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December 18, 2003

Kapil Sharma, Swati DandekarThe jury's first task was to narrow down the list to three outstanding individuals, from whom the final winner could be picked. Significantly, the jury's first act, after scrutinising the shortlist of 12 and the master list of 186, was to add two more names to the former -- one, a filmmaker of international reputation; the other, a politician with a long and distinguished record.

The deliberations began -- and the pre-lunch phase proved to be a fascinating exercise. Initially, debate took a somewhat random turn, revolving around four or five names who, by virtue of stature and achievement, appeared to be top of the mind for many jurors.

And then came a seminal moment. At one point, a juror suggested that if the year just ending were reviewed, one particular individual stood out above all others, by virtue of having given the community a mainstream face, and a recognition wider than within its own confines.

Wait a second, another juror asked -- the person has individual achievement in spades, but what has he done for the community?

What makes you think someone has to do something for the community to be considered for an award, came the riposte. What is wrong with individual achievement of the highest calibre, does it not raise the profile of the community, does it not create a role model for the community to follow, does it not define goals for the community to aspire to, does it not raise the bar on accomplishment?

Anyways, another juror asked, how do you define 'doing something for the community'? If a person is always available to speak at community events, has he or she done more for the community than say someone who has, quietly and in his or her own fashion, sought to excel?

By way of illustration, he brought up the example of Vijay Singh, the Fijian golfer of Indian origin. The juror said he knew of young members of the community who, following Singh's success, had been driven to excel at golf. Does not such achievement contribute to his community in a quantifiable way, the juror asked? At a larger, more subliminal level, does not his achievement, and the concomitant fame and adulation, inspire the aspirations of others?

Without aspiration, does not a community atrophy?

In a trice, the discussion was transformed to heated debate; the jury recast the discussion from 'who should win the award' to 'what qualities/qualifications do you, must you, look for from someone picked as first among equals in this particular year?'

It was a turning point in the deliberations -- and as with all such moments, it charged the atmosphere with electricity. It pushed everyone out of the comfort zone of personality-oriented discussion and shifted the focus to an ideal. A norm.

A template, if you will, for personal achievement allied to intense involvement with the community at large.

Next: Deliberations, Phase II

Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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