Nandu Natekar: 'Music has kept me very young'

Nandu Natekar, former national badminton champion, celebrated his 84th birthday with his friends, yesteryear rivals, and a lot of music at the Legends Club.

Former Asian Badminton champion Dinesh Khanna (left), Madhav Apte (centre) and Nandu Natekar at the Legends Club on Natekar's 84th birthday.   -  Vivek Bendre

Nandu Natekar, former national badminton champion, has always regarded himself a connoisseur of music. On his 84th birthday celebration, organised by the Legends Club, Natekar sang Seene mein sulagte hain armaan, a duet sung by Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshkar from the 1951 Hindi movie Tarana.

His yesteryear rival Dinesh Khanna, Sushila Rege-Kapadia, Ami Shah, Manohar Godse, Pradeep Gandhe, Shobha Moorthy and others from the badminton field attended the celebration. Club president Madhav Apte, Nari Contractor and Ajit Wadekar were there too.

A music buff and the first non-cricketer to be included in the Legends Club Hall of Fame, Natekar said: "I began to learn music five years ago. I remember anything that has got to do with music. Music has kept me very very young. Music has given me a fresh lease of life."

Natekar recalled an incident during his first nationals in Lucknow in 1951. "We were allowed to go to the banks of Gomti river. We carried phonographs and played Talat Mehmood songs. On another occasion, I was interviewed by All India Radio. What I fondly remember was the walls along the stairs of AIR office; it  had photographs of great music artistes including Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Omkarnath Thakur and Kesarbai Kerkar."

Khanna, ten years younger than Natekar, still appeared to be in awe and admiration of the champion player.

"In Punjab, they were accustomed to hit over the head shots, not back-hand. I was amazed by the fluency with which Nandu executed the back-hand strokes. I decided to develop backhand in my game after seeing him play. Gradually, backhand became the pivot of my game. My game revolved around that stroke. I could not do as well as Nandu, but it was nearer to his. Also, what struck me most about Nandu was his footwork and stroke production. Nandu’s drop shots were absolutely net-hugging that even now when I think of his drop shots, my leg feels a little heavy," said Khanna.

Khanna reminisced his win against Natekar in the Nehru Championship.

"I had a lot at stake. I had to prove that my Asian Championship win was not a fluke. I met Nandu in the semifinal. I knew Nandu would dribble at the net and attack my body. Though I was able to win in two straight games, I ran twice as Nandu ran. Nandu’s reading of his opponent’s game was absolutely phenomenal. He had so much versatility that not many players are capable of. Nandu has done enough to immortalise himself as far as badminton is concerned."

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