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Bolt’s absolute mastery thrilled us but his final race showed us that you can’t outrun time

He reminded everyone that athletics, for all its dwindling moral values, was still a beautiful sport and a simple game.

On Saturday Usain Bolt, the most captivating athlete of our time, sped away for one last time. He smiled, chasing gold and immortality, but with little chest-slapping exuberance. His mission was simple: to crown Jamaica relay champions, trumping the much heralded American team, including the antagonist Justin Gatlin. Last week, the American sprinter had dethroned the Jamaican at the 100 meters final. Were the gods envious of Bolt?

The Jamaican rolled himself upright, with his all-devouring stride and physical exceptionalism, but there was to be no more tour de force in the relay final, bolstered by the Jamaican ‘esprit de vivre’ and camaraderie, united in the undertaking to outrun and outclass the illustrious rivals from the North. The superhero was aging. Those quicksilver feet creaked. His body creaked, all uptight and tense. His goatee grin was a grimace. His hamstring snapped.

Freezing rooms and crazy decisions apart, Bolt was no longer in control of his body and his own sport. Here was a tricenarian and global icon contemplating the limits of his own superlative prowess. Perhaps the celebrations of Team GB [and the BBC], in winning an unprecedented gold medal and world title, lacked decorum. With a wounded Bolt nearby, the British athletes cheered, shouted and danced, and almost shrieked. Bolt, it seemed, was evanescent after all.

For a decade Bolt had outpaced his competitors and his entire sport, but he couldn’t outrun Father Time. No one can, not even Bolt. He went from 9.58 seconds in 2008 to 9.95 last week. He still holds the fastest 100 meters relay leg time, an astounding 8.65 seconds. In London – Bolt was disqualified, a woebegone, last gallop of the fastest man who has ever lived.

At the last Olympic Games he won the triple treble, writing his very own ninth symphony, the speedster no longer fetishizing velocity, but carving out his own niche in sporting history. Perhaps those blessed nights under the gaze of Christ Redeemer and with the raucous cheer of a hunkering Carioca crowd in the stands should have implored the Jamaican to retire, but commercial incentives decided otherwise. His medal and injury in London will be mere footnotes in a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious career.

Bolt's Jamaican team-mate Yohan Blake can't believe the ending. AFP
Bolt's Jamaican team-mate Yohan Blake can't believe the ending. AFP

Bolt transcended his sport. He was a much-needed frontman in athletics, tainted by doping cynicism and strangled by public disinterest. Bolt was the perfect ringmaster and marketing asset, a charismatic 21st-century master of ceremonies. Before or after the race, the Jamaican always found that narrow window for self-expression. He was the great entertainer, his personality confined to, but also cultivated by his small on-track gestures and his ubiquitous ‘To Di World.’ Everyone rooted for him, even when he had scaled Mount Olympus - because of his incredulous speed - and no longer belonged to humanity.

Bolt isn’t Jesse Owens, who defied Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. He is neither Mohammed Ali nor Billie Jean King. The supreme boxer and consummate tennis player became cultural icons, because of their political activism. Ali refused to serve in Vietnam and advocated for black advancement within the civil rights movement. King championed against gay rights and sexual discrimination in schools. He isn’t Pelé either, the first global star of the tele-cultural age, together with Neil Armstrong. Their personalities and performances bound class and culture together.

Bolt is not a cultural icon, but, like Owens, Ali, King and Pelé, he was the ultimate athlete: he reminded everyone that athletics, for all its dwindling moral values, was still a beautiful sport and a simple game. Bolt’s absolute mastery of his sport thrilled us. The ethos of drama in his running exhilarated us. At the pinnacle of his greatness, he bestrode other sporting icons.

And so, the post-Bolt era begins, with athletics entering the vale of normal scale humans again, the likes of Gatlin and Chris Coleman emerging from the netherworld of the sport, long impounded to a subdued underclass of terrestrials. Bolt rehabilitated athletics. His persona and achievements were the ultimate dramatization of a wondrous sport. He is a champion for the ages.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.