Torchbearers of our city

Zain and Akshata say that Olympics is much more than a contest. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

THEY KNOW what "Citius, Altius, Fotius" represents. They know Anju Bobby George and Anjali Bhagwat. But that usually sums up Olympics for school-goers. The mania of World Cup and Formula One seems to generate more noise and excitement than the decorous event from Athens. But as June 10 brings the Olympics to our country, people cannot help but be ecstatic about being so closely associated with the 108-year-old affair. For Zain Anwar Mahmood and Akshata Umesh from Bangalore, the very thought of holding the Olympic torch is thrilling enough.

The Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay will mark the first relay of the Olympic Flame — one of the most powerful symbols in the world — to actually circle the earth. Bringing the spirit of Olympics to 27 countries, the relay will reach Delhi on June 10 and cover a route of 33 kms., passing by four historical monuments. Coca Cola India, the sponsor, has identified some Indians who will proudly take the Olympic Flame through New Delhi in June to set the precedent for the first ever, global Olympic Torch Relay. From Bangalore, Zain, an18-year-old Class 12 student from Bishop Cotton's High School, and Akshata, a 16-year-old Class 10 student from Army School, have been chosen to run this relay along with Coca Cola's special group of 28 other ambassadors.

The selection procedure went thus: students from 15 schools in Bangalore were asked to write an essay on the topic: "Recognise Inspiration". From 1,500 entries, two students shone out. Akshata, who dreams of riding in the clouds one day, wrote about her idol, Kalpana Chawla. "The courage and intelligence she displayed even as the space shuttle Columbia crashed makes me want to be like her," says Akshata. Demure that she is, she shyly admits her dream of pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering.

Zain, on the other hand, spoke of a deeply personal experience he had when he met Raja, who has established the Home of Hope at Doddagubbi on the city outskirts. How Raja set up the shelter for destitutes and managed it single-handedly before help came from others is quite a story. A school visit to that home seems to have made a lasting impact on Zain: "If a person like Raja, who was an autorickshaw driver, can find it in himself to pick homeless people off the road and provide them shelter, I feel that there is scope for me also to be a better person." One particular inmate of the home was a hit man for an underworld don. Once feared by all local goons, deteriorating health and advancing age had left him dependent on Raja's care. "They all come covered in faeces, mud, and what not. But Raja would always pick them right up," says Zain, in awe.

Zain is over the moon about carrying the torch because of the spirit of competition and athletic skill it represents. "Olympics is not just another contest. It is not showy. It is a revered event because of the kind of heroes it has produced," says Zain. He adds, laughing: "Plus, I'm hoping to meet some celebrities at the relay!" Akshata feels that it is not so much the torch that she is thrilled about, but the fact that she will be visiting Delhi for the first time: "This will give me great exposure. I have never done anything beyond sitting at home and reading novels. I did not even know I could write well." Akshata's mother feels that this opportunity has made her daughter more confident and self-assured.

Both the Olympic torchbearers (they blush to call themselves that) understand that the publicity will probably lean towards film stars and other ambassadors of Coca Cola. But they are not too piqued about that. If not publicity, then what benefit do they see in this? "School will like us a lot better, for one. And this achievement going to jazz up our resumes too," says Zain, as Akshata grins from ear to ear in total agreement.