You don't have to look far into the horizon of the mass media or the blogosphere to understand the size and darkness of the cloud hanging over next month's Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Over here, a Reuters reporter asks how Delhi's poor will benefit from the Games and finds no good answers; there, an IBNLive staffer suggests that the big winner will be corruption. Indeed, my colleague Vivek Dehejia has roundly denounced the CWG and gone as far as to say that he hopes that they fail. In the midst of all this bad press, there must be something good to say, somewhere, about something. Right?
However, attempting to find a positive point of view to get behind is a potential minefield, with hundreds of gatekeepers of Correctness on the Internet ready to pounce if you dare to suggest one. Perhaps this is why the opinion pieces that search for pros rather than cons tend to find them only in a negative, post-Games way. For example: the legacy of the disaster will inevitably force a number of positive changes in Delhi, and residents are for once united... in their outrage against the great con about to descend upon their city.
I must come clean and say that I, too, have been in disbelief ever since the first announcement was made. The Commonwealth Games are coming to Delhi? That Delhi? I wrote them off, and the city by extension, immediately and then avoided all CWG-related reports – until just recently. The sheer volume of impotently angry and frustrated reports was overwhelming, and even as a foreigner with no ties to India other than I live here, I couldn't help but feel another shock. This tide of criticism and negativity may just have become bigger than the Games themselves. The inherent danger in negative momentum on a grand scale is that it risks dwarfing the very thing that gave rise to it in the first place, and crushing it in its wake.
This isn't to say that wrongdoing and mismanagement should go unreported. Such dealings are all too frequent, and it is heartening to see so many people become willing to raise their critical voices. Yes, the people in charge are corrupt. Yes, the entire operation has been a disorganised wreck from the outset. Yes, the officials do indeed appear to be failing the people, as they have so many times before... but if you consider these statements to be the be-all and end-all of the Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010, and you live in India (especially Delhi), then I have a couple of questions for you:
What are you doing to help?
Is it not possible that you are contributing to the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
I see this negative tide as a collective self-absolution of the whole affair. All the blame can be placed at the doors of officials, so you wash your hands of any responsbility, sit back and wait for the catastrophe to unfold. Shaking your head and tsking and tutting. Never actually lifting a finger in response, other than to keep bashing away at the keyboard.
One must remember that the Commonwealth Games do not merely show the capacity of Indian politicians and officials to handle a major international event. It is the entire city of Delhi that is on show, and all of the people contained within its walls. I'm not suggesting that poorer classes should spring into action; they have their own problems and probably care little about the Games. What I would like to see is a change of attitude from those more critical journalists and bloggers; to instead focus on what they, or the people they know, can do to make a difference.
After all, ask any tourist what they remember from visiting India. The politicians? The bureaucracy? The lack of infrastructure? No – for those who make it past that first heavily culture-shocked week, it's the people. If I were coming to India for the first time to these Games, I would come prepared for an undeveloped country, just as I would at any other time. Upon returning home, I would likely tell my friends, “yes, it was a bureaucratic nightmare, everything was a complete mess, the city felt like it wasn't even ready for a dress rehearsal... but I met this really friendly chai-wallah near Pahar Ganj and ended up going there most days I could. And I'd love to go back.” Even in as desperate a situation as Delhi might find itself come October 3rd, the attitude of its people can rise above their leaders' failings – and even create an overall positive impression.
Whether this attitude could seep over into matters apart from the Commonwealth Games and contribute to a more positive direction for the city, or the country, is impossible to know. But there's only one way to find out.