Monday, October 11, 2010

The Religion of Sports (true story)

A young 18 yr. old boy from Tamilnadu was training at the National Institute of Sports (now NSNIS), Patiala in Punjab. His record of 23ft. 6inches in long jump had won him an entry in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics to represent India. His joy knew no bounds. He was a long way from home and wanted to make every day count. He had also earned himself the title of 'Golden Boy of High Jump' by becoming the first person to cross the 6 feet mark in India.

His friend, an ace athlete, Ivan Jacob from Kerala who had already represented the country in 1948 London & 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics was someone he looked up to with great reverence.

"Come let's go and participate in the Quadrangle Sports meet in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) this year. It will be like a good practice session before the Olympics. You can be the first leg of the 400mtrs relay", said Ivan.

The young boy agreed.

He didn't know anyone in Ceylon, so he depended on his pen friends for accommodation. There were no flights. He reached Rameshwaram and undertook the two hour Ship journey to Talaimannar across the Palk Bay. He reached Talaimannar (Sri Lanka now) at 6:30 in the evening and without wasting any time, took the overnight train to Colombo.

He knocked on the doors of his pen friend Lalita Dharmavardane's house in Kalutara, 30 kms south of Colombo. A six feet tall man with an imposing bearing greeted him, instead of his young friend. He was Lalita's father. This was to be the young man's place of residence through the duration of the games.

High Jump was his forte. He always did a Western roll. This time he jumped high, very high....but instead of landing on his back, he landed on his knees. He landed and just could not get up. This one jump cost him his entire golden athletic career that lay ahead. He was diagnosed with Synovitis, an extensively painful condition of the knee.

The Indian team came back from Ceylon. But he had to stay put for the treatment. Homesick and totally shattered, he just wanted to get back at the earliest. Almost a month long medical care made it possible for him to travel home. For next one year he couldn't even think of being associated with any sport. Olympics remained a dream. It was so close, yet so far. He went to Mumbai and enrolled in Bhavan's college to study further. The only reason he chose Bhavan's college was because it was run by K.M. Munshi and it had a periodic journal that impressed him a lot. After his M.A. he joined Indian Airlines. There was no time to sit and mourn. He was the eldest of the 9 siblings. Seven boys and 2 girls. He had to get a job.

In 1962 the whole of India was taken by surprise with the Chinese aggression. The attack struck like a bolt and hit not just the borders but national pride too. Young men were asked to get enlisted and fight for the country. How could he be far behind? He joined the Indian Army, underwent training and was commissioned as an officer on 5th October 1963. His spate of bad luck didn't leave him there. He was soon diagnosed with jaundice & diabetes which stalled all his future promotions and he retired as a Major. This is how Major Sripathi Rao Beedu became a part of the Indian defense forces.

I met him last year in Coimbatore where he lives with his wife. My husband was one of the doctors treating him during his battle with gangrene and the subsequent amputation of his right leg. An Armyman to the core, this veteran swears by Defense hospitals and will not get admitted in any (despite available reimbursements) but a Military one.

When we got posted out of Coimbatore to Delhi, Maj Beedu said, "I will be coming to Delhi to see the Commonwealth Games next year". We assumed it to be an old man's way of telling us that he wished to keep in touch. We knew he'd be here but we didn't know how and when. We hardly knew anything about him, but for the fact that his wife was a professor and two sons were doing extremely well.

He called us a week back. He is here to see the 2010 Commonwealth Games. We thought he had 'connections' and must be having passes. We asked him if he knew somebody on the committee. He said "No". We asked if someone he knew was a part of any team? He said "No, I told you I am coming to see the Games, so here I am".

 He had checked himself into a small hotel in Karol Bagh and also hired a car for the duration of his stay. He doesn't like depending on anyone. He wanted to meet us for dinner. He came home the night before last. He told us the above story of his life, over rice-stew and payasam.

"Little more Payasam", I asked.
"I like it very much Madam but thank you, I am full", said he.

He insists on calling my husband 'Sir' and me 'Mam' even though we are so much younger than him. He says, "One has to respect the ranks". I am humbled beyond words.

He is not interested in the opening or closing ceremony but has bought tickets for the rest of the days and games. Rs. 750/- for the morning sessions and Rs. 1000/- for the evening ones. He goes everyday, all by himself and watches as many matches, athletic competitions etc. as he can. Bracing an artificial limb, he walks with the help of a walking stick and has enthusiasm levels of a child. His views on the Organising Comittie and Mr. Kalmadi are just like so many of us but that has not stopped him from enjoying the games. He looks all around, asks about everything, discusses sports and never tires of telling us how beautiful life is. Dismal athletics performance by Indian athletes saddens him a bit but he is a hopeful man. He is headed back to Coimbatore on the 12th. Promises to stay with us the next time he comes to Delhi, in February,

Now his only big wish is to attend the 2012 London Olympics. He smiled and confessed excitedly, "My wife and son are sponsoring me and I will start saving for it from my pension too, when I get back to Coimbatore".

(Extremely thankful to him for sharing this inspiring story of his life with us and allowing us to share it with our friends and others. We wish him all the very best.)
Maj. Beedu & his doctor

Major Beedu
       

17 comments:

  1. :'( What do I say Vandu? We have so much to learn! Thanks a ton Vandu for sharing this with us....you have told his story with such a pride and I feel the same! :)

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  2. Yes Anagha there is so much to learn. I have come to realise that only when you live a life full of pride and self respect, can you live to tell a life-story that will inspire others.

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  3. Like the way you tell the story darling!

    Love Ewa

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  4. You have a way with words that makes this story so alive. Thank you Vandana.

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  5. Thanks Anders....I like telling stories. Positive and inspiring ones are the need of the hour. Thanks for the read :)

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  6. India's brilliant performance in the track & field evelts yesterday must have made him so happy and proud :)

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  7. Vandana, This one is really very inspiring story. I don't know how I missed it... I follow your blog very often

    Well, my salute to Major Beedu and hugs for you, for sharing it

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  8. i guessed as much....glad u could read it before u push off to chiplun :) wish u a very happy married life!!!

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  9. Nicely written. My uncle was in the Navy and was a very good footballer. He retired from the Navy when he got a job on the sports quota with a company that had a good football team.After he retired he had some treatment on his foot which rendered him incapable of playing football! He never got that job in the private sector. He persevered,joined the Government and retired as a Gazetted Officer. Yes all around you there are tales of heroism and grit! VN

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  10. incredible tales of courage that are such motivating factors!

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  11. Ghana Sir is Looking good.

    Thanks for blogging
    Sreenivasa

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  12. Have conveyed the compliment to him :) he says 'Hi' too.

    Thanks for visiting the blog.

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  13. Thanks for reply. My Wife said hi to you and appreciates your writing style very much.

    Sreenivasa

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  14. Thanks :) hope to meet up with you both sometime soon.

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  15. If this story is a RAIN'DROP' then if you both open up your pandora box how many such inspiring stories may come out which many like me would never come to know unless incredible like you authors them from time to time for the benefit of society at large especially young generation.Keep it up DOCTOR & VANDANA, hats off to you both.

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  16. thank you...it is sheer luck and honour that we met him. You can read more such inspiring stories under the 'true stories' label on the blog.

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