NEW DELHI -- Madhura K. Nagendra, the mystery “lady in red” who sparked anger and wounded pride among many Indians when she appeared alongside athletes at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics last month, said she’s tried to tune out all the hateful responses and doesn’t think the 15 minutes of fame will help her dance career or future professional life.
“It’s all over and done, I’m just trying to concentrate on my work,” she said by telephone from Bangalore on Friday. “I’m an introvert. I don’t even think in dance it would help my career. Maybe if I were going for mainstream movies, it might, but I don’t think so.”
Nagendra kicked up a dust storm when, initially unidentified, she appeared in a red track top and blue trousers at the head of the 40-athlete Indian contingent beside flag-bearer and wrestler Sushil Kumar. Indian officials jumped on the London organizers for security lapses, as others fumed that India was insulted in its moment of glory.
"The Indian contingent was shown for hardly 10 seconds in the TV coverage,” India’s acting Olympic delegation head, P. K. Muralidharan Raja, told the Press Trust of India news service, “and the entire focus sadly was on this lady, instead of the athletes."
Social media went viral, slamming her as a potential terrorist, gate-crasher, attention seeker. “Mystery woman stirs trouble,” blared one Indian TV headline. “India clueless,” said another, as websites sprung up showing doctored images of her gate crashing the moon landing, the birth of India in 1947 and President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. Social critics ventured that her actions epitomized a sense of entitlement among young affluent Indians.
After a bit of poking around, Olympic officials confirmed she had Games credentials and was vetted as part of the opening ceremony dance cast. “She was slightly overexcited," Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, told the media.
Nagendra, whose Facebook page (now deactivated) describes her as "a very bouncy, lively, cheerful, confident, talented and amiable juvenile lass," declined to speak about how she happened to wander into the delegation or what exactly she was thinking, adding that she had said enough. But in earlier comments to India’s NDTV network she said things were a bit chaotic that night, the lights were bright and she was blinded, leading to her getting swept along by mistake.
She was initially all but oblivious to the storm brewing in India over her appearance, she said, since it wasn’t a big deal in London.
“I learned when my folks called and told me how much hype there was in India, with people saying this and that,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned, the media is immensely powerful.”
Speaking with reporters on her return last week to India, she apologized, terming her appearance an error of judgment and expressing regret that she “hurt the sentiments of my people.”
Although India is the world’s second-most populous nation with some 1.2 billion people, it hasn’t done well in the Olympics with its one silver and three bronze medals, placing it alongside Slovakia and Armenia.
“With India's medals being few and far between, Madhura has made a case for gate-crashing to be included as an event in future Olympics,” quipped the Economic Times newspaper, while a viral text-message during India’s badminton matches with China suggested that Nagendra be dispatched to distract the opposing team.
Nagendra said it has been pretty difficult living through it all, but adds that she is strong and moving on. And while most of the outcry was negative, she has garnered a few supporters through it all.
“Lighten up, India,” said Twitter user CapitanoRay. “Love the nerve of Olympic 'gate-crasher' Madhura Nagendra,” added Twitter user Putajumperon. “Don't think she owes anyone an apology.”
Photo: Indian flag-bearer and wrestler Sushil Kumar looks over at "mystery woman" Madhura K. Nagendra in red during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games last month. Credit: Jonathan Brady / European Pressphoto Agency.