000.
Hindustan Lever has made a truly patriotic offer. They have declared that every time a sachet of Clinic Shampoo is purchased one rupee will go to the Indian cricket team. Our cricketing heroes, who already have more money than they know what to do with, get the largesse of benevolent marketers. While our valiant martyrs are left to fend for themselves. Why? Simply because Cricket makes more marketing sense than Kargil.
Our fighters court death every second and every minute so that we can spend our time in the cozy comfort of our homes watching our flannelled heroes making asses of themselves on the cricket pitch. Under-armed, under-nourished and under-prepared our troops fight to annex Tololin peak and Batalik while our over pampered, over fed and certainly over exposed sportsmen lose shamelessly to Zimbabwe, the minnows of the game, at Leicester.
So, Honorable Judges and friends, my hero is neither Rahul Dravid nor Sachin Tendulkar. My hero is the relatively unknown soldier who is fighting silently, resolutely, till his last gasp, till the last drop of his blood, only to keep our tricolor aloft. He has many names. You can call him Major R.S. Adhikari or Sergeant Raj Kishore Sahu. You can name him Lance Havaldar Ramkumar or Major Mariappan Saravanan. You can call him Captain P.V. Vikram or Naik Chaman Singh. But if you want to give him one particular name than you can call him Saurav. Not the Saurav who wields the willow but the other Saurav - the one who wields the assault rifle - Lieutenant Saurav Kalia of the 4 Jat Regiment who along with six brave men suffered inhuman torture but didn't yield. The Saurav who died second by second and inch by inch, so that we can live in peace. He is my role model.
Whenever I think of him my heart goes out - 'yeh dil maange more' - not more of Pepsi or any other cola but more and more of Saurav Kalias so that we can continue holding our heads high and declare - 'Saare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara."
Saurav walked back to thunderous applause. Arif squeezed his hands.
"That was terrific. But you know the chairman of the Jury is Raju Mennon, the former test cricketer. I don't think he will quite like what you said."
"Arif, I really am not too bothered about the result. I just wanted to make a point and I made it. I don't have anything against cricket and cricketers and you know it. It is just that I am concerned about the misplaced priorities of our countrymen. A game should be treated as a game not as an industry, a money making business or a national obsession. And martyrdom should be given the honor and respect it deserves."
After all the participants had spoken there was a break. Everyone assembled in the auditorium after an hour.
Raju Mennon took the mike.
"Friends, it was indeed a great experience listening all the young men and women speak abut their role models. Some of the ideas and choices were clichéd while others really stood out. I have played cricket for India and cricket is my life. When Saurav started speaking I didn't quite like the flavor of his speech. I thought he was prejudiced. But soon he swept me away with his irrefutable logic. I discussed with the other members of the jury. They too agreed with me. While he was a trifle harsh on our cricket stars and our obsession with them, his words rang true. The points he made go beyond the scope of this contest. They concern each and every one of us. I am sure like me all of you have been suitably moved to pause and reflect on the way we view any issue of concern be it Kargil or cricket. The choice of the jury is unanimous. The best speaker trophy goes to Saurav."
When Saurav went up to the dais to receive his award from Raju Mennon, he received a standing ovation.
"Saurav, I am the President of the Veteran Cricketer's Association. I have decided that I'll mobilize our members. We will hold benefit matches, not for our cricketer's but the families of our brave martyrs," Raju Mennon said while handing Sourav the winner's trophy.
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