I am with Gaurav Gill
"Commitment without discipline is nothing," I told a friend recently when we were talking about life goals and the pursuit of them. When I said what I did, my friend seemed suitably impressed. But since the wisdom that I had so confidently espoused wasn't originally mine, I had to 'fess up and give credit where it was due. "I got that from Gaurav Gill," I said.
See, back in 2016, after having just won his second Asia-Pacific Rally Championship title at the India Rally, Gill sat down with me at the Cafe Coffee Day in Chikmagalur that was being used as the Media Centre for the event and spoke to me about his life, career, and his journey to championship glory. It was a particularly significant year for him, since he'd won every single round of the APRC that he'd competed in that season. He was no longer Gaurav Gill the young hopeful. He was now Gaurav Gill, double APRC title holder. And since then he's gone on to stake his claim to the title of India's most accomplished motorsport athlete with even more gusto, having won a third APRC championship in 2017. "In the beginning, I was committed to the sport, but I wasn't disciplined," Gill had said to me, explaining that it was only when he combined his commitment to motorsport with intense discipline that success had followed.
It's something I think about every now and again. Whenever I want something but don't feel like working very hard towards it, I think of Gill and everything he's accomplished and just how hard he's had to work and how disciplined he's had to be to get to where he is. And every single time, it jolts me out of my stupor and forces me into action.
You're probably wondering to yourself why on earth I'm talking about Gaurav Gill and all his accomplishments and his philosophy of life at a time like this. Perhaps it seems to be in poor taste, given the tragic consequences of the incident that took place at the Rally of Jodhpur. It was an incident that should never have occurred. And despite the fact that we're all wishing it hadn't happened, it did. There's no going back in time, there's no turning back the hands of the clock, and there's no way to bring back the three human lives that were lost. There's simply no way to go back to the wee hours of that fateful Saturday morning and forcibly restrain the rider who rode out onto a rally stage despite being told not to. And there's no way to take away the pain and devastation that the bereaved family members of the deceased feel right now.
But there's also no way to correct those newspaper headlines that were printed in big black letters in some of the country's leading dailies. Those awful newspaper headlines that seem to confuse the words "killed" and "died". They say today's newsprint lines the garbage bins tomorrow. And while that may be true, the marks that those headlines make, the smudges on an individual's reputation - those last a lifetime.
Which is why I am writing this. Because there is the very real chance that a lot of you don't know Gill beyond those newspaper headlines. And a lot of you don't know Musa Sherif, Gill's co-driver and one of the most accomplished and decorated professional navigators in this part of the world, beyond the body text of those articles. And reducing two of the country's finest motorsport athletes to inaccurate newspaper headlines is unjust. As is the fact that both now have an FIR for culpable homicide not amounting to murder registered against them. This was a horribly tragic incident that occurred when they were doing their jobs. Which, incidentally, is to go as fast as they can, on a closed rally stage. And when we say a closed rally stage, we mean a section of the road that has been allocated for the use of competition vehicles alone, and which no other vehicles are allowed to enter for the safety of the vehicle's occupants, and for the safety of the competitors as well. It's a section of road cleared by a Safety Car, a Double Zero Car, a Zero Car, and has marshals posted along the way. That someone did make their way onto the stage, despite being expressly told not to, is frightening, terrifying and horrible. And the outcome has been utterly devastating for everyone involved. Even those of us who love motorsport wish that it didn't have such grim consequences on those dark days that sometimes visit it.
There is, however, another thing that people don't seem to understand. What happened, happened within the confines of a sporting event. Over the past 11 years, going from racetrack to racetrack and rally stage to rally stage, I've had it impressed upon me that we're all individually responsible for our safety at motorsport events. And anything that we might do wrong as spectators, might not only jeopardise our well-being, but might seriously jeopardise someone else's health and life. And what's happened in Jodhpur is proof of just that. Of course, with three lives lost, it is paramount that an investigation follow, and everything from police permissions, to safety precautions taken at the event be examined in great detail. But the fact that in the meanwhile Gill and Sherif are being treated like criminals who set out that morning with the intent to run people over, is appalling. And it shouldn't be like this.
There's another thing that I've realised over the years. People have a way of dismissing motorsport athletes, because there's the general belief that they're a bunch of rich people, who can afford fast cars and go dashing about the place with no concern for their own safety, let alone anyone else's. The truth is often quite different. Gill's talent was apparent when he was fairly young, and could only take part legally in closed circuit events at racetracks and autocrosses. When he was old enough to compete in rallying, having turned 18 and obtained a driver's licence, that talent was slowly nurtured and grew. It was for this reason that companies hired him to drive for them professionally. If you think that anything Gill has accomplished has been handed to him for any reason other than the fact that he was the most deserving candidate, you're wrong. Gill is the foremost example of an Indian motorsport athlete accomplishing something on merit and merit alone.
Gill receiving the Arjuna Award from President Ram Nath Kovind in August 2019
Gaurav Gill's career and reputation has taken him 22 long years to build. And in those 22 years, he's had to face every stumbling block that a motorsport athlete could possibly have to face. Ask yourself then, if what he deserves is to be reduced to a badly written newspaper headline?