1952: It was a decked up Karad (in western Maharashtra) that welcomed its glorious son with a 151-bullock cart procession. The adulation would have warmed Khashaba Jadhav’s heart but beyond the exultation there was very little the bantamweight wrestling bronze he won at Helsinki brought with it.
For one who was turned away from every door he knocked in his bid to fund the journey to the Olympics, a bitter Jhadhav accepted his fate and went on to spend the rest of his life as an underpaid policeman till a motorcycle accident ended it all in 1984.
If the will to lend support to Jadhav was not forthcoming, neither was the means. The leaders of fledgling India felt nation-building required their urgent attention than efforts to foster a sporting culture.
July 1999: A visit to an akhara here brought forth the state of affairs. With the monsoon letting loose its fury, the mud pit had been rendered unusable. In the absence of a drainage system, the rooms of the wrestlers were in knee-deep water.
Struggling to make ends meet through the pittance won in local dangals, one of the inhabitants, Ashok Kumar, who also happened to be an Arjuna Award winner, remarked: “This is the tale every year. The conditions here are bad and the rains make them worse.”
August 2008: Amidst the euphoria were some sombre moments. Clutching his newly-acquired bronze, a visibly tired Sushil Kumar, unmoved by the “lack of expectation back home from his ilk”, was keen to drive home just one point. “Give us better conditions and we'll deliver even more.”
Down the ages, efforts to change the pitiable conditions may not have made much headway, but an emerging nation, starved of sporting success, has ensured Sushil’s feat will not go unsung. The feeling may still be sinking in but the rewards are already pouring in. The CM, Sheila Dixit, announced Rs 50 lakh for “Delhi’s new icon” while the sports minister, MS Gill, declared a reward of Rs 20 lakh. Already reports of rewards of Rs 55 lakh over and above what Dixit and Gill promised have come in and we are still counting. It will be a while before the cash registers stop ringing. And maybe even Jadhav’s son Ranjit’s hope that it could turn the family’s fortunes around will ring true.