SHUTTLE badminton wasn't popular sport in Mysore, as in the rest of South India. It was played only with in the clubs of defence establishments, and few people outside were aware of such a game. The state's first association with the game was way back in 1900, when it was introduced at Belgaum Club, which was built that year. The game at Belgaum Club was played with wooden bats instead of rackets and resembled badminton's ancestor, battledore and shuttlecock, more than the modern game. It was little more than a social pastime, played on coir matting, Tournaments were held, but restricted to club members, with the 'Jumbled Doubles' being the most popular event.
The game did not spread beyond the club, and the rest of the state had no inking of shuttle badminton until the early 1950s.
It is not surprising that, given the broad division of Bangalore into (British/ Anglo-Indian dominated) Cantonment and (Indian-dominated) City, shuttle badminton was relatively better known in Cantonment than in City. The only badminton played in Bangalore was within the well-protected walls of the defence campuses or in the Cantonment clubs, such as Bowring Institute and Century Club, but that was no more than a social pastime, and restricted to a few. There were two open-air courts beside a church on Brigade Road, and near the General Post Office on Queen's Road, both in the Cantonment area, where Anglo-Indians used to play.
In 1949, a hall adjoining the Canara Union building was constructed to host gatherings during weddings and other civic functions. When the hall was being constructed, Ramesh Padukone, Prakash Padukone's father and his friends requested them to make the hall big enough to accommodate a court. The hall was completed in December 1950, the Golden Jubilee year of Canara Union.
Ramesh and his friends marked the court, put up the net, and began playing. At about the same time, someone named Solomon, who was with the public sector HMT, started shuttle badminton at Malleswaram Association, a club not far from Canara Union.
The timing was fortuitous. The game started wriggling out of the confines of decence establishments during the lat 1940s. In 1949, the first badminton tournament was conducted in Bangalore: the Inter-University (South Zone) tournament. The game turned out to be unusually popular. Ramesh, along with a few other enthusiasts, decided to for an association. With the support of few clubs and institutions, they founded the Mysore State Badminton Association on 20 May 1951. H.V. Krishna Murthy, who played bride at Malleswaram Association, was the first Secretary.
Over the next few years the association conducted a few open tournaments and a triangular tournament between Baroda, Hyderabad and Mysore. A team from Hyderabad, that included Ahmed Hussain later to become a long-time official of the Badminton Association of India toured Madras and Bangalore and played some exhibition matches at Century Club. The Mysore team reciprocated with a tour of Hyderabad. Badminton was introduced in inter-collegiate sports competitions in Bangalore.
A couple of years after it was founded, the players took over the association and nominated Kumble Ratnakar as the Secretary. Ratnakar cousin of Ramesh's wife Ahalya had started winning the local competitions around that time.
IN 1957 Ramesh took over as Secretary. The association now had a strong group of supporters, including Prof. M.S. Thackar, SK Parikh, Chikkapapaiah, and others. MSBA got affiliated to the national body, and the state began sending its players for the nationals.
Mysore participated in its first nationals that year at Hyderabad. The team included Kumble Ratnakar (captain), Naimpally Bhaskar, Manjeshwar Gurudutt (all Chitrapur Saraswats), ND Krishne Urs from Mysore District, and T Kishandas (manager).
Badminton began to grow. Four open tournaments were held within the first year of the association's revival. An exhibition match featuring a visiting team from Sri Lanka was held. The Western Railways team, which had players of the caliber of Amrit Lal Diwan, V Kalambi and others, participated in Open tournaments hosted by the State association.
In 1958 the association invited Monoj Guha, India's legendary doubles player, for a two-month long coaching camp. Guha was coach under the Sports Ministry's Rajkumari Amrit Kaur coaching scheme, and he trained several players at Karnataka Government Secretariat club.
Ratnakar was the first player to dominate the local circuit from its earliest days. He won the state singles title for the first nine years. Between 1953 and 1955, he was also a coach under the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur scheme.
A local league began between the clubs, on a 'home' and 'away' basis. The league attracted tremendous attention, with packed halls at ITI, Canara Union, Malleswaram Association, and the rest. ITI, with its wealth of talent, won the league title for the 'Manickavelu Rolling Shield' in 1960.
Courts sprang up in several clubs, Ramesh had supervised the laying of a wooden court at ITI in 1959, and this was to be the only wooden court the Malleswaram players had access to. Bowring Institute had a wooden hall that was originally dance floor, but could be converted into a badminton court. Other venues, such as MICO, Binny Mills, and Gauribidanur Sugar Factory, become the favoured haunts of Badminton enthusiasts.
Players began to crowd the wooden court at ITI. In the meantime, Ratnakar had joined ITI. Omkari Singh Seth, who had played for Agra College, joined ITI in '58, He, Ratnakar and the others, like the Test cricketers Prasanna and V. Subramanyam, used to frequent the court at Army Barracks in Cantonment, but now they had a court in their backyard. so Seth, Ratnakar, Prasanna, R.S. Bhounsley, Subramanyam, and another first division cricketer, Rajagopal, al of them descended on ITI.
The top brass at ITI also joined in. The most enthusiastic among them were a Works Manager called Kulkarni, and TK Chowdary, GM of the Bangalore Complex, who had returned from Lancashire where he had picked up the game.
Meanwhile, SK Parikh, who played at Canara Union, brought along Laxman Salvi from Bombay. Salvi was a marked at CCI in Bombay, and Parikh had brought him down just to train the senior players. He was a beautiful mover on the court and had the most delectable strokes. But he wasn't allowed to play in tournaments because he was a 'professional'. Those who made money out of the game, such as coaches and markers, had tournaments of their own. Salvi taught Gurudutt, Bhaskar and the others; many of the top state players like SRK Murthy, Nanjappa, Ramakrishna and Ratnakar would come to watch him. Salvi stayed for two years before returning to Bombay.
Asha Damle was the only state player from any of the Cantonment clubs. She had picked up the game in Pune; her father was a doctor in the army and she played at the Army Hospital. They arrived in Bangalore in 1960, and Asha started playing at Bangalore Club. Surprisingly, few Anglo-Indians played there; a few Paris and army officers were the regulars. Asha was the most serious among them, and she won the State championships in 1960 and toured with the state team the next couple of years. Indumati Kirloskar was Mysore's other women player, and she'd play in a saree. Ratnakar had dominated the state scene from '49, but towards the last fifties, SR Krishna Murthy had emerged. Both practiced at Malleswaram Assocaition. While Ratnakar was employed at ITI, SRK was a professor at BMS Engineering College.
MSBA's biggest accomplishment was the staging of the nationals in Bangalore in 1962. It was Mysore's biggest badminton honour, and the nationals turned out to be a hit, with thousands crowding the temporary stadium at MG Road.
The Nationals created a small revolution in Mysore. ITI began hosting a state-ranking tournament, for which Ramesh, as the state's only qualified umpire, was the Chief Referee. A number of players, particularly his colleagues at ITI, began to look up to him and assist him in organizing tournaments. They included RS Bhounsley, B.K. Rajagopal, and Sursh Kumar. The tournament was on till 1989-90.
In 1963 Belgaum Club conducted its first 'open' event, inviting participants from outside the club, and the tournament soon became an annual feature. The event attracted participants from the neighbouring districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka; Sangli, Kolhapur, Goa, Hubli-Dharwad, Karwar and Bombay. Belgaum, being in the northern part of the state, was the beneficiary of its geographical proximity to Pune and Bombay, where shuttle badminton was the rage since the earliest days.
On the state scene, meanwhile, SRK Murthy dominated the singles, and doubles with Kumble Satish, Ratnakar's younger brother. SRK was Satish's lecturer in electrical engineering at BMS College, and would expect him at the club event when Satish struggled with his exams. Satish didn't have the nerve to refuse his temperamental professor.
SRK was the most dominant player. until Satish Bhatia came along in December 1964.
Bhatia was a Flight Lieutenant in the Air Force, and had been posted to Bangalore from Hyderabad. He was becoming one of the most feared names in the country. He had two strengths; the serve and the smash. He had a spin serve that nobody could touch. He won the 1968 national singles title-representing Mysore, which gave the state its first such honour.
Only a few women played serious badminton in Mysore. Asha Damle and Indumati Kirloskar were the earliest representatives of the state, followed by Sumati Kirloskar, Mrs. Mallya, Chira halakatti, Usha Kulkarni, Leela Apte, Suvarna, and the Attavale sisters. Most of them played in sarees. Apart from Bangalore, badminton grew in popularity in the northern part of the state representatives from this part of the country.
Shobha Shivaswamy, who played at Mahila Samaj, dominated the state circuit briefly before moving to Hyderabad. Another good player of this time was Hema Hattikudur, who came to Bangalore from Madras in1967, and played in four nationals. Hema won the junior mixed doubles title with cousin Prakash in 1968 at the Bowring Institute tournament.
But perhaps the most driven women's player was Tripura Vishwanath, who dominated the scene for almost a decade, from the mid-sixties. She started playing in her mid-20s, after her son's birth. Her got hooked on to the game. At a time when most married women in their mid-20's, after her son's birth. Her husband's friend was Rajagopal, who was playing regularly at ITI. Vihwanath requested his friend to help his wife out.
And so, within a year, Tripura won the Mahila Samaj tournament. She got hooked on to the game. At a time when most married women in their mid-20's didn't even contemplate sport, Tripura was fiercely competitive. She was good enough to play a state tournament final against her daughter Pushpa in 1973. And later, at the nationals, mother played alongside daughter in the doubles, and the organizers announced that it was the first such incident in the history of Indian badminton.
Ramesh struck up a good friendship with K.A. Nettakallappa, editor of the state's leading English daily, Deccan Herald. Nettakallappa was fond of all sports, and was president of most sports associations. He become president of MSBA while Ramesh was Secretary. Others, like AB Eswar, Mallesh Raj, Srinivas Rao, Sumathi Kirloskar and Gopalan Nair were the core group around which the activities of the MSBA revolved.
They used to meet at Nettakallappa's office on MG Road. With no source of revenue, for MSBA, Nettakallappa would liberally fund the team's expenses. 'Netkal' and Mallesh Raj were, like Ramesh, Alumni of St. Joseph's High School. Although Netkal wasn't a sportsman, he was a keen follower of philanthropist.
In the meantime, Ramesh had taken the umpire's exam, and was the only qualified umpire in the state. He was Chief Referee at all the local tournaments, and he accompanied the team as manager during all its tours.
The local tournaments had become hugely popular. The league system had died out on the mid-sixties once the clubs started hosting their own tournaments. ITI, KGS Club, Canara Union, Malleswaram Association and the rest had tournaments that were hotly contested and overflowing with spectators. Most of the state's top players were from Canara Union and Malleswaram Association. Kumble Ratnakar's brother Sathish, SRK Murthy's brother Ganapathy, Nanjappa, Ramakrishna, Ratnakar's brother Sathish and Dinkar Kamat were the top players of this time.
None of the state's players could challenge the top stars of the country. In 1969 came first evidence that a new champion from Mysore might be on his way; Ramesh's son Prakash reached the junior singles final at the Calcutta nationals. In the 1970 Hyderabad nationals the Mysore team won the junior inter-state title (Narang Cup) for the first time; Prakash also won the boys' singles and boys' doubles (with brother Pradeep).
Mysore's biggest honour, of course, was the superlative performance of Prakash and his team-mates at the 1971 nationals in Madras (played in February 1972), where he won the men's singles title, the junior singles, and the junior inter-state. The team included Pradeep, Uma Murti, Sulekha Karve, P.G. Chengappa, Narendra Ubhayakar, Shobhana Dean and Ashok Kumar.
Apart from its players, Mysore badminton owes a debt of honour to several officials who have worked despite of little reward for the game. Apart from Ramesh, K.A. Nettakallappa, R.S. Bhounsley, B.K. Rajagopal, R. Suresh Kumar, N.C. Mallikarjuna Mallesh Raj, A.B. Eswar, A.N. Swamy and the Kirloskar family have all contributed immensely at a time when the game was hardly known.