The beauty of sport, its visceral pull, exists because it contains within itself grand storylines—hope and redemption, war and defeat, even life and death. A few minutes in a boxing ring, 90 minutes on a football pitch, five days in a cricket match, and in other tests of human endurance and imagination, sport routinely orchestrates the epic, from the catharsis of a Greek tragedy to the wantonness of the battle of Kurukshetra. Sometimes, though, the stories off the pitch are just as compelling.

For instance, what is it to be a champion at basketball, which is a minor sport in India? In a nation that has eyes only for cricket, and passion only for its underperforming cricket team, what commercial prospects exist for other sports? Our cover this month (“In need of a jump-start”) is the story of Indian basketball—a sport in which India is ranked 61st in the world. There are a lot of talented players and not enough facilities or rewards to nurture them, and an astonishing lack of match and player records have come in the way of forging enduring legacies and rivalries among fans, writes Gopalakrishnan R.

India’s overburdened public health system allows an unforgivable number of avoidable deaths to take place every year. Snakebite is just one of the many contributors, one that the authorities haven’t yet started taking seriously enough. The government has no system for documenting these cases, and studies both by the government and WHO show that the number is in the high thousands. Access to anti-venom injections is not easy; most primary health centres in remote areas don’t stock it because they can’t maintain the cold chain for the life-saver. The affected are mainly the poor and tribals from the Sundarbans to Central India, writes Anuradha Sharma in “India’s snakebite problem”.

This issue is rich in essays. River-life conservation needs a mascot, what better than the Indian mahseer, writes Rohit Handa in “The gold in the river”; Shweta Upadhyay profiles (“The rat with many suitcases”) the writer Amitava Kumar through his books; and M. R. Sivaraman presents a case for more equitable distribution of central resources for the states.

Don’t miss the photo essay “The eternal in the everyday”, Harikrishna Katragadda’s brilliant portrait of Varanasi.

Saurav Kumar, Editor

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