In 1947 a friend’s sacrifice went in vain; an Indian failed to win the All England Badminton title

Whenever we mention the name of Prakash and badminton, we always think of Prakash Padukone. This is the story of another Prakash who almost became India’s first All England champion. Prakash Nath was born in Lahore and grew up before independence. He became India’s best badminton player of his time and took part in the All England championship in 1947.

His boyhood friend Devinder Mohan was also in the fray. It so happened that Prakash and Devinder came up against each other in the quarter finals. Not wanting to tire each other out in a hard fight they decided that one of them would pull out leaving the other fresh to go into the semifinals. All the two friends wanted was that an Indian player should eventually become the champion. It didn’t matter which of them it was. So they tossed a coin.

Devinder lost the toss and gave a walk over to Prakash wishing his friend best of luck.

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The British media made it a big issue. This sacrifice by a friend for a fellow Indian hit the headlines of all the national dailies in the UK. It had never been done before. In the cut throat world of professional sports, nobody had ever given a walk over to anyone else, even a friend. The two friends however, made light of the matter. Luck had favoured Prakash Nath so Mohan just gave way and conveyed his best wishes to his friend.

In the semifinals Prakash defeated an English player by the name of Redford and entered the final in grand style. He had earlier defeated the defending champion Tage Madsen of Denmark and so it was widely expected that Prakash would win the final. He was to play against another Danish player Conny Jepsen and Prakash was confident of winning.

But fate had other plans for Prakash. On the morning of the match, Prakash glanced through the newspapers and read the screaming headlines “Lahore in Flames” . Communal riots had broken out in Lahore. The areas most affected were his own neighbourhood, namely Nesbit Road, Abbott Road and Gawal Mandi. Many houses had been destroyed by rampaging mobs and many people had lost their lives.

Prakash was distraught. What was happening to his own family? Were they safe? Would he see his parents and siblings and their children again? What about their house? Had it been destroyed? These disturbing thoughts prevented him from keeping his mind on badminton. Nobody under these circumstances could have concentrated on his task. Let alone defeat a world ranked opponent. So Prakash lost tamely to a rival whom he could have beaten easily.

Had he won, he would have gained as much fame and fortune as Prakash Padukone did many years later. And also Pulella Gopichand several years later. As it was, Prakash Nath disappeared from the pages of history and was forgotten. Not many Indians have heard about his story and his close brush with fame.
After returning to India he was caught up in the turmoil around his locality. His house had been burnt down but the family members were safe.

“I almost lost my life on several occasions during those dreadful days, and they gave me nightmares for years thereafter. Badminton went far away from my mind; my priority became my own survival. I vowed not to touch a badminton racket again until my thriving family business had been rejuvenated,” said Prakash in an interview later.
And he stood firm to his vow.

Thereafter he devoted his time to develop a business of electronic machine tools in Mumbai. But he did not play any sport again. He led a reclusive, retired life, watching sports on television, and playing golf. He kept himself far away from the badminton courts which he had graced with so much excellence in the pre-1947 days. He passed away peacefully in 2009.

It is sad to think that circumstances forced Prakash Nath to give up badminton at a young age. He could have become the world’s leading player of his times and could have achieved much fame and fortune. There is no way of knowing what more he might have accomplished with his tremendous talent had the communal riots not happened that very day.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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