In 1970, wrestler Ved Prakash spent a lot of time in the akhara. He also spent a lot of time meeting with, and getting photographed with, ministers, presidents, and even Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was, and by all accounts still remains, the youngest wrestler to have won a Commonwealth Games gold. At the 1970 Edinburgh Games, India won a total of 12 medals. Of the 12, nine were won by wrestlers, including golds for Ved Prakash, Sudesh Kumar, Udey Chand, Mukhtiar Singh and Harish Rajindra. At the time, Ved Prakash, a disciple of the legendary pahalwan, Guru Hanuman, was, according to some, just 12.
Other teams objected, saying that he was underage, and therefore should be disqualified. “We had to produce my passport, my FILA wrestling permit, and even a statement from my parents, before I was allowed to compete. They knew I was unbeatable in my category,” a proud Ved Prakash told HT.
He then pulls out two thick volumes of newspaper clippings, one from his wrestling days, the other when he started coaching. He has been in the sports pages of every major newspaper in the country, and many abroad. The photographs could find a place in the who’s who of Indian politics.
His son Aman, built like a wrestler, proudly shows us the medals his father won all those years ago. But there is a sense of sadness and lack of appreciation that is very apparent. “People who know nothing about the sport are getting awards and running the show. My father has an impeccable record as a player and a coach. He has trained at least nine Olympians and conducted many international camps. But now, it is all politics,” Aman says.
Prakash echoes his son’s thoughts. “Despite all the years I have put into coaching, I have received recognition only abroad. In India, it’s all about the money. I met a politician some time ago who told me, “ab zamaana badal gaya hai. Aap 5 lakh table par rakh dein, Dronachary award mil jayega (Times have changed. Give me Rs 5 lakh and I will make sure you get a Dronacharya award).”
Aman took up the sport as well, but after two years, and on the verge of his first National, he decided he didn’t want to be a part of the selection politics. He is now doing an MBA.
Prakash isn’t looking for money. His grouse is more intangible, and therefore much more heartfelt. “My complaint is not against any individual, or the government. It is not even a complaint -- just a sense of sadness. We did great things in our time, and were treated like Gods. Today, this country doesn’t care. We are forgotten heroes.”
It is the story of countless Indian athletes from the past, who did great things, but then came back to a life of apathy. All they really want is to live their lives with dignity, respect, and some appreciation.