Upright man

In a market-driven world, where the modest are doomed to live and die in obscurity, success spawns many claimants.

Awards and rewards never came his way, but badminton coach Mir Mahboob Ali (in pic.) mentored Saina Nehwal, doubles specialist Shruthi Kurien and the next shuttle sensation P. V. Sindhu, during the most difficult phase of their careers — the beginning. These are but a few big names to emerge from the IRISET Courts, Secunderabad, where he ran his scheme for almost a quarter century.

It was Saina's mother Usha Rani, who turned the spotlight on Ali. “She (Saina) used to train for an hour privately under Mahboob Ali Sir, alongside her training at the Lal Bahadur Stadium,” the champion's mother was quoted as saying by a newspaper. To mark her daughter's ascent to world badminton's elite, the parent paid tribute thus: “Her past coaches Mahboob Ali, S. M. Arif and Govardhan (Reddy) have made this possible.”

Ali found few friends for being forthright. “I don't stop anyone who wants to leave me. For, I hold no key to any treasury, I can't give a bright future to every promising player,” he'd say of wards quitting his programme to further their careers, if not curry favour with the powers-that-be. The first from Andhra Pradesh to play in the Asian Badminton Championships in Lucknow, 1965, Ali lost in the junior semi-final to a Thai opponent. In the fray were some of India's greats, Nandu Natekar, Suresh Goel, Dinesh Khanna and Gautam Thakkar.

Ali never graduated to the senior level, his father urging him to earn and learn. With player perks being hardly substantial for a living, an NIS course at Patiala paved the way for him to take up coaching. Loyal friends Karuppan, Char and Sharma stood by him through thick and thin, as did J. R. Jyothi and Dr. K. Prahlad. As unknown and unsung as he lived, Ali died on July 24. In sports, where mammon-worship grows, his outlook stands out: “The respect my players enjoy is my wealth,” he always used to say.

A. Joseph Antony