I would admit that I am not a big fan of today's Bollywood. I hardly see the new Bollywood movies. I am kind of an old school and still stuck with the films from 50s and 60s. So usually, I see selected new releases only after a lot of recommendations from my friend circle. This past weekend, after repeated urges from a good friend of mine, I happened to see Paan Singh Tomar. Since I like Irfan Khan as an actor, it further persuaded me to see it. And I can say that I was not disappointed. First of all, I congratulate the director for being bold enough to make a film on such a topic. It was not just the theme of the movie which struck a chord with me but it was also well made. The rawness with which the movie was made won over my critique. And once again, Irfan Khan delivered the goods.
I liked the movie more because I could relate to it like very few would have done. My father "was" an athlete. And not just any regular athlete but an athlete who at the peak of his career, came second in India in 100 m sprint. I still have a cutting from a b/w newspaper of him in a photo finish. He had won so many competitions in his heydays that my grandmother had to collect the cups he used to win in baskets; I mean literally baskets of cups. Since there used to be less place in the house to accommodate all cups, there was no other choice. Same was the case with shields, medals and the certificates. There were just too many of them. I still remember that there was a special store room in our house where all of them were kept. But one fine day, my father cleared that room by giving away all his prized possessions to a random kabadiwala (scrap collector) roaming in our locality, for pennies.
Let me start from the beginning. My father comes from a very modest and humble family background. He had always excelled in sports as a kid. As he grew, he was groomed and trained by his coach to compete in national championships. He did pretty well as per the times with limited facilities back then in the late 60s, early 70s. He told me once how tough it was for the athletes of his time to adapt to spiked shoes since for a long time Indian athletes used to run with bare feet [REF.]. My father also used to play football for clubs. He used to tell me how back then, football was treated with a lot of more respect than now. Now, to be an athlete is no child's play. One needs a lot of dedication, strict discipline, lots of training and a rigorous diet. Speaking of diet, the incident relating to Paan Singh changing his department for the sake of better eating facilities reminded me of my grandmother. She used to tell me sometimes how my father used to 'drink' desi ghee (white butter). I never used to believe her since my dad always looked too skinny in the old pictures I had seen of him. From here, one can calculate the magnitude of diet in olden times, especially for athletes.
So, all along his school and college life, my father kept winning competitions. Finally, he found a good coach for himself who groomed him well to win national competitions. He has a lot of respect for that man even till today. Eventually, my father came second in India. But unfortunately, at the peak of his athletic career, my father got a medical condition. The bone in his ankle started to grow more than usual. He could still run but was rejected from international competitions. Things with his leg deteriorated further and one day he was asked by his doctor not to run for his own sake. It broke his heart. Suddenly, his hopes for competing and winning for India went up in flames. Running was his life. But, it was kind of a dead end for him. There was no plan B that he had thought of before. He tried getting some help from the government but there were no special provisions back then for national athletes. There are hardly any even till today. It further dampened his spirits.
Now, people who dedicate their lives to sports usually do not give special attention to academics. He was no exception and was an average student. But after all that happened, he had to start afresh. He pulled up and kept his head high. He started concentrating more towards studies. After successfully completing his graduation and he was then employed by a company for whom he continued playing football as part time. With marriage and kids, his responsibilities grew further but he kept managing them well. We had all the necessities but life was never lavish. But my parents made sure that their kids get the best possible education. I remember while changing school in grade 6, my family went through a tough time. They wanted me to study in the best school in town. Now, it was pretty hard to get into it even if one had good grades and it was an expensive place to study. One needed good contacts and/or money to get through in addition to grades. I had good grades in my previous schools, but my parents did not had high contacts or money for donations. Still, both of them tried hard, really hard to get me through. They tried everything from getting recommendations from teachers of my previous school to meeting people who could refer my case to the new school. Finally, their efforts did not go in vain and I got admission in that school. I wonder sometimes when I think about how our parents sometimes go to strange lengths for their kids. I mean my parents could have spent money on themselves and could have had a good time going on vacation twice a year. My father could have bought and maintained a car instead of driving a Bajaj Chetak for 20 years of his life. But no, they wanted their kids to get the best education possible instead. They sacrificed for their kids by providing them the best. I have always wondered why, but never got the answer. Maybe when I have kids myself, then I might also understand.
I have always been interested in sports. Long before even knowing about my father's past. I think it was in the genes. I used to play football and basketball at school and towards my last couple of years in school, it was all basketball. Our school team won the championship for the best team in our state. I continued playing basketball for my college at various competitions during my graduation studies. But, I was never encouraged to play. My father never coached me or gave me any tips. I was always asked to concentrate on studies. Maybe deep down, I knew the reason but never accepted it. The movie reminded me of the pathetic state of sportsman in India even till this date. My father experienced it on himself. And me and my family are the witnesses.
Though my father is sentimental at heart, I have seldom seen him crying. In fact the only time I think I have seen him cry was at my grandfather’s funeral and then once again when his coach died. I still remember that evening when my father came home from work, sat on his chair and started sobbing. My mother got anxious and asked him the reason. He told that his coach is no more. A person whom he cherished all his life and was second to his father was dead. The coach of once a national athlete was dead and no one cared. He kept saying, that he deserved better because he did not die a peaceful death. He was dead broke with no work, living with his wife in a one room half broken apartment; his kids had also deserted him. My father used to take me to his place every Diwali when I was a kid but his situation was so bad that he asked my father once not to bring me with him. The names and conditions of other famous sports people rolled out at the end of the movie took me to the same apartment of my father’s coach. It was that day when my father told me never to take sports professionally in India. The next day he cleared his room which was once full with cups, shields and medals.
Since I keep my blog anonymous, I don't think my dad will ever be reading this but I would like to dedicate this post to him. This one is for you, dad!