Patiently waiting for my phone to charge, I overheard a conversation in a mall that made me reconsider the euphoria of the past week at the Paralympic Games. Glancing at my badge, looking for ways to engage his companion in conversation, a young man asked his friend if she’d caught any of the Paralympics on TV. With a shrug of her beautiful shoulders, she said “That’s not my scene. It feels perverse to watch someone struggle with something you can do so easily,”
In the past few months, while profiling the various athletes that were to be part of the Indian contingent at the Games, I constantly found myself resisting the urge to turn every story into a triumph-against-adversity trope, to try and understand the unique frustrations that each impairment brings — with the specific technique every sport demands. I learnt not to stare, not to applaud, not to offer sympathy and to give my subjects the dignity of being written about and spoken to as world-class athletes, instead of merely as people “trying” to do their best.
Fiddling with my phone, I wished I could take my dismissive, lovely and able-bodied neighbour at the mall into the Games Village for a day. The first time I cleared security and entered the Village Plaza, I remember wondering if there was a significant rise in gym memberships amongst reporters that had covered the Olympic Games. It doesn’t matter how fit, agile or athletic you may be; surrounded by the best para-athletes in the world, you can’t help feeling like a bit of a chump for having all your limbs and mind intact, with so little to show for it. It isn’t unusual (but it’s certainly fun) to witness an impromptu wheelchair race between para-athletes from different countries, to step out of the way for a woman dancing to Rihanna on prosthetic legs and to gape at beautiful man climbing a staircase with one muscled leg, making you feel like you’ve been doing it wrong all your life. The athletes seem like they’re higher up on some evolutionary chain that you’ve been creeping along. I don’t know if the thousands of spectators at the Olympic Park shared my awe, but one other person in London certainly did. As a man on a mobile wheelchair zipped past us at the mall’s exit, a young girl turned to her father and asked solemnly “Daddy, was that James bond?”