The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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ARJUNA AWARDEES By K.R. Wadhwaney, Publications Division, Rs 180

Written by India’s most prolific writer on sports, this book reveals K.R. Wadhwaney’s vast knowledge and familiarity with the sporting greats of India. From news reports and his own experience of nearly 50 years in journalism, Wadhwaney has collected data on 36 disciplines and about 600 sportspersons who have received the award since 1961.

The author does not harp on the surprise omission of some famous names like Inam-ur-Rehman (hockey), Zeeshan Ali (tennis) or Parminder Singh, Krishanu Dey and Shabbir Ali (football) from the Arjuna award list. Instead he gives biographical sketches of the award winners from 1961 to 2001 in which he points to controversies which have marred Indian sports. These little nuggets of information or hidden histories are what embellishes the narrative. While talking about the hockey Olympian Gurbux Singh, Wadhwaney talks about how this Bengal-based player’s witty repartee and jokes eased the tension before a match.

The background information on players also helps a better understanding of them. Wadhwaney says the eight-times table tennis national champion, Kamlesh Mehta, did not pay much attention to physical fitness in the early stages of his career. His attitude changed after being made to work out rigorously by a North Korean coach. Kamlesh realized that fitness improved his concentration and his game. Sample the fare. Vijay and Anand Amritraj were keen on playing marbles and flying kites before they took to tennis. Yusuf Khan was not informed about his father’s death as his mother felt that it would distract him before the vital match against South Korea in the Asia Cup football tournament in 1964. India won that match.

Quotations also add to the narrative. P.T. Usha’s agony at missing the 400 metres bronze medal by one-hundredth of a second in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics is quite evident when she says, “I still remember the race as if it happened yesterday and the finish always haunts me.”

The profiles are not all of equal length. Those for some awardees for badminton, kabaddi, kho-kho, roller skating, power lifting and some other games are a list of achievements. The sketches for the major sports like hockey, cricket, tennis and some others are more elaborate.

Some proofreading errors are glaring. For instance, it is written that Chuni Goswami and Tulsidas Balaram were born on April 6, 1953. Yet both played in the 1960 Rome Olympics. More attention should have been played to the details.

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