After all Commonwealth is an eating, not sporting club
By Dr Jay Dubashi
Somehow I never saw the Commonwealth as a sporting organisation, more like a dining club where you had lunch and dinner and not pay for it, as you do in the railway canteen in Parliament. But in the Parliament, they serve very small portions, but in the Commonwealth house, the potions are big and eat to your heart’s content and do not wait for the bill. This must have given our Kalmadis and Sheila Dixits ideas. If you can walk into a club and sign the bill-as you do in the Press Club-and walk away as if you own the place, you can work wonders.
IF you think that, the Commonwealth is a figment of imagination of someone in London and does not really exist except on paper, take notice. It is very much there, hidden behind huge trees near Buckingham Palace, London, and although it doesn’t make much news it spends a lot of money on advertisements.
Every week it puts out ads for high-salaried jobs with fancy designations. It is from these ads that I came to know that there is something called Commonwealth Secretariat in London, it has 54 members, most of them in Africa, and it is very fond of parties, the kind of parties where they munch on cucumber sandwiches, and if there is enough money to go round, on canapé’s. I am sure every member must be giving a party once in a year-which means 50 parties a year-keeping everybody happy with finely cut cucumber sandwiches, and cream crackers straight from Fortnum and Mason across the park. It is at one of these parties that our friend Suresh Kalmadi must have talked the Commonwealth into holding a jamboree in Delhi, though Kalmadi himself can hardly tell a tennis ball from a hockey ball.
British caterers are very good at cutting sandwiches- they have been doing it since they cut the head of Charles I by mistake - since it is almost their national dish, like chhole bhature in Punjab. And, of course, where else can you get good whisky except in nearby Scotland?
But how on earth did our friend Suresh Kalmadi get hold of the Commonwealth for his games? I have been carefully watching the ads the Commonwealth Secretariat puts out every week, none of which calls for the services of a sports organiser or a sports counsellor, not to mention an event’s manager. All the posts are for such humdrum designations as economic adviser, or HRD executive or a farm business expert. No hockey, no football, no medals supervisor. Suresh Kalmadi is the last person to need an economic adviser a HRD executive. So is Kalmadi running a parallel Commonwealth for his games?
That may be the reason why the British Queen who is supposed to be the head of the Commonwealth is not coming for the games. Otherwise, if she is the head of the organisation, shouldn’t she put an appearance? Didn’t Kalmadi go to London to invite her? Did he go to the wrong address or maybe in the wrong dress? The British are very particular about the dresses their guests are supposed to wear. When Mahatma Gandhi was last there in 1930, the King didn’t like it a bit, but Gandhiji of course, didn’t care, and the two became good chums.
But Kalmadi could not have gone to the wrong address. The Queen’s residence, Buckingham Palace, is the ugliest pile of bricks and stone in the heart of London, and how could Kalmadi miss it? Did he take the wrong taxi and the taxi-driver, a Punjabi from Wembley, take him to his dhaba in South’all? But Kalmadi is a shrewd fellow otherwise he would still be in Pune doling out coffee in plastic cups to students of Fergusson College and counting the change in the evenings. So where did he go wrong?
Once I went wrong myself. This was about fifty years ago when I was working in India House, the equivalent of our embassy in London. I was invited along with a colleague to a party at the Commonwealth office, which was not so well known there. We knew it was near Buckingham Palace but the driver went back and forth but almost made to the palace but it was a wrong entrance. The liveried jamadar told us, in his perfect cockney which none of us could follow, that there was no party at the palace and will you get the hell out of here. These were his exact words, the words of a representative of the Queen herself, who was probably watching the tamasha all from her bedroom and having a good laugh.
The party was in full force when we at last arrived but it was not what we expected. Actually, the place was full of Africans and all of them very friendly. Some a little too friendly. Even Pakistanis were there but they wore their special Pathani headgear, and it was not easy to shot them, as one of our drivers also wore headgear like them, though he had never been within a thousand kilometres of Khyber Pass where, he said, his uncle had been killed.
But somehow I never saw the Commonwealth as a sporting organisation, more like a dining club where you had lunch and dinner and not pay for it, as you do in the railway canteen in Parliament. But in the Parliament, they serve very small portions, but in the Commonwealth house, the potions are big and eat to your heart’s content and do not wait for the bill. This must have given our Kalmadis and Sheila Dixits ideas. If you can walk into a club and sign the bill - as you do in the Press Club-and walk away as if you own the place, you can work wonders. You can raise a few thousand pounds and have a test match. You can spend a few hundred thousand pounds, no questions asked, and have a tennis tournament. And why not go ahead and spend a few million pounds and stage a whole tournament, almost as good as Olympics, and also make money in the bargain. Anything is possible in London. Didn’t Krishna Menon go there as a starving student of something called theosophy and return home after independence as a High Commissioner, before he was booted out.
What intrigues me is how dubious characters like Sheila Dixit and Suresh Kalmadi latch on to an organisation that was never meant for them. The fat African ladies one met at Lancaster House - that is where it all happened - didn’t have the slightest connection with sports. Sports is not a natural habitat for international organisations. Even the UN does not run Olympics. There is obviously a conspiracy behind all this and like all conspiracies the main characters must be footloose politicians who have, like Kalmadi, no job, no visible access to cash but lots of connections with the high and mighty and the gift of the gab. This is precisely what Krishna Menon had, which took him from the smoky bed-sitting room in St. Paneras to the pannelled office in Defence Ministry.
Of course, he messed it up at the end, as they all do, and wound up on the street, as Kalmadi is going to do, unless his recipe for coffee saves him at the end.
Why not have an enquiry committee with Mani Shankar Aiyar at the head? It would be a job after his heart- and close to his knife!
(The writer is a senior columnist and can be contacted at 301, Manikanchen Apts, Kanchan Galli, Law College Road, Pune-411 004)