TODAY’S INSPIRATIONAL STORY MURLIKANT PETKAR – Col Chamola’s Doon Academy (Courtesy India Wants to Know Quiz on Twitter). The man on the right is, of course, cricketer Rahul Dravid. But who is the elderly gentleman on the right that he is respectfully bowing to, to felicitate him? To know this, we have to go back to 1959 to Islampur, a small village in the Sangli district in Maharashtra. A 12-year-old boy is asked to take on the pampered son of the arrogant village henchman in a wrestling contest.
TODAY’S INSPIRATIONAL STORY MURLIKANT PETKAR
In an upset, the 12-year-old boy is victorious. His reward? Death threats from villagers who treat this as an assault on the village henchman. Fearing for himself and his family, the boy takes the princely sum of Rs 12 he won as a prize from the fight, hops onto a goods train, and reaches Pune. His parents have no idea where he is (No mobile phones or GPS, remember?).
He joins the Indian Army in Pune and soon becomes an accomplished boxer. He is one of India’s rising stars when, in 1965, he is sent to the Kashmir frontlines to face the Pakistani army. He is caught in a firefight and is hit with seven bullets (in the skull, the spine, and the thigh). He loses his memory as well. Fighting for his life back in the army hospital, the 18-year-old falls from his bed and, in a very filmy way, regains his memory.
By this time, his family has found him, but seeing that he is going to be bedridden for the rest of his life, they refuse to take him home. Dejected beyond words, our teenager decides to die by suicide. While he is waiting for an opportune moment, he wagers some money with the hospital attendant to play a game of table tennis. He wins the game and some money. For the time being, he decides not to kill himself.
A few weeks later, after battling all odds, he checks himself out of the hospital and continues to play competitive sport, including table tennis and swimming (he could not box anymore), where he is fairly successful. By this time, the great Indian cricketer Vijay Merchant hears of him, and decides to sponsor his training.
He does so well that he is chosen to represent India in table tennis and swimming for the 1968 Paralympics. He clears the first round of table tennis but does not go further. He comes back to India and starts working for TELCO as a mechanical engineer, even while playing sports. He is again chosen for the 1972 Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany not only for swimming and table tennis but also for javelin throw and precision javelin. Now a big name in para-sports, this man wins the 50 meters freestyle swimming gold with a world record. He goes on to win three more medals at Heidelberg. This is possibly India’s ONLY swimming world record, and definitely India’s first Paralympics individual gold medal.
It is this man that Rahul Dravid was felicitating in 2014 at the release function of badminton player Sanjay Sharma’s book on Indian athletes who overcame disabilities. His name is MURLIKANT PETKAR. He turned 74 on November 1, 2021. In 2018, Petkar was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, the same year that Mahendra Singh Dhoni won a Padma Bhushan.