The Great Indian Badminton Revolution

India is a great nation with a great history. A history of struggle, pride, valour, courage and unbelievable devotion to the country. Our first and my favourite story of an Indian Revolution is the “Revolt of 1857″. The Britishers came to India as the East India company in 1612 and slowly and steadily colonised the whole of India. In the March of 1857 one man named Mangal Pandey decided that he had enough of the Britishers and started a revolution that almost shook the Britishers to the core. The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858. It also led the British to reorganise the army, the financial system and the administration in India.

The word revolution literally means ” a forcible overthrow of social order”. A revolution is started by an act of one person and has a rippling effect on hundreds of people which leads to creating history and changing the social order for good. One of the most recent revolutions in the country was started by one woman who changed the history of a game forever and made India a force to reckon with. She challenged the social order of the Badminton world. That woman was Saina Nehwal. For me the great Indian revolution of today is that which is happening in the world of Badminton.

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Saina Nehwal is the Face of this revolution. Saina with the Olympic Bronze.

A revolution isn’t really the product of one day. It takes years and years of work, a vision and an undying will to change things. In my opinion following  are certain major factors that led to the Indian Badminton Revolution.

PARENTS AND COACHES

All the top players today come from very middle-class and non-athlete backgrounds. Before I mention any of other factors it is crucial that I mention the parents and the coaches that were present way before the professional academies. It takes guts to choose sports as a career in a country like India. The country that is crazy about cricket and does not exactly have a sports culture. Badminton is a very tough sport. The rackets,the shuttles, the travel and the coaching is all very expensive. Most of the parents whose kids are stars today had to take loans, work double shifts, or sometimes leave their jobs to invest full time in their kids careers. The first step of any revolution is the foundation stone and for Badminton it is the parents and the coaches. Coaches like Tom John in Bangalore,  Arif Sir and Govardhan Sir in Hyderabad, Santosh Kshatriya in Mumbai, Vasant Gore and Hemant Hardikar in Pune, and so many more unsung heroes that are still coaching and training players all over the country. They just can’t be forgotten.

 PRAKASH PADUKONE ACADEMY

Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, was launched on October 1st, 1994. Located in Bangalore, the Academy is the brainchild of Mr. Prakash Padukone, Mr. Vimal Kumar and Mr. Vivek Kumar all stalwarts of Indian Badminton. Prakash Padukone is a living legend. Vimal Kumar is himself an Olympian and also currently the coach of Saina Nehwal. Nobody who knows Indian Badminton can deny the contribution of this academy in the making of todays Badminton scene. Everyone from Pullela Gopichand to Aparna Popat to todays junior champion is a product or has trained in this academy. I too was a trainee of this academy first in Pune and then I moved to Bangalore. The great thing about this academy is that you can only be satisfied if you become a World Champion. We always had Prakash Sir around who had set the bar so high, that a good performance in a national event was only considered a beginning and not the end. The academy’s contribution to the game is beyond words. It was and will always be the first and one of the best IIM’s of the Badminton world. It laid the foundation of International Badminton in India with a vision of making World Champions and not just National champions.

 PULLELA GOPICHAND ACADEMY

Gopichand Academy was started in Hyderabad by Pullela Gopichand who won the All England in 2001. His dedication and devotion to the sport both as a player and a coach is truly commendable. Though I never trained under him I had some great opportunities to train with him for short stints as a member of the Indian team. We would have our camps in his academy. Gopichand would be on the court from 4 am in the morning till about 6 in the evening. His work ethic is second to none of the best coaches in the world. Saina Nehwal is a product of his academy. To his credit he didn’t just stop and rest on Saina’s success. He wanted to raise an army of players and he did. Today after Saina, we have Sindhu at 13 in the world rankings. In the Mens singles we have Srikanth Kidambi at 5 and Parupalli Kashyap, H.S.Prannoy, Sai Praneeth all of them in the top 50 of the world. All of these players are a product of his academy.

 SAINA NEHWAL

The foundation of greatness was led by Nandu Natekar, Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand. For me personally though, Saina did start the Badminton revolution in this country. I was her room-mate and the part of the cheering squad when Saina won her first Grand Prix title in Philippines. She won the tournament being unseeded and beating the world no 2 at that time. That match changed everything not only for her but all the players watching her in India. She was fearless, ruthless, brave and just so strong in that final. We all knew we were witnessing something historic and were privileged to be a part of it. For a very brief period in the juniors and the early years in the seniors, Saina and I played some great finals in the national tournaments. We were always shuffling between being 1 and 2.  Though I could match her national record of being national champion in all the categories in the circuit I could hardly come close to her International achievements. Saying this I had the privilege of watching her train and play some incredible matches and win them.

Saina changed the face of Indian Badminton for various reasons. She showed us that beating the Chinese doesn’t have to be a one-off thing. You could be world number 1 training in your own backyard. You didn’t need a Chinese coach or need to use the infrastructure available  in Malaysia. You could train in India and achieve your dreams. She showed us that there was no excuse good enough to not be the best player in the world. Her commitment, her hunger, her consistency and her pure passion for success truly had a great effect on our entire generation. I myself saw a change in my performance and was able to play two Grand Prix finals and reach no 27 in the world in the year 2008. Great things always have a rippling effect on everybody around them. It was just very difficult to not be inspired.

 JWALA GUTTA AND ASHWINI PONNAPPA

It would be unfair to talk about the Badminton revolution without mentioning this great pair. They showed India that India could do well in doubles too. The pair has some amazing results and some great “First Ever” achievements to their credit. As a pair they have a World Championship bronze medal and multiple Commonwealth medals to their credit. Ashwini has one of the hardest smashes in the whole of the International women circuit. On a good day they could easily be one of the best doubles pair in the world. They are our best chance to an Olympic medal in doubles.

 THE CURRENT INDIAN TEAM

Today Indian Badminton is at its best shape ever. Almost every week there is some news about a great victory or an Indian reaching the finals of a Super Series event. Ajay Jayaram who trains under Tom John played a Super Series final recently in Korea. He followed it up with a win in the Dutch Open Grand Prix. Parupalli Kashyap is a multiple Commonwealth medalist and also had great showings in the Olympics and the World Championships with quarterfinal finishes. Srikanth Kidambi’s China Open win this year beating the legend Lin Dan in the final was epic. H.S.Prannoy has had some great wins lately beating  Lin Dan in the recently concluded French Open. P.V.Sindhu already has two World Championships medals and her recent form in the Denmark Open only raised my hopes of us certainly  winning not just one but two medals in the next Olympics, in the women’s singles. Manu Atri and Sumeeth Reddy have featured in a couple of Grand Prix finals and won some International challenger events. All of them feature in the top 30 bracket in the world rankings.  Every player mentioned here has the potential of being a World Champion and the cherry on the top is most of them are young and have a good five to ten years to go.

Yes! The great Indian revolution of today is Badminton. This army of warriors is already taking on the world. The recent news headlines are filled with stories that disappoint and scare us. Every country needs heroes and something positive to hold on to. That hero today is the game I had the privilege to play. That hero is Badminton. The great Indian Badminton revolution is here. Be a part of it, witness it, acknowledge it and be inspired.

The Deportees

The image of Alyan Kurdi lying face down on the shores of Turkey haunted me for a very long time. The horror the only survivor of the Kurdi family- the father, must have gone through to see his family drown right in front of him is beyond my imagination. The refugee and immigrant crisis is complicated in so many ways. There is no one solution to it. Humanity is at stake and it is being tested today more than it was ever before. Im hoping and praying that humanity and peace triumph.  The story that I am going to tell today is about 28 immigrants from Mexico who died in a plane crash in 1948, but unlike Alyan they died without an identity and without being given the dignity of their names till Tim Hernandez decided to do the right thing- give these 28 immigrants their identities.

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The Bracero Act- Mexican men registering before they start work.

In the August of 1942 USA signed an agreement with Mexico called the Bracero( meaning labour in Spanish) Act. This act meant for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. At the start of the program, train loads of Mexican immigrants ready to work were sent over during the heart of WWII for the “emergency wartime agricultural and railroad importations”. Shortages of food and other goods throughout the U.S caused chaos throughout the nation, leading to the Bracero program as a solution. On 28th January 1948, the aircraft Douglas DC3 took off from Oakland with 32 people on board. Four of them Americans and 28 Mexican immigrants were being flown to California to work on the farms there. After 45 mins since take off  the left engine of the plane caught fire. The Douglas DC 3 was a World War 2 aircraft which was used for commercial flights towards the end of the war. It was prone to being heated up too quickly and had a bad record during the war. Frank Atkinson was flying this plane. He was a very celebrated World War 2 pilot who specialised in crash landing. He was once flying a plane that carried glass appliances, due to problems with the aircraft he had to crash land. The legend goes that he landed the flight so smoothly that not even one glass appliance was broken. Though this time around Frank wasn’t that lucky. His wife Bobbie Atkinson who was with him on the flight, two more Americans, 28 Mexicans and him were all going to die. After the flight caught fire it rolled for a few minutes and then hit the ground hard. The flight crashed in Las Gatos Canyon, in California’s San Joaquin valley.

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100 prisoners were working on the farm where the plane crashed.

There were 100 prisoners farming, when the flight crashed on their farms. They all went running towards the flight trying their best to find survivors. They found nothing but ashes. The flight had cut down all the telephone wires while falling down. Hence all telephone connections were lost that day. People and reporters heard about the news hours later on the radio. The reporters came to the sight much later and it made headline all over the country the next day. The news report mentioned names of the four Americans but not that of 28 Mexican immigrants. When Woody Guthrie read the news he was really angry. These Mexican men were people with names, how could the media just give them the label of ‘Immigrants’ and forget about it. Why were the names of the dead not mentioned? Woody Guthrie was a legendary folk artist and writer. He wrote a poem called “The Deportees”. The incident was forgotten. There was no television or internet then. Though the poem written by Woody was being circulated and spoken about amongst the student population. Thanks to the poem the story survived. In 1957 Martin Hoffman a school-teacher and musician found Woody’s poem “The Deportees” and decided to give it a tune. He sang this song casually in a jamming session with his friends. One of his friends happened to be legendary singer Pete Seeger’s manager. When he told Pete about the song he immediately wanted to record it. “The Deportees ” became an instant hit. It was later recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Dolly Patron, Bruce Springsteen amongst others.

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Woody Guthrie! A folk artist and a legend.
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Woody Guthrie’s poem, The Deportees
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Pete Seeger sings, making it an instant hit.

After all that success with the song there were still no names. It took 62 years after the crash when these Mexican immigrants were finally given the dignity of their names. In late 2010, Tim Z. Hernandez, a California poet and author while researching archives for his novel “Mañana Means Heaven,”  came across the headline “100 Prisoners See An Airplane Fall From the Sky.” It was a story about the crash, and it changed the course of his career. He grew up in the farming communities of the San Joaquin Valley, and he connected with Guthrie’s poem because it echoed his own feelings of injustice for the 28 Mexican men and women who were left unnamed. But instead of simply lamenting the loss, Hernandez embarked on a nearly two-year quest for the long-forgotten names. With the help of Carlos Rascon, Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Fresno, he obtained lists from the Fresno Hall of Records and St. John’s Cathedral, where the original funeral mass was held. The lists matched, and the two worked to adjust misspellings of the Mexican names. One by one Hernandez researched the names through the Hall of Records, the Department of Labor and online details of their lives.

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Tim Hernandez with the epitaph before he built a new headstone with the names on it.

Tim didn’t want to stop here. He and his musician friend Lance Canales wanted to make a new headstone for these immigrants with their names on it. They started doing tours all over America with this story and singing the song ‘The Deportees”. It slowly gained momentum and people started pouring in with love and donations. They raised ten thousand dollars through these tours and finally were able to raise the tombstone. It took 62 years but Tim and Lance gave these men their dignity and identity back. Today this site has become a historical site in Fresno.

I wonder what drives people like Tim. When I recently attended one of his sessions in a college near by, I asked him this question, “What drove you to do this?” He just replied , ” I think Im living my dream. I am blessed to have been able to bring some dignity to these 28 men from my country. When I read about it during my research I knew I couldn’t not do anything about it. I don’t think I would be able to sleep in the night if I had not done what I have.”

The life you live comes down to choice. Do you choose the right over the wrong, the difficult over the easy? Do you choose to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves? Do you choose to name the dead or just label them immigrants? As long as we have a choice, humanity has a chance. Tim Hernandez made his!

Here’s the song sung by Pete Seeger- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrRak5-tCr8

The names of the 28 Mexican citizens:

Miguel Negrete Álvarez

– Tomás Aviña de Gracia

– Francisco Dúran Llamas

– Santiago Elizondo Garcia

– Rosalio Padilla Estrada

– Tomás Márquez Padilla

– Bernabé Garcia López

– Salvador Hernández Sandoval

– Severo Lára Medina

– Elias Macias Trujillo

– José Macias Rodriguez

– Luis Medina López

– Manuel Merino Calderón

– Luis Miranda Cuevas

– Martin Razo Navarro

– Ignacio Navarro Pérez

– Román Ochoa Ochoa

– Ramon Paredes Gonzalez

– Guadalupe Ramirez Lára

– Apolonio Placencia Ramirez

– Alberto Carlos Raygoza

– Guadalupe Rodriguez

– Maria Rodriguez Santana

– Juan Ruiz Valenzuela

– Wenceslao Ruiz Flores

– Jóse Valdivia Sánchez

– Jésus Santos Meza

– Baldomero Marcos Torres

Pilot: Captain Frank Atkinson

Copilot: Marion Ewing,

Flight Attendant: Bobbie Atkinson,

Immigration Guard: Frank E. Chaffin