Missing Padma awards: A question of etiquette, culture

THERE is a huge difference between Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni – and between Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh. And this difference is not just in their respective skill specialisation in the game, but also in their outlook towards life, society and culture - more so, culture.

 Only on Tuesday in Noida, Tendulkar explained why he remains so calm and humble and is never rude or arrogant with anyone (it was because his father had inculcated the importance of these qualities; he had told him to be cultured so that people love him even after his playing days were over, otherwise no one would remember him after his cricket career). And the son has retained his humility all through, even after 19 years in the international game, 85 centuries in Test and ODI cricket, and numerous world records and accolades.

 If you are still wondering what I am trying to arrive at, it is about the allegations that Dhoni and Harbhajan deliberately did not go to Rastrapati Bhawan to receive their Padma awards on Wednesday. On the same day they are said to have shot for commercials in Delhi.

While it will be difficult to prove that both were indeed in the city when the awards were conferred and chose to skip the ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the question that begs the answer is: ‘Even if you were in Vanuatu, what stopped you from travelling to Delhi to attend the investiture ceremony?’ Unless, of course, one of your close relatives is ill and you are at his bedside in hospital or the mahurat of your wedding is clashing with the ceremony in the magnificent, awe-inspiring Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Remember, Dhoni had also missed the trip to Rashtrapati Bhawan to receive the Rajiv Khel Ratna in August last year because he was on national duty. His parents had received the prize and floored everyone with their humility.

And when the first Padma awards function was held recently both Dhoni and Harbhajan were in New Zealand representing India. So, ideally, they should have been more than desperate to receive the award from the President of India. It seems they were not. If they really regret it, they should make it clear sooner rather than later.

Now, we still don’t know what stopped Dhoni from coming to Delhi – whether or not he was in the city -- for he has still not explained the reasons, and has already reached South Africa for the Indian Premier League. Maybe someone will sooner or later ask the Chennai Super Kings captain this question. If that happens it will be a bigger embarrassment for him.

On the other hand, Harbhajan has spoken and challenged that if anyone proves that he was in Delhi on the day of the awards, he would quit playing cricket. His contention is that he was in his home town Jalandhar and had family commitments. His more than lame argument being that he gets little time to spend with his family due to constant travelling with the national team.

While what he is saying is true in an abstract sense, the simple question is: ‘Even if you were with your family, you could have dashed to Delhi for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?’ Who knows, both Dhoni and Harbhajan may never get another opportunity to step inside Rashtrapati Bhawan ever again due to one thousand reasons, even if they are conferred bigger national honours.

Now take Tendulkar. In 1998, the maestro was presented the Rajiv Khel Ratna but there was a big question mark over his presence at the function as he had gone to Australia to meet Sir Don Bradman’s on the legendary batsman’s invitation. Bradman had invited him (and Shane Warne) on his birthday on 27 August at his Adelaide home. But it seems Tendulkar desperately wanted to be present at the Rashtrapati Bhawan to receive the country biggest sports honour two days later, on the morning of August 29, which is also hockey wizard Dhyan Chand’s birthday. But Tendulkar dashed down to Delhi straight from Adelaide and made it to the ceremony just in time. Everyone lauded his sincerity and the sense of occasion – and with this single gesture his stature was raised a few notches.

So if Tendulkar can beat the odds to receive that award, why can’t a Dhoni or a Harbhajan emulate him. After all, Tendulkar is much bigger in stature and a greater player. But, to me, his greatest virtue is that his feet are still on the ground.

Sports Minister MS Gill has already admonished Dhoni and Harbhajan for their vanishing act. But it really remains an individual’s choice. I mean, the eagerness to fulfil obligations should come from within and not be forced upon. For, even the strictest of rules could be bent with various excuses. Hope Indian athletes (read cricketers) learn from this and there will be no repeat episodes.