Thursday, November 29, 2012

BEAR WITH US, PLEASE…

Land of the tiger? Yeah ok… Land of the tiger too, but is the Royal Bengal Tiger our largest, most imposing predator? Well, not really… That crown sits not on the head of the tiger. Nay, it isn’t even the regal and mighty Asiatic lion but the massive head of a giant that lumbers his way across the mountain slopes of the high Himalayas, way above the tree line that wears this crown. More than seven feet tall and weighing in at close to 300 kgs, the Himalayan brown bear towers over its other more media friendly predatory rivals. But of all the thousands who flock to the tiger reserves with their shiny new SLRs, and XL camouflage jackets, trussed up in their luxury resort jeeps and SUVs, how many have ever trekked up to the mountains to catch a glimpse of this magnificent monster? In my defence, I must insist that I did go up to Gushaini, the gateway to the Great Himalayan National Park where walks this great beast, but circumstances stopped me from pursuing the tracks of this giant then… But I will go back!

And I have seen a few specimens of the brown bear in a zoo in Kufri… The concrete floor and the confined space did little justice to the magnificence of the bear, and yet the intelligent eyes, the hulking form and that stoic faraway expression spoke of a dignity that only the mountains can bestow on those that have learnt to live in its shadow. Little is known about this mysterious animal for few have seen it in the wild and fewer still have had the courage and the commitment to follow the animal’s trail over the rugged landscape that is its home.

As a child growing up, the word bhaloo meant just one bear species – the dancing bear. Kalandars would walk our streets on weekends and behind them would trudge large shaggy black beast, with a ring running through its muzzle. This ring was tied to a rope that the kalandar would tug at, and driven by pain the beast would dance to its mater’s tune.

I was too young to understand that. The distant barking of street dogs moving closer and closer usually told me that the bhaloowallah was here. I would never let them go past my house without cajoling my parents into paying for a show. It was fascinating to see a once wild animal that shared its home with tigers and leopards right here in front of my gate, behaving like a large well trained dog.

As I grew older, I began to recognise the pain my childhood clamouring would have caused the beasts I had grown to love, and so I stopped asking the kalandars to stop by. Gradually, the kalandars and their bears stopped coming. Then I met Kartick Satyanarayan, who runs a crusade called Wildlife SOS, and learnt about how they had gotten the kalandars and dancing bears off the streets of India and rehabilitated both man and beast.

With bear-dancing banned and kalandars employed in alternate professions, the future of the bear was surely secure, or so one thought. But bears are still poached for their bile (which has medicinal properties that can easily be replicated by herbs), paws and meat (which are a traditional delicacy in the Far East). But far more than poachers, bears are increasingly threatened by habitat destruction which is bringing them into conflict with humans. And above all there is apathy.

For an animal that is present across 26 states, far more than the tiger or the elephant, there are just two sanctuaries that are dedicated to bear conservation. For tourists, a bear sighting is a mere sideshow, and I’ve often wondered why… Even the bhaloo of my childhood, the humble sloth bear, is a large powerful animal that can hold its own against a tiger, that is perhaps as intelligent as an elephant and even if not as regal or as elegant as a big cat, is so much more animated and curious. So why doesn’t anyone care about the bear, in officialdom or otherwise?

The legends of Hanuman made the macaques and langurs into living deities. Then why didn’t the legendary exploits of the immortal Jambavan, the king of bears who inspired Hanuman to jump across the ocean, thrashed Ravana and knocked him out cold during battle and then battled Krishna for eighteen days before recognising and bowing to the Lord’s divinity, make his subjects, the bears, even half as popular as the other stalwarts of our forests? Apparently, even wild animals aren’t immune to poor image management.

A few years ago, I picked up a book by Dr MK Ranjitsinh titled Beyond the tiger – portraits of Asian Wildlife. This book was an attempt by the author to go beyond the dazzling aura of the tiger and reveal the glory and beauty of a gamut of other species that call this region home. And in his rather comprehensive attempt, the author covered species as varied as the regal Asiatic lion, the unassuming water buffalo and the ubiquitous chital. And yet, the great bears escaped even his notice. Not a word, from preface to index was wasted on them.

Before we go any further on the subject, now is a good time to embarrass you a little as I introduce our bears to you. We don’t just have a brown bear and a black bear. Incidentally, the black bear that we used to see dancing in our streets is called the sloth bear and is found throughout peninsular India. About six feet tall when standing on their hindlegs, this shaggy coated bear weighs about 120-200kgs. The Himalayan Black bear, found all the way from the Himalayan foothills and right up to the tree-line, looks like a sloth bear that uses a nice expensive conditioner and has had a trim. They are about six to six and a half feet tall and weigh about 150-200 kgs. In the Eastern Himalayas, in the shadows of the thick mountain forests walks a little bear, about five feet tall and weighing just 50-70kgs – the Malayan sun bear, the smallest of all bears. I have never heard of a tourist, travel writer or a wildlife photographer talk about an encounter with this bear in India. And then of course there is the Himalayan brown bear. Four species spread across nearly every state in the country, and yet no funding, no research, no Project Bear and just two sanctuaries. That’s enough injustice for the bears to start protesting for complete autonomy, a country of their own or reservations in conservation projects.

But all that promises to change with the launch of the National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan at the International Conference on Bear Research and Management currently (26-30 November) in progress in the capital. And it’s about time too. Bear numbers across the country are largely a matter of conjecture and unless funds, time and personnel are dedicated to research and conservation at the earliest, we might end up doing too little, too late.

India doesn’t have a record to be proud of as far as ‘plans’ are concerned. Nevertheless, here’s wishing the ‘action plan’ better luck than most of our other planned endeavours and projects.

And in case some cell phone firms and news channels are listening in, how about a ‘hug for the bear’ campaign? It might be more fun than a ‘roar for the tiger’ or a ‘hog for the elephant’ drive...

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

BRAVEHEARTS AGAINST THE APOCALYPSE

While the country celebrated the hanging of a villain who murdered innocents, I had mixed feelings about the news of Kasab’s execution. It seemed like it was the right path, the only path in fact, and yet one wondered if there could have been a path more right than this. I don’t have the answer yet and so I leave you with my thoughts from the day when Ajmal Amir Kasab was still a gun-toting specter haunting the streets of Mumbai... a story from four years ago that celebrates and remembers those who stared down death so that many could hang on to life through those four fateful days... Until i find my feelings and the answers.

Looking back on the years spent wondering ‘what would I be when I grow up?’, I don’t have regrets about the various windows of opportunity that I might have stared through for a while but then left them behind, unopened… none save one… And that regret was acting up like a dull ache from an old war wound when I saw those images of commandos being air dropped onto Nariman House…

When I was about 13, I moved from my catholic missionary ‘boys-only’ concentration camp to what I hoped was liberation and freedom in the co-educational world of Central Schools (an anglicised moniker for the staid old Kendriya Vidyalaya). While my mates at the ‘missionary’ drew inspiration from the entrepreneurial spirit that had driven their families from post partition penury, to way up the socio-economic ladder towards plenty and prosperity, the boys in KV cared for one thing, and one thing only – life in the ‘Academy’ (the National Defence Academy). That, I suspect, had to do with two things. One, most of them had been brought up on tales of valour in the family and joys of life in the ‘mess.’ And two, you didn’t have a Chinaman’s chance with the girls unless you happened to be preparing for the NDA… because for them, cricketers weren’t man enough and movie stars were mostly pansy dandies… so unless you were training to be an army officer like her daddy, you could forget about asking any of them even the time, least of all for a date.

So after watching “Top Gun” Cruise taking their breath away, I declared that I too would become an air force pilot or, after some heavy duty persuasion from the Gubernator, maybe a commando. I dropped my cricket kit and went running with the boys, cranked out push ups and pull ups, watched “Platoon” and debated about the comparative virtues of the three forces…

That was a wonderful time and we spoke of how wonderful it’d be if we all made it to the ‘Academy’ together until… until one of the NDA hopefuls did not turn up for school. The year was 1989 and news came in that his father had come back wrapped in a tricolour from Sri Lanka. Soon there were others who did not turn up for school. It was a gloomy winter, and when our friends returned, they seemed unrecognisable – gone was that enthusiasm which had fired our dreams. In its stead raged bitterness, anger and a sense of betrayal. We heard about how intelligence failures and political ineptitude had left our troops vulnerable and how some of our best soldiers had to pay with their lives because some one else sitting at a desk just wasn’t smart enough to back him up. Later, one of the boy’s uncles was heard complaining about how political indecisiveness and foreign policy misadventures by our political leaders result in the needless destruction of this country’s ‘only heroes’. It was a feeling echoed by others.

The ‘Academy’ never happened. Some of us studied engineering, others management, and all those women who couldn’t see beyond men in uniform settled down happily with power dressing executives and one of them even a psychiatrist. After that winter, none of us spoke of the ‘Academy’ ever again and I have a feeling it wasn’t just us. The IPKF mission did nothing to diminish the valour of our forces, and some like the Marine Commandos (MARCOS) returned as veritable super heroes. But the Lanka operations made it apparent to many Indians, including na├»ve romantics like us, that irresponsible and unintelligent governance can reduce the best fighting units to mere pawns in a bout of political eyeballing.

Some of my closest friends are serving in the ‘forces’ and they are amongst the people I admire and respect the most. In fact, in the presence of a battle-scarred soldier, irrespective of nationality, I always have this debilitating sense of awe and humility – I almost don’t feel man enough in their presence (and I’m pretty sure it’s because those snooty army daughters had scarred my teenaged psyche in school). And yet, since that winter, I’ve remained disillusioned with the idea of a career in the forces. All that awe and humility was always tinged with liberal doses of pity. For who knows how they’ll meet their end… would it be on a garden chasing their dog and the grand kids, or would they instead get blown up by an IED that had been planted by the very terrorist who they had apprehended and handed over to the cops only for the local politician to have him released in no time.

But all that changed on 27th November, 2008, when I saw these modern day ninjas storming Nariman House in a bid to not take lives but save them. And don’t let the Israeli Defence Minister and Curry King Ghulam Noon’s criticism of our commandos mislead you. Indian special forces like the NSG, MARCOS and the Para Commandos are amongst the absolute best in the world, and I’m not the only one saying this. John Geddes, ex British SAS (Special Air Service – the mother of all Special Forces units) and now a celebrated and battle hardened PMC (Private Military Contractor) wrote pretty much the same thing in one of his books. And thus the regret…

There were brave people amongst the hostages, some of the hotel staff, but while these were heroes by chance, these soldiers are heroes by choice and design; heroes of not just this moment but of this nation. And while I wouldn’t agree with what my classmates had said about our sportsmen and actors, who happen to be this nation’s ambassadors and cultural flag-bearers, there’s no denying that these masked crusaders, much like comic book super heroes who save the day and then disappear without a trace, are the only real action heroes of our times. Looking back, I feel it’s a shame we gave up on the Academy, for lousy bosses notwithstanding, there’s nothing like saving lives for a living, especially if you have the skills to put your own on the line and get out alive. Nevertheless, the SF are better off without us, and here’s to our gallant men in black. May they continue to save our face and lives, and may they live long and prosper… God bless them, and a billion more…

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

AND BUDDHA CRIED

Sometimes we need a jolt to wake up, to stay good and to be strong. And then we need people to hold us tight through these tests, to remind us of our goodness when the mirror fails to point out any... Here’s a jolt from the vault that helped one find one’s inherent goodness. May both the lessons and the people who hold us tight through these jolts live long and live strong...

Buddha was finding it difficult to sit on the cold steel chair. His head hurt, his back was sore, his eyes were dry and his heart, cold. Sitting in that tiny blue room, Buddha waited. On the table in front of him sat three empty cups, chipped and stained, just like the walls around him. In the cup closest to him, he could see a fly struggling to escape the sugary bog at the bottom of the cup. Buddha tore a strip of paper from his notebook and fished the fly out… and then he waited some more.

Just hours ago, Buddha had been walking towards his tutor’s house, when he heard a familiar voice… “ Buddha, wait… !” Looking up, he saw a head dart in from a first floor window. It was Babu, his friend, a fellow ‘gang member’. Babu could not contain his excitement. “Come, I have a plan!” What happened next was still a bit of a blur for Buddha. The tuitions forgotten, the two reached the parking lot of a theatre and ‘got to work’, stashing their newly acquired ‘loot’ in the satchel that contained Buddha’s unused notebook.

With the satchel bursting at the seams, the two friends started off on their last ‘job’. Just then, footsteps… The two friends turned and saw a bunch of parking attendants running towards them… “Woh dekho chor, saale... Pakdo saalon ko, maaro!” Buddha and Babu ran hard and Babu made it past the gate first, followed by Buddha. “Phew! Made it” thought Buddha, and just then he heard a crash and felt a tug. Entangled between his shoulder and a prone bicycle, its wheels still spinning, was his satchel. Metres away, sprawled out on his stomach, muttering curses lay the rider. With his pursuers closing in, Buddha tried to disentangle himself and run, but before he could, the mob caught him. Babu, meanwhile, had disappeared.

At this point, his memory becomes a patchwork of curses, cuffs and the warm salty taste of his own blood; he remembers a thick fleshy fist catching him by the scruff of his neck and pushing him onto a yellow motorcycle, crushed between two coarse, rather odorous, khaki shirts, to the local police station, and a rather thick stick. “Kaun tha therey saath, naam bata? Nahin batayega?!” Thwack, went the stick on Buddha’s bare legs.

“@#%*! Chori kabse kar raha hai?” thwack. Somehow, all through, he does not remember feeling any pain. “Kahan rehta hai?” Buddha was quiet again. “Murga banao c#*$*#$ ko!” Thwack, thwack went the stick again. Buddha could feel an excruciating throbbing pain in his legs and his back. Buddha lied about his address. “Jhoot bolta hai saala!” thwack, thwack thwack… Buddha gave in…

At this very minute, while Buddha waited on that cold steel chair, a policeman was knocking on a door. But while he waited, Buddha was surprised he hadn’t cried. He was after all a child, barely nine years old. Until now Buddha hadn’t felt either guilt or shame, just a stubborn resolve to be as difficult as possible, like a primal animal that thought nothing of the future, only living and fighting for its present. But now, as he saw his mother walk into the police station, Buddha looked away, afraid to make eye contact. One of the constables, in one smooth motion turned the satchel upside down, and like a hail storm beating against a window pane, car logos… three-pointed Mercedes stars, Toyotas and dozens of Maruti Suzukis tumbled and clattered onto the floor and the table… Buddha saw the expression of mild indignation on his mother’s face turn into disbelief and shock. “It’s just a game Ma… just a game,” Buddha pleaded, as his mask melted away. He was nine years old again, scared and embarrassed. He expected her to scream at her, to tell him what a ‘good-for-nothing’ he happened to be, but she became very quiet... She apologised to the policemen, and assured them that she’ll ensure better conduct from her only son and to their credit, the cops did not drag the issue and let Buddha and his empty satchel go…

That evening, many many years ago, as my mother and I walked back from the station, I remember wishing I could somehow make her understand that the only reason I did what I did was because I believed that was all I was good at… this is all that my peers noticed about me. I knew everything I was bad at and no one told me what I might’ve been good at till I found this game. I was braver and quicker than them and had the logos to prove it.

For a change, those who sniggered when my math teacher announced my scores were looking upto me… wanting to be with me… and that’s what I wanted, not the logos. But I couldn’t say all that, didn’t need to I guess. Though I’ve never asked her, I’m sure she’d known, or at least felt all that I wanted to say. So, in front of our house, she looked into my eyes for the first time and said “ You’re not a bad boy. You’re a good boy. I know it, I believe it… now you have to know it; you have to believe it. Do you?” The dam broke and I wept like the child I was. Through the tears, I nodded, and promised to be as good as she thought me to be.

It’s been 23 years, and every day, I still try and keep that promise. And I’ll tell you this, if anybody ever disappoints you, don’t tell them how bad they are; tell them how good you know they can be, and more often than not, they’ll become that ‘good’ and better… it works, just ask my mother…

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

AN EDEN IN MY BACKYARD

The dragonfly flapped its transparent iridescent wings with a slow deliberate jerk, like the early swivel of a chopper’s rotator blades before taking off while I zoomed in carefully. Its dark head and bulbous eyes grew bigger and closer in the view finder. As the focus rim turned, the image grew clearer… There she was, holding onto a tall stalk by the bank, basking in the soft warm light of a November morn and then I clicked, and she was gone, buzzing her way along the bank in search of a corner where a man with a camera would not pry into her morning duties.

I followed her for as long as the eye could follow, out of the canopy of the trees by the bank and then lost her as the expanse of the lake, Sultanpur jheel, stretched out in front of me. It is early November, and many winter visitors are yet to arrive. It does not have the fairground look, with constant quacking and kroo-krooing of all the waders and new arrivals jostling for prime space on the lake, just yet. It is more like a sleepy Eden-like resort town, going about its easy business as it prepares for the tourist season.

Sultanpur National Park is not for you if a trip to Ranthambore is a waste of time if you do not get to see a tiger. The only large animal I have seen in all my visits over all these years is the ubiquitous nilgai. But the place has plenty of large birds. Flocks and flocks of painted stork dot the skies as they fly to and from their roosts, while the black necked stork is hard to spot because there is only a pair in the park. Egyptian ibis and spoon bills share space with egrets in the shallows while the meditative grey heron stands aloof, all by itself near a little grassy island.

Up on a dead tree sits a cormorant, its wet feathers glistening in the sun that has now gained strength. As it stretches out its wings for them to dry in the sun, the vignette of the bird, with wings out stretched on the naked tree against a still blue sky, acquired a stunning silhouette. I hurriedly changed lenses and trained the camera on the image and clicked and clicked till I felt I had gotten it right. I need not have rushed though, for long after I was done, bird, tree and sky remained like that, as if fused into one another.

Sultanpur’s joys however lie not in the sighting of a bird or tree, although that nutty species called birders might disagree (I once ran into an old birder friend of mine at Sultanpur who was hopping up and down with his digi-scope and joy for he had finally spotted a wood sand-piper. Infected by his enthusiasm, I asked him to point that rare jewel out to me. And so he lined up his digi-scope for me and with baited breath I panned the scope, and there it was – a rather unremarkable mid-sized brown bird with a slim and elegant bill scampering along the sand. I tried but failed to match his enthusiasm with my reaction. He packed up his scope and walked away with a “you’re not a birder, you wont get it” look. And I had to agree, I did not. But where was I, yes, Sultanpur’s joys… and yes they stretch far beyond the sighting of a particular species of bird or beast. The joy of wetland lies in the way along the path oothes all the senses. The water, the trees and the birds have a therapeutic effect on the body and the mind. If you are having a low day, go to Sultanpur (avoid the crowded weekends though) and I dare your spirits to not lift themselves up once you are there by the lake.

I will be lying however, if I did not admit to having a special agenda every time I go there. Actually every time, I am there, I hope to catch either the glorious and utterly beautiful sight of a pair of sarus cranes dancing.

Once long ago, while on a 2nd class train ride back from Kolkata, I was sitting near the window and watching the darkening clouds gather over the horizon. There were no farms nearby and the ground was a bare sandy brown and right next to the train, these two large birds were dancing, literally stepping in synchronised and apparently well choreographed steps, to the beat of their own calls that rent through the silent sky and the chugging train. I was a mere boy then and yet I remember the majesty of the moment in all its delicate detail. And hopes of seeing the resident pair at Sultanpur dance draw me to the park over and over again. Incidentally, saruses mate for life and are even said to die of pining and self-imposed starvation when its mate is killed or has died.

The other dark desire I harbour is a little more primal. I hope to catch two blue-bulls (male nilgai) lock horns in a battle for the right to love. I have heard a lot about the spectacle where rival males go down on their front knees as they wrestle for supremacy. And do not blanche, it is usually a bloodless affair which involves a lot of parrying and thrusting but little blood-letting.

But though I have never seen what I set out to see at Sultanpur, walking all alone into a tongue of land that juts into the marsh, away from all the visitors, and watching the sun set over the red and gold waters makes up for it all. The stillness and the magnificence of the moment is a precious gift that needs to be preserved. But Sultanpur is not free from woe. Poaching and drying up of the lake waters have been intermittent problems that have found a bit of space in the press but one consistent trouble that I have seen plaguing the park over the last decade and a half has been cattle grazing in the park. Catttle, unlike wild ungulates, uproot the vegetation that they feed on, and this, especially in the soft soil environment of the marsh can really change the character and composition of the park’s botanical values. This could be for both better or worse, but when uncontrolled it would always be rather damaging and could increase run-off and siltation of the lake.

Delhites, mired as we are in our smoggy concrete jungle, are fortunate to have access to this little eden in our backyard. Let our apathy not see it go the way of other wetlands in the region which have been neglected and drained, and once the birds have gone or driven off, ‘reclaimed’ for callous industrial or housing projects.

And while you mull over the pros and cons of the above comparison, I suggest you do that while admiring the sunset in Sultanpur. You will know which way your weight should go...

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

FAITH IN THE FALLEN

What price will you pay for a sliver of hope when in the throes of despair? When you are all alone on an island of doom, separated from the life you lived and loved, by an ocean of anguish and disease, what would you give for a community that embraces you and voices that say “you’re not alone, we understand”? What would you call a Prometheus who steals hope, faith and inspiration from fate and by his very example, gives it all to you, when doctors, friends and family tell you with a shake of the head or an unwept tear that they believe you have none? Why is such a man any less than an angel, complete with a halo and a pair of wings?

So what if the wings were powered by EPO (erythropoietin – a performance enhancing drug) and USADA (US Anti-Ddoping Agency) just clipped them. So what if the once-superman responds to the name Lance Armstrong and is right this moment trying to explain to his kids why they are burning his effigy in England… Isn’t a fallen angel an angel no more?

What’s all the hullabaloo about anyway? Count out Western Europe and the United States and then show me a soul from anywhere else in the world who gives a four letter word about the Tour de France… You’ll be hard pressed to find one.

Ever heard of Miguel Indurain? Do the names of Greg Lemond or Floyd Landis, Jan Ulrich or Marco Pantani ring any bells? My guess is you haven’t got the faintest idea. But, what of a certain Lance Armstrong? Heard of him? Sure you have… you’re probably wearing a yellow LIVESTRONG band on your wrist right now, or perhaps tut-tuting with friends about how Lance let you down. But aren’t we all missing the woods for the trees here. To most of us, the fact that Lance Armstrong has been a seven-time Tour champion is only the sub-text. To us, he had been a greater hero for trouncing cancer and coming back from the dead (he was given only a 40% chance of surviving his race against cancer) and then emerging a champion. And yet, we didn’t wear the LIVESTRONG band and celebrate the Livestrong movement (the Lance Armstrong Foundation or Livestrong Foundation has been support on all fronts to cancer patients and research organizations for the last 15 years. The world can’t have enough of such foundations) because we wished him greater victories in the races around the world. After all how many of us can name a cycling race other than the Tour de France? No, we wore the band because we identified with his cause… Because he was fighting a disease we dread; because the millions and millions of dollars he was raising for cancer research could one day help us, or someone we love, wrestle this nemesis of mankind into submission and remission; because there are people all over the world who have found comfort and support through his organization during their lonely and often expensive battle with their own bodies, and yes, admittedly also because Lance Armstrong didn’t just survive, he won, and don’t we all love a winner.

But he is no winner at all! He is a ‘cheat’, you’d say… and I say you’re wrong. Doping - the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs - has been a part of the Tour’s underground culture ever since the first edition in 1903 when many riders admitted to using ether and alcohol to dull the pain through the grueling ride up the mountains. Why, even the legendary Eddy Merckx faced a ban for doping. And all through the Armstrong years, his strongest rivals, Marco Pantani, Ivan Basso and Jan Ulrich, have all been convicted of doping offences and have faced bans or suspensions. No wonder Armstrong’s titles haven’t been awarded to anybody else. In fact, apart from Spanish rider Fernando Escartin in 1999, who finished third behind Lance and tainted Swiss rider Alex Zulle, almost every cyclist who finished on the podium behind Armstrong is a proven or accused drug-cheat. No wonder, the UCI (International Cycling Union) hasn’t awarded the vacant titles to another rider yet. In fact, it is hard to find even one rider in the top 10 at the Tour de France during the decade of 2000, who hasn’t been accused of doping.

And what about those who followed in his wake? Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour champion was stripped of his title when found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs and even Alberto Contador, the 2007 champion has faced suspensions for doping.

It really isn’t a question of who is clean and who is tainted on the Tour but more a case of who gets caught and who doesn’t. I’m not defending Armstrong for having used drugs to gain an unfair advantage. I’m just saying that it was his way of leveling the playing field, and even his worst critics would agree that during that decade, it was impossible for a rider to win if he wasn’t on a sophisticated doping programme.

If Lance indeed did take drugs, then sure take away his halo and strip him of his titles if you must, but you can’t just dismiss his sporting credentials. If he was a champion cheat, it only proves that he beat the cheats at their own game. But beyond all that, we cannot destroy the legacy of Lance Armstrong the humanitarian just becomes his achievements are in a sport that is still confused about how to keep the system clean and whose method of doling out punishment is so arbitrary that some tainted riders still have their titles, a few suspensions and bans notwithstanding, while others are shamed and stripped with a vengeance.

Today, Armstrong the cyclist, even with his seven titles intact can’t hold a candle to Lance the humanitarian and cancer fighter. The former just doesn’t matter and nor is he half as relevant as the latter. To shun and shame and attempt to destroy the Livestrong movement just because cycling’s governing body suddenly suffered a bout of wakeful action is worse than throwing the baby out with the bath water. The Livestrong band is a symbol of solidarity in our fight against cancer, and it’s a symbol that has been instrumental in raising millions for a cause. There was no cheating there. There was no lie there. So stop tearing that down and if you took it off in shame, put it back on… the world still needs Livestrong.

As for Lance, is it right to punish a man for buying an unlicensed gun to protect himself in a lawless and violent society? Maybe it is, if you say so, but I can’t seem to share your conviction.

I say we forgive the cyclist his sins, but let us still continue to celebrate the man and support the movement. We owe him that. We owe every cancer patient that...

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