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My experience at the Olympics
- Seema Menon

October 8, 2012

London 2012 Olympics, a momentous occasion for me and an abiding memory for life. After enjoying all previous Olympics vicariously in front of the couch, I was thrilled to be selected to perform at the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies in November last year. I had never imagined I would participate in an Olympic ceremony when I moved to London almost 7 years back from Mumbai. I had always wanted to learn a musical instrument but couldn't follow through in my younger days and what better opportunity than to play the "drums" in the Industrial Revolution section "Pandemonium" under the direction of Danny Boyle at the Olympics! To perceive that it was such an iconic event and watched by millions gave me sufficient gusto to pursue the rehearsals with absolute diligence.

We began as novices, beating the plastic-buckets-modified-drums with varying rhythms and not once were the drumming teachers peeved at us. Instead, at all times, they provided great leadership and patience to galvanise this 1000 strong team of drummer volunteers from various backgrounds. Amidst all my initial doubts and anxieties, I was astonished that a project of this gargantuan nature could be so gently managed at the same time preserving the fun aspect whilst training. My biggest challenge was to manage my work schedule and family front but the support from all quarters and the encouraging words to participate in this 'once in a lifetime' opportunity kept me going.

The full dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony was amazing. Must admire the integrity of the 10,000 volunteers and the 80,000 dress rehearsal audience who kept the novelty aspect of the event shrouded in secrecy under "save the surprise" request from Danny. It reminded me of the management concept of "transferring ownership."

The opening ceremony day itself was terrific, right from the time I walked towards the Olympic park at Stratford. There was a sea of enthusiastic supporters and athletes from different countries excitedly wishing each other, clicking photos and capturing memories. The sheer presence of 80,000 spectators provided the effervescence, the rush of adrenalin when cheered by the audience whilst drumming and walking down the audience aisles in the stadium, the Olympic rings being lit and later hobnobbing with world class sports personalities who were dancing in the arena with us in our new avatar as Marshalls, taking photographs with us while calling up their families, all absolutely worth the 3 months of hard toil and preparatory effort.

The most delightful moment for me was watching the Olympic cauldron with the 204 petals being lit by young upcoming sports stars. This was one element of the Opening Ceremony which we had not been privy to during the various rehearsals. I was fortunate to see the flame being lit from close quarters and when the petals rose up to form the Olympic flame for 2012, what can I say, an aesthetically stunning sight. I was a bit emotional that night and knew there was another wonderful day coming up soon and hummed to McCartney's "Hey Jude" while ushering the sportspersons from the Stadium.

The closing ceremony was equally vivacious and we enjoyed donning our bright blue suits with a bulb on our bowler hats. I was part of a big party celebrating with the most popular music bands and the top athletes in the world. The camaraderie was overwhelming, the affection genuine and the ambience pulsating. Strangers were embracing each other and the warmth the athletes showed in my quadrant is indescribable.

The moment the ceremony came to an end and I bid farewell to my drumming group 51, who was like a family to me in these few months, we had this expression of forlorn emptiness as we hugged each other. Genuinely sad to part but exchanged promises of being in touch through the facebook group created - 'Play the drums-so your mum-can see you on TV' - our first line of drumming training. What I now have are memories, whenever I see the blue bowler hat with a bulb, the Industrial Revolution outfit, the drums in my cupboard and the certificates from Danny Boyle (Director, Opening Ceremony) and Kim Gavin (Director, Closing Ceremony). Occasionally, I turn the pages of the opening and closing ceremony program to the section where my name nestles in between thousands of volunteers who took time out of their busy lives to participate in one of the most memorable sporting events.

Wouldn't it be a fiendish delight if the organizers were to, as a supreme gesture of magnanimity, recommend us as volunteers for the Brazil 2016 Olympic opening ceremony… now that's a thought. Perhaps with my dance background, I would be able to put in that extra bit to learn samba... anyway, let me simply visualize it and feel happy in the interim period.

Seema Menon works as the Head of Sales, UK and Europe, Sony Entertainment Network. She loves Bharatanatyam and finds time to engage in this dance form amidst her busy work-family schedule.

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