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Requiem for a sportswriter

By K.N.K. Menon

We lost a friend, a mentor, a brother in arms. A family lost a husband, a father, an uncle and a grandpa. And many readers lost not just a sportswriter but someone who could make gray days bright and put a smile on their faces. He had a talent for finding the goodness in our communities — especially among our youths — describing it eloquently and setting it out for all to see. In short, a genuinely nice guy who made us all feel better in those eventful days.

We’re talking about our sports journalist friend from Delhi, Mylatt Madhavan. If you knew him, worked with him, and read his column, you know what we’re talking about. He exuded an optimistic spirit without being a sarcastic, sardonic wit, without being cutting, cynical or morose; frequently self-effacing and never self-promoting.

“Telling the truth, and writing it vividly and with clarity, that’s what makes it exciting,” he often used to say. By the same token, the best way we can honour Madhavan is not to dwell on the tragedy of his passing but to carry in our hearts forever the example of his good humour and humane feelings — to use our talents to the best of our ability to uplift our community and the people whose lives we touch within the standards of our chosen profession.

Reality bites, and hard. Even for Messi, professional football is work. Not play. For a soccer aficionado and sports journalist like Madhavan this was something strange. When he took football to his heart, it was all fair and simple and India were the semi-finalists at the Melbourne Olympics!

As a journalist, he was a lover of sports and its practitioners whom he brought to life with respect if at times with excessive creativity. And players like Peter Thangaraj, Jarnail Singh, Inder Singh, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami and Xavier Pius lived up to their reputation during the golden age of Indian soccer. He was an early admirer of badminton prodigy Prakash Padukone.

Madhavan described the best moment of his career as the most “unbelievable”event. On September 24, 1988 at Seoul, he was in the Press Box to report on what turned out to be the most infamous sporting moment in Olympic history.

The gun fired in the men’s 100 metres final and Ben Johnson, a Jamaican immigrant from Canada, literally leaped from his starting position into a lead he would never lose. Just 9.79 seconds later he had smashed the world record in a display of power and awe never before seen in track and field, against the greatest field of sprinters ever collected.

At the Press conference, a triumphant Johnson said “this world record will last 50 years, maybe 100”.: Just 24 hours later Johnson failed a drugs test. A delegation arrived at his room. And Johnson handed the gold medal back to the IOC, much to the consternation of his mother. Thus finished the dirtiest race in Olympic history.

Off the field, Madhavan was one of the main pillars for the inception of the Delhi Sports Journalists Association and the Press Apartments housing complex for the sports scribes.  He started his sports journey in 1952 with the PTI news service and later grew in stature under the masterly guidance of Vernon Ram at the Indian Express. At the Hindustan Times, he was a great team-mate in the sports department and a member of the extended family on all occasions.

Madhavan was a wonderful person. He had a tremendous impact on all who got to know him and Sports Journalists’ Federation of India (SJFI) founders will bear this out. Ours was a strong bond of four decades and while we disagreed at times, we remained always on the same wave-length. Sure enough, Madhavan will live in our memories forever. He passed away on August 29, 2021.

KNK MENON was the sports editor of The Hindustan Times from 1993-1998 and the sports editor of The Pioneer from 1998-2007. He was also involved with the Delhi Sports Journalists’ Association as its treasurer.