None In A Billion

No one is sure how many people live in India. Mention you're headed that way and you'll hear something like, "Wow, India. There's like a billion people there, right?" You nod; sounds right. The Indians you meet once you're there aren't any more exact. A guy at the crazy soccer match in Calcutta says, "800 million, max"; another guy at the camel races in Rajasthan says, "a billion flat, give or take a few hundred million." Sounds reasonable, until you consider that there aren't very many places on the planet where you can give or take a few hundred million people. The United States, give or take a few hundred million, is either empty or twice as crowded.

But that's India, a place where numbers, and most everything else, can make your head spin. From 20 million or so temples to 3 million or so Hindu gods; from hundreds of millions of desperate poor people to hundreds of thousands of free-ranging cows; whatever you count, big numbers abound. But there are much smaller numbers, more precise and no less bewildering, especially to sports fans. Olympic medals won by India: 16. Medals won at the 2000 Games: 1 (bronze, women's weightlifting). And here's a round number for you: Indian athletes most Americans could name on Jeopardy! if the category were Indian Athletes You've Heard of Even Once: 0.

A billion people, and one bronze medal? A billion people, and no Indian center in the NBA? Clearly, if George Steinbrenner owned India, the pitching coach would have been fired decades ago, not to mention several prime ministers. Which begs a question: Does the second-most populous nation on earth play anything well? Because if Asia is NEXT, you have to wonder what's next for India.