Two contrasting facial emotions dominated our television screens on Wednesday night.
First, there was the scowl on Congress president Sonia Gandhi's face that showed her manufactured rage over BJP leader LK Advani's comments about the illegitimacy of the UPA-2 government. It hovered on our television screens like a dark cloud, showing up everything that is unsightly about our fractured, divisive polity. Here was the leader of the party that heads the ruling coalition, her face contorted in anger, virtually egging on her party MPs to barrack and shout down Advani for his choice of words to qualify the government's status! The surge of bilious emotions in that legislative chamber that our parliamentarians refer to, with unjustifiable hyperbole, as the "temple of democracy" left all of us more than a little queasy.
But barely hours later, the dark clouds lifted to elevate our sunny spirits when Mary Kom appeared on our television screens, beaming with justifiable pride at the fact that she had won a bronze medal at the Olympics. Even in her moment of triumph, Mary showed admirable grace and humility: she actually apologised to her country folks for "letting them down" by not securing the gold! In that moment, she humbled a billion and more of her country folks, many of whom will never come anywhere close to achieving the kind of distinction that she has. And the sight of her giggling gaily on camera was like balm for the bruised soul, particularly after the hideous happenings in Parliament barely hours earlier.
There is, of course, much to distinguish politics from sport - even if it is a gladiatorial sport such as boxing. For all the outward markers of aggression, boxing is played by a set of rules. You may be throwing fearsome punches - literally - at your opponent, but you're required to abide by a sporting dharma that rewards fair play. Sure, there are times when the contest is "stolen" from you - as has happened to the best of them in the field, including Mary Kom. But however profound the disappointment, very few pugilists dishonour themselves and the sport by violating the rules of the game.
And boxers like Mary Kom actually raise the bar with their sheer magnanimity even in the face of defeat. Mary frequently has generous words of praise for her opponents - the same ones she was looking to pound into pulp barely minutes earlier, all within the rules of the game! In that sense, sportspersons like her symbolise the spirit of the immortal lines by Rudyard Kipling by meeting with Triumph and Disaster - and treating those imposters just the same...
And what of politics today? Where's the room for civil discourse? Where's the space for fair play? Far too often have we seen our parliamentarians and State legislators employ in the legislative chambers the same techniques that have won Mary Kom so much distinction in the square ring.
Our Parliament today has come to represent the very depths of our leaders' depraved emotions. Simmering rage has come to replace sparkling debate. Everything that goes on there is calculated to the maximisation of outrage, as if living in a heightened state of biliousness serves some greater common good. And in that enterprise, virtually anything goes; there are no rules of the game.
Sonia Gandhi's scowl was only the most proximate manifestation of the virtual 'blood feud' that passes for politics in India today.
Mary Kom's smile in the face of defeat, on the other hand, united our country - and, for a few fleeting moments, made us feel good about ourselves.
In the contest between the scowl and the smile, it was a knockout victory for Mary Kom...