Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

The Olympic Spirit

Navtej Sarna

I normally do not use the morning alarm services provided by the telephone. The reason is that it almost always succeeds in waking me up unless they get a wrong number and pull out some poor chap with a hangover from between the sheets. I prefer sweet-sounding wristwatch alarms or a gruff buzz from the radio clock which can sound till eternity and not disturb a single passing dream. It keeps my conscience clear and the dark circles away.

But the other night I succumbed to the temptation of dialing 173. A vicious self-destructive streak had surfaced in my character. I thought I would put in a quick jog around the lawn in the early hours and would the lady at the other end kindly give me a tinkle at six in the morning? But the lady at the other end belonged to a tribe whose members have firm opinions on things and know exactly what they want in life.

“You mean, four-thirty, sir.”

Such was her certainty that I almost responded with an immediate and meek “yes.” I mean to say, if she thought that I should be up at four-thirty, then, who was I to think otherwise? However something in me made me put my chin up.

“Certainly not. Six is early enough for me.”

At this stage she evidently realized that I was an ignorant soul in need of enlightenment.

“No sir. Four-thirty. You must see the opening ceremony of the Olympics.”


“Everybody is seeing it, sir. We are flooded with requests to be woken up at four-thirty sharp.”

The result was that at the appointed hour, bleary-eyed and heavy-headed, I found myself knocking at my neighbour’s door since he possessed that magic instrument – a colour TV. For a moment I wondered why I was doing this to him and to myself. That too on a Sunday morning. Even good friends have a limit to their patience. But then the unspoken reproach behind the voice on 173 came back. It was the Olympics. The great event once in four years. The Californian extravaganza. An unparalleled pageant of beauty and colour. A moment in history. And me worrying about the time of the day!

The same thoughts no doubt prevailed upon my neighbour to refrain from physically evicting me from the premises. The set was switched on. Tea was made and served. We hid our yawns politely as we zoomed onto Los Angeles. The crowd out there seemed unnaturally enthusiastic until I realized that there it wasn’t five in the morning. The early dawn saw me desperately trying to generate interest and sporty conversation. Meanwhile the commentator proceeded to tell us exactly how many hot dogs and cokes would be consumed over the next few days. All very educative and informative.

It barely lasted till the flame was brought into the stadium. Politely was I invited to come again in the evening and see the highlights to refresh my memory. Sure, I thought, if I wake up. And this time no sweet talker from 173 was going to help me.