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The good boy of badminton

KALYAN ASHOK
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SPORT Prakash Padukone looks back on his life with satisfaction

A TRUE SPORTPrakash PadukonePHOTO: K . Bhagya Prakash
A TRUE SPORTPrakash PadukonePHOTO: K . Bhagya Prakash

He was once named among the 60 greatest Indians and that is no exaggeration. Prakash Padukone, who put India on the world badminton map with a string of sterling deeds as a player and later as a coach and administrator, is indeed a living legend. The former All England champion, now 57, the only Indian who rose to World No. 1 in his prime, is an affable, self-effacing gentleman who stays focused on his Padukone Badminton Academy, established in 1994 in Bangalore. The academy has produced a growing tribe of champions, including P. Gopichand, Aparna Popat, Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat, Trupti Murgunde, Aditi Mutatkar, Sayali Gokhale and Ashwini Ponnappa.

The maestro hung up his racket in 1989, when he was on top. “Having achieved all that I could in the game, I felt it was time to quit and enjoy other aspects of life,” he says. A biography of Padukone, Touch Play , hit the stands in 2006. When he is not attending to work in his academy, Padukone relaxes with music. “I listen to Hindustani classical and Hindi film songs and I often go to plays — that’s a great form of relaxation for me.”

What about movies? Did he ever think daughter Deepika would make it big in Bollywood? “She was a very good model and when she wanted to get into films, neither myself nor my wife Ujjala stood in her way. We always let our children follow their passion, just as my dad (late Ramesh Padukone) did for me. When I wanted to become a badminton player, which certainly had no future in 1960s and 1970s, papa told me to go ahead and give it a shot. I followed his principle and told Deepika, you can follow your dream, but work hard for it, then only success would come.”

He recalls watching her on screen for the first time. “Shah Rukh Khan invited us to the London premiere of Om Shanti Om . I was nervous, wondering how Deepika had fared. But the movie was fabulous and she was just great. Imagine, acting without formal training, or without having a filmi background. We were overwhelmed by the reception she got and I knew she had made it.” His second daughter, Anisha, is an avid golfer who wants to make a mark in women’s pro golf. “Padukone looks back on his life with satisfaction. “At this stage of life, I get to spend more time with my family.” There is, however, one wish he nurses. “Saina got us a bronze at the Olympics and I hope soon an Indian player wins the gold at the Olympics, and if it is from my academy, it would be the icing on the cake.”

KALYAN ASHOK

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