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By Rishika Mendiratta (Founder and Managing Editor at KhelAdhikar)
From being an accidental journalist to being the most loved and revered sports columnist this country has ever seen, the career of Nirmal Shekar has left an indelible imprint in the minds of all sports fans. He was a connoisseur who catapulted sports journalism to the realm of unmatched finesse. The exceptional factor of his writings was that he enraptured the fanatic and the casual sports fans alike. It is said that great athletes freeze time itself and it was his writing prowess that made those moments timeless. What I know about the interaction of sports with music and philosophy I owe to him. His signature, “Sport as in life”, has taken sports journalism above the mundane and painted sports on a larger canvas of life. I was not fortunate enough to witness the Great fight between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman, nor did many of my generation have the privilege to witness the master play of Bjorn Borg or the expertise of Ayrton Senna or the class of Don Bradman and Gary Sobers. Nevertheless, the articles of Nirmal Shekhar made me travel in time and experience the importance and magnificence of these sporting stalwarts. His articles intertwined the physical and the mental side of every game and captivated the readers with the beauty of the sport. Sports is synonymous to the caprices of the unpredictable game of life and he captured the success and nightmares of the sporting world with a mesmerising poetic beauty. He was the best narrator of the mercurial and merciless actuarial table of the sport. The description of VVS Lakshman as a zen assassin, or the speculation of Tendulkar’s 100th century, or the criticism of India’s tailor-made home pitches, or the analysis of the aspect of depression of athletes or capturing the bewitching consistency of Wimbledon tournaments, all had an unravelling yet mystical entirety about them. The way he described Federer’s vicious forehand gave the reader a sort of Mozartian joy, similar to the one that could be witnessed on a spectator’s face in a live match. The unique blend of rationality and scepticism together with his love for sports ensured that sports idealism did not ride roughshod over realism. He was against the untenable veneration of athletes and warned against the superficial portrayal of sportspersons as demigods. The analytical writing style struck a cord every time with the readers. In a world deluged with sporting prosthetics, he brought about the greatness of human technique and effort as honed by technology. He is one of those who could eulogise sports by describing the acceptable and the condemnable aspects of sports with equal conviction.
Nothing is forever and sport is no exception. However, his articles defied this logic and have etched several memorable sporting spectacles in our minds. “When comes another” is a term which is used to foresee the next great sensation in any field. This might never be true when one talks about Nirmal Shekar because no can be ranked alongside him. The word incomparable is often used carelessly in ordinary usage. But he is certainly beyond comparison. The emotional neutrality which exuberated in his articles celebrated the truest form of sporting excellence. If life is a theatre of the absurd as Albert Camus said, then Nirmal Shekar’s writings surreptitiously drew a veil over the world of everyday information and replaced it with a different kind of theatrical screenplay, one that has little in common with the dreariness of quotidian journalism. He was a freak of journalistic intellect who gave consistent masterpiece articles, at an altitude which immortalised sportspersons and him alike.
Just like any great art exists to negate nothingness his breath-taking description of athletes and sporting events exalted the human expression of sporting endeavour. The flawless description of every sport testified that journalistic excellence for him was a habit and not a sporadic activity.
As it happens in sporting evolution, even sports journalism seldom leads to the consistent exclamation, and there is hardly a guarantee that such moments can be replicated. The same is true for his style of expression. The world of sporting journalism would be very much diminished without him.
Athletic greatness is never precisely measurable. This also holds true for his immense contribution to the world of sports. In one of his articles, Letter to an Anonymous Athlete, he mentioned, “As a writer, I know that I will not write the perfect sentence. That I will never be good enough to leave my imprint on the world”. The only befitting and true reply to this scenario from all sports fans can be, Dear sir,-We loved you, worshipped you and marvelled at your unique skills and now that you are gone, we will celebrate a sports connoisseur and journalist beyond compare. You will certainly continue to live in our hearts, as long as they keep beating.
(The article is an ode to the great sports columnist Nirmal Shekar. The writer has tried to bring in the elements of his most celebrated articles in his eulogy. The list below contains a compilation of the columns of Nirmal Shekar from which the writer has taken inspiration for the present article)
1) Letter to an anonymous athlete http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/letter-to-an-anonymous-athlete/article3728271.ece
2) Nadal and the art of attention-
3) The Greatest is Gone – http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/The-Greatest-is-gone/article14384637.ece
4) Requiem for a wise man
5) Can Great Athletes be role models- http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/Can-great-athletes-be-role-models/article14507888.ece
6) Sport needs an ethical revolution- http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/nirmal_shekar/Sport-needs-an-ethical-revolution/article14475939.ece
7) Sport is more often about failure
8) Self Belief: The Soul of Sport
9) Dravid deserves Greater Respect
10) A fatality on field of dreams
11) What time is it, Roger?
12) Ali and the illusion of immortality
13) Twilight of an ideal-
14) Sport’s loneliest of all battles-
15) Dives, Damned Dives-