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 sheâ€™d caught any of the Paralympics on TV. With a shrug of her beautiful shoulders, she said â€śThatâ€™s not my scene. It feels perverse to watch someone struggle with something you can do so easily,â€ť
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 â€”Â 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 â€śtryingâ€ť 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 doesnâ€™t matter how fit, agile or athletic you may be; surrounded by the best para-athletes in the world, you canâ€™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 isnâ€™t unusual (but itâ€™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 youâ€™ve been doing it wrong all your life. The athletes seem like theyâ€™re higher up on some evolutionary chain that youâ€™ve been creeping along. I donâ€™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 mallâ€™s exit, a young girl turned to her father and asked solemnly â€śDaddy, was that James bond?â€ť