Well-known and under-known Indian Olympians rub shoulders in two new books that describe India’s Olympics experience

The 27th edition of the modern Olympics, being held at London, begins tomorrow, to deliver to audiences worldwide images of exemplary success and extraordinary human ability. A timely set of children’s books by Tulika Publishers, however, balances the winners’ tales with stories of the differently-abled and the games’ beautiful losers.

Titled India at the Olympic Games and India’s Olympic Story, the books are aimed at children aged above eight and eleven years respectively and are rich in visual material including illustrations, cartoons and activities. Apart from providing an overview of the history and evolution of the games, the books also narrate the trajectory of India’s participation at the Olympics and Paralympics.

This is done through stories of lesser-known, differently-abled and well- known Indian sportspersons such as Dhyan Chand, whose hockey stick was broken at Amsterdam in 1928 by officials on the suspicion that “it contained a magnet or glue of some kind”, P.T. Usha, who missed a medal by one-hundredth of a second at Los Angeles in 1984, and Malathi Holla, a para-athlete who had undergone 32 surgeries at last count, among others.

While some of these stories are common across the two books, there is a difference in the way they have been presented, keeping in mind the different age groups they cater to. “We have made a distinction at the levels of writing, activities and information,” explains Radhika Menon, Publisher and Managing Editor of Tulika. “India’s Olympic Story contains reports and is journalistic in its outlook while India at the Olympic Games is much more visual and spells out the values of the games,” she adds.

The ethics of excellence, friendship and respect, espoused by the Olympics and the Paralympic values of courage, determination, equality and inspiration, are evoked in the books.

These values are also being promoted by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) through its various outreach programmes to schools, Radhika says.

Commissioned by the Abhinav Bindra Foundation, the books are prefaced by a letter from India’s only Olympic gold medallist in an individual event, where he talks about the importance of sports. “…I truly believe that Olympic Games, and sports in general, are not just about medals and glory. It is about the person you become and the sporting values you bring into your daily life,” he writes.

But while the Olympics are a source of values, they are also the site of jingoism. “The Olympics are all about carrying the flag. It causes adults to behave irrationally. But we have tried to raise these issues and the larger picture does emerge. The books have an editorial vision, and do not merely convey information,” Radhika says.

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