Let's celebrate Mediocrity!
Sania Mirza, the tennis darling of India, was awarded the Padma Shri award this year. It is an award given by the Government of India generally to Indian citizens to recognize their distinguished contribution in any sphere of activity including Arts, Education, Industry, Literature, Science, Games, Sports etc. Let's list out some stats, just for everyone's benefit.
1. Sania went pro in 2003.
2. Sania started playing Grand Slam tournaments in 2005, where out of the 4 tournaments, her best performance was the 4th round in the US Open.
3. She finished 2004 at a rank of 206 and then finished 2005 at 34.
4. Till date she has won 1 WTA tour event, and that in her hometown of Hyderabad beating Alona Bondarenko, a player now ranked 86.
5. Sania is ranked 34 now.
6. She has beaten only two top 10 players, Petrova and Kuznetsova.
7. She lost to Michela Krajicek in the 2006 Australian Open, a lower ranked player.
8. Sania is 18.
Is Sania a good tennis player? Yes.
Is Sania a great tennis player? No.
Does she have potential to become great? Maybe.
And now she's a Padma Shri winner. Either the government of India believes Sania is great, or being good is enough for them. I am inclined to believe it's the latter as she certainly isn't great. Have our standards become so low that we are willing to award and merit achievements that though are good by India standards are way below par at the world level. I compare Sania to Maria Sharapova, similar age (Maria is younger), and in a way, similar characteristics, young, good looking, ambitious and quite a sensation. But Sharapova has won 10 WTA tournaments, a Grand Slam, and is ranked 4th in the world. Ranking the players by prize money, Sania is not 34 but drops to 59 in the world. It is easy to note the correlation between rank and prize money. The better the tournament, the higher the prize money, and to me, the disparity in Sania's ranks between the two scales clearly shows that her climb up the charts had more to do with a smart selection of tournaments than her performance. Not great. Just good enough.
There are two conversations in my life that bother me from time to time. The first, a couple of years ago, I had an argument with my dad. He told me I would be mediocre all my life, ofcourse in context then. I remember racing out of the room, crying, and screaming that it would never be so. It scarred me then, but has made me a madman today. In everything I do, I must be the best, which brings me to the second conversation. About two years ago, I had an argument with friends about why I must be so competitive. Why I must want to win every time? I argued that it is me, whether it was playing a friendly game of cards, or taking a photograph, or just arguing, I must win. I have often asked myself since, if that's healthy, or should I be happy just winning sometimes and not ALL the time? Yet, as of today, though I am doing well, I am still mediocre or less given that Sania I claim is mediocre. But should I now take solace in her award, and aim now merely for "Indian greatness" and not "World greatness"?
India, for a long time now, has reveled in its mediocrity. Why else would a nation be happy winning a handful of medals in the Olympics, none of them gold, or be happy with one great chess champion, a couple of other good sportsmen, a few great Nobel laureates, a movie like Black, that they proclaimed to be of Oscar calibre, though it is clear India is at least a decade behind in master movie making? By recognizing Sania with a Padma award, India is sending a message to millions of youngsters, telling them it is enough if they become like Sania. Some might claim that the award is to motivate her to greatness and not to reward her for her greatness. Unfortunately I believe the Padma Shri award should be given only to those who have achieved greatness at a world level. In fact, I am going to go ahead, and proclaim that Sania will never become the top women's player in the world. But it doesn't matter, because as Indians, we don't need her to. We are happy with her in the mid thirties. Anything more would just be a bonus. It is time India, Indians, stepped out of their bubble, and honestly tell themselves, that they are at best, like me, mediocre. Maybe, we are moving in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. In the meantime, save those awards only for those who have given India everything they possibly can and Sania certainly hasn't.