Touch Play is the authorised biography of Prakash Padukone. This is the first book on Indian badminton, and is possibly only the second biography of any badminton player. The second edition has a foreword by Morten Frost, the four-time All England winner and close friend of Padukone.
To buy the book:
Mail me at: sukumar.dev @ gmail.com or badmintonmania @ gmail.com
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The book covers the life and playing career of one of India’s greatest sportsmen. Prakash was a highly-respected figure in international badminton. He was the first to achieve a ‘Grand Slam': The Swedish, Danish and All England titles in succession. He was ranked in the world’s top ten for close to a decade, and he was reckoned as one of the few players capable of resisting the dominance of the Chinese and the Indonesians.
The book traces his rise from playing in a wedding hall in old-world Malleswaram in Bangalore to the high-pressure cauldrons of Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, London, and other venues. It attempts to place his performance in the perspective of currents in Indian and international badminton. It is based on interviews with family, friends, and Prakash’s national and international contemporaries, including 8-time All England champion Rudy Hartono, 1985 world champion Han Jian, four-time All England winner Morten Frost, 1983 world champion Icuk Sugiarto, and doubles great Christian Hadinata.
Prakash played at a time of international ferment. The ‘Open’ era, the rise of professionalism, and the arrival of the Chinese into the international fold happened early in his career. All three developments changed the character of the game — a record of Prakash’s career is therefore reflective of that period of world badminton.
“For long, Prakash Padukone was the only name worth mentioning in Indian badminton, and Dev Sukumar, with his intimate knowledge of the sport, brings alive Padukone’s journey into the highest echelons of world badminton. This is sports writing in the finest tradition – minute tracking of Padukone’s earliest achievements, meticulous cataloguing of the lessons he learned on the way, the pitfalls and the praise, all the way to the famous title triumph at the All England Championships in 1980. Touch Play is a well researched, well narrated book, a deserving tribute to India’s first truly international star in badminton.”
– The New Indian Express , Sunday Magazine book review, 18 June 2006
“The surprising aspect is that it had taken so long for a book to be written on Prakash. To that extent the author has done a service to the fans with his research on the maestro from Malleswaram in Bangalore. Right from the origin of the surname `Padukone’, the astrological prediction that `Prakash’ will shine like the name itself, to the final days of his active career and his BPL academy everything has been taken note of… The author has chronicled Prakash’s life, the tournaments he played, won and lost and the players he had confronted and influenced him like Rudy Hartono, Morten Frost, Liem Swie King, Han Jian, Svend Pri, Sugiarto and Pongoh. The tensions and emotions connected with the All England victory in 1980 and the World Cup in 1981 have been well brought out, as was his maiden triumph in the senior national championship (1972). His life in Denmark, the moments of solitude first and then life with Ujjala are well documented.
Yet one gets the feeling that it is not the story of Prakash Padukone alone but of badminton in India in his times. Syed Modi, Vimal Kumar, Gopi Chand, the politics in BAI, well everything gets a focus.”
– The Hindu, Book Review, Feb 13, 2007
“Dev had taken over two years to come out with the book. He has done quite a bit of research and has spoken to several people in the game. Overall the book has brought out well the player in me.”
Prakash Padukone, in The New Indian Express, 14 June 2006
MORTEN FROST’S FOREWORD TO THE SECOND EDITION
I was at the ‘Evening of Legends’ in Jakarta when Dev S Sukumar approached me with questions on my good friend and rival, Prakash Padukone, and my memories of our playing days. I immediately recalled that Dev was the one who had sent me a long e-mail a few months before, with scores of questions on the same topic. Well, I never even got down to answering that mail because of the sheer number of questions.
I couldn’t speak to Dev at the event, but I was in my room the next day, preparing to attend a dinner at Hotel Borobudur, when I got a call from him. He was at the lobby, and promised to take only 15 minutes of my time with his questions on Prakash.
Eventually, he let me off only after an hour and a half.
I’m happy that a lot of what I told him has appeared in this book, and it reflects the atmosphere and intensity of our playing days. I’ve always maintained that we were lucky to have played the game in the 1980s and early 1990s. That was a period that saw a great diversity in styles. There was the devastating attacker, Liem Swie King, the powerful Luan Jin, the defensive wall, Han Jian, the incredible all-rounder Rudy Hartono, the stylish Flemming Delfs, the deceptive Prakash Padukone, and myself. The variety and style and craft on display have never been matched.
When I arrived on the scene, I was at first awed by the lightning-quick speed and power of the Chinese and Indonesians. I had to quickly figure out how to counter them. Prakash was one of the few who had managed to provide some resistance to their domination with his wristy, deceptive, and counter-attacking style. We soon became good friends and I learnt a lot from him, especially about how to keep calm under pressure. Soon, we were the only two who could prevent the Chinese and Indonesians from dominating world badminton in the men’s singles.
Our relationship extended beyond the court too. One of my warmest memories is of visiting Bangalore in 1980 as a guest of Prakash. That was a break from the hectic international schedule, and I had a great time with him and his friends and family. Soon after, he arrived in Denmark after getting a contract with Hvidovre club, and we spent many a long evening sweating it out at the courts. Both of us knew what it took to stay in the top league of world badminton, and we both worked hard and played hard. The results we achieved are a testament to the amount of work we put in. I’m proud of having achieved what I did, and at least some of the credit goes to what I picked from Prakash’s game.
I’m happy that this book has been written. I have read it and find it very informative.
The book is rich in detail for the badminton fan. It talks not only about Prakash but also about events in world badminton — the Thomas Cup, the All England, the arrival of the Chinese into international competition, the Open era, and so forth. I’m also quite pleased that I figure in several chapters, though some of the references to me are not too flattering! Still, I believe this is a useful book because this is one of the few in badminton, and only the second biography of any badminton player. I hope readers will find it as enjoyable as I did.
THE WRITING OF TOUCH PLAY
Dev S Sukumar
I’ve been covering badminton for various publications since 1999. It took me four years to realise that I wasn’t getting any wiser when it came to the game’s history, its Indian connections, or the colourful personalities associated with it.
Literature on the game is sparse. There are few books on the game, and those were written three or four decades ago. The only badminton books you find are ‘how-to-play’ guides… and so I realised that if I had to improve my knowledge of the game, I’d better write a book instead of hoping to read up on the game.
Obviously, the first name that one associates with the game in India is Prakash Padukone. Strangely enough, even though he is so well known, very little is known about him. Most people recall, accurately enough, that he won the All England in 1980, but beyond that they draw a blank.
How could anyone become so popular for having won just one major tournament? Everybody knows that he was one of the legends of the game, perhaps India’s most accomplished sportsman in an individual physical sport, but very few can list out his accomplishments, as they can with a Sunil Gavaskar or a GR Viswanath.
Other traits contributed to the enigma. Padukone is always invoked whenever sportsmanship is mentioned, or excellence, or dignity amidst the tawdriness of Indian sport… and no work on Indian badminton can be complete without an exhaustive cataloguing of his accomplishments.
So I thought… why not? Why not a biography of Prakash Padukone?
Logistically, it didn’t seem very difficult. After all, I run into him every other day at his academy. I thought the task would be simple: get him to narrate his experiences and pen it in the form of a book!
That fantasy did not even last a few days. Prakash is extremely reticent, so a question like: “Tell me about your childhood” would draw perhaps a two-sentence response. I realised, pretty quickly, that I had to learn more about him to ask him the right (and specific) questions. So I went around meeting just about everybody connected with him: uncles, aunts, brothers, sister, friends, teachers… and later, teammates, rivals, coaches, trainees.
Of course there had to be a certain chronological method in tracking down events. In Prakash’s case, he had spent his teenage years in Bangalore, and then, as his talent flowered, he started travelling extensively. After his All England win in 1980, he went to Denmark to play for a club, Hvidovre. During those six years, Prakash was among the elite of the badminton world, playing tournaments in Asia and Europe, winning some, and mostly reaching the semifinals or finals. It was during this period that he became one of badminton’s most recognisable faces. Unfortunately, since he was based in Europe, the Indian media carried only sketchy reports of his accomplishments, and that is why our knowledge of him is so limited.
My biggest challenge in tracking him was the lack of material, in the form of newspaper reports or other literature. The Badminton Association of India, which runs the game in the country, has no office of its own, much less a library, so an institutionalised archive was out of the question. So I had to depend on recollections by contemporaries, friends, and others associated with him… as time went, my work followed a pattern. I would track down important events in a particular calendar year, then interview everybody who was associated with him during that time, and finally would go back to Prakash for corroboration. It was slow work, and I felt more like an archaeologist than a writer.
My writing happened in fits and starts… actually, the writing bit was the easiest. The much harder task was in preparing for the interviews, and then transcribing each interview. That was almost painful, but I wasn’t comfortable with any other method.
As I got deeper into my work, the world of Indian and world badminton opened up. Tracking him down would be impossible if I restricted myself to Bangalore and interviewed people over the phone, so I decided to travel to wherever his former contemporaries were. I found myself in Bombay, Pune, Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jamshedpur, Trivandrum, Cochin…
Then I got a lucky break: Jakarta was hosting an ‘Evening of Legends’ featuring the greatest players of Prakash’s era.
I had only read and thrilled to the names of Rudy Hartono, Han Jian, Morten Frost, Icuk Sugiarto, and others. Now, almost two decades after their most magical performances, they would come together again on the same stage.
I found myself talking to Rudy Hartono – the Indonesian acclaimed as the greatest-ever badminton player for having won eight All England titles; I raced alongside Han Jian as he rushed in to dinner; I met Morten Frost – Prakash’s acclaimed rival – and spent two hours with him after having promised to trouble him only for 15 minutes…
When I was writing the book, it struck me that it could not be another chronological narrative. So much had happened through the course of the two years it took me to build the material… so there are flashes of personal narrative through the book. There is a process of discovery that happened while I wrote it, and I have included that progression as well.
I didn’t want the book to address only the badminton-following public. I have tried to avoid narrating only his badminton exploits… I’ve tried, though, to bring out the dynamics of the game… I hope it’s an enjoyable read.
Touch Play in the papers: