It’s 6,915 km from the Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland, to the mofussil town of Karad in Maharastra, where few know about the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. But ask anyone there about the Olympics and they’ll take you to the town’s most coveted address – Olympic Niwas.
Tucked away in one corner of the town, in Goleshwar, Olympic Niwas is an old-fashioned bungalow with a muddy lawn and surrounded by a few coconut trees. But most striking, as one enters the premises, are the Olympic emblems crafted on the gate.
As one walks further, Ranjit Jadhav, the man of the house, greets you with a smile. “Welcome to Olympic Niwas, the home of independent India’s first individual Olympic medalilst, Khashaba Jadhav.”
July 23 is an important day in the history of Indian sports, but very few remember it. In his limited capacity, Ranjit has approached various ministries – across the state and the centre – to mark the date in honour of his late father, who won a bronze medal in wrestling at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Ranjit wasn’t even born then, but he has heard stories about how Jadhav’s incredible feat encouraged the youth of India to take up wrestling or kushti .
There have been assurances from various quarters regarding marking the date in honour of Khashaba Jadhav, but nothing has happened so far. There was a time when Ranjit would run from pillar to post for his father to get his due, but with age, he has accepted the reality. “My experiences have taught me that there’s only this much that one can do. I have approached various people, but the efforts have been futile as of now,” Ranjit, a farmer, says.
After much persuasion, the local authorities did put up a statue – of Khashaba Jadhav and the Olympic flame – and also an Olympic emblem in the heart of Karad. But over time, there has been very little maintenance. “It took years to get things done, and finally when things were ready, the maintenance was not taken seriously. As family members, we have tried doing our bit, but even we have our limitations,” Ranjit says.
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While the family takes pride in Jadhav’s heroics, it is disappointed with the fact that he wasn’t given enough recognition. He was conferred the Arjuna Award posthumously in 2001 – exactly 17 years after his death in a road accident. Over the years, Ranjit and other members of the family have sought the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, for Jadhav, but nothing has come of that.
“I have written to multiple people. There have been assurances, but things haven’t moved beyond that. It’s a shame that independent India’s first individual Olympic medallist wasn’t even given the Padma awards,” Ranjit says. “I still haven’t lost hope. I will still do everything possible to ensure that my father gets his due.”
The living room of Olympic Niwas is filled with trophies, mementos and, of course, medals. Hundreds of photographs hang from the walls. But what immediately catches the eye is a huge photograph of Jadhav standing on the podium in Helsinki.
Ranjit has ensured that all the memorabilia has been well kept. And his dream is to convert a part of the house into a museum. However, that’s a distant dream, and Ranjit knows it’s not possible to do so much all by himself. “I have done whatever I can,” he says. A faded aqua-blue blazer with the India emblem embossed on it is kept on one side of the room. Ranjit points out: “That’s the blazer my father wore during the 1952 Olympics.”
A few seconds later, he goes inside the room and brings out what looks like an old jewellery box. The satin and velvet lining inside has worn out in places. The golden Olympic rings, the logo of the Games, impressed on the satin have almost faded. But the bronze disc sitting in the middle of the box has not lost its sheen.
“That’s the medal!” Ranjit says with a smile. “For nearly seven decades, this has been with the family. It’s a part of our lives now...”
Khashaba Jadhav’s father, Dadasaheb, was a wrestler, too. And that’s one of the reasons that Jadhav – one of Dadasaheb’s five sons – fell in love with the sport at an early age. While some of the locals claim he would visit the akhadas at the age of five, there is also a belief that he took up the sport between eight and ten.
One of Jadhav’s childhood friends – and perhaps the oldest resident of the village – Ganpat Parsuram Jadhav remembers the time when they would play mallakhamb , the traditional Indian sport. “As kids, we were pretty good at the sport. We would take taalim together and then he pursued wrestling,” Ganpat says. “Had he taken up mallakhamb , he would have fared well there too.”
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Jadhav did not have the physique of a wrestler. He was a short, gawky student who attended Raja Ram College in Kolhapur and aspired to be a pehelwan , just like his father. While he was initially left out of the school annual sports event due to his physique, Jadhav approached the principal, who agreed to give him “one chance.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
He went on to tame his opponents, twice his size, with ease. The biggest surprise, however, came in 1948 when he defeated national flyweight champion Niranjan Das, who hailed from Bengal, at the trials in Lucknow and went on to participate in the London Olympics. The trip was financed by the Maharaja of Kolhapur and Jadhav finished sixth.
Ahead of the 1952 Helsinki Games, there were financial woes. After independence, the princely states had been abolished and Jadhav had to seek public donations for his trip. Something around Rs 8,000 was required and the sanctioned government funds hadn’t arrived. “In today’s times, you can’t even believe such a thing. But such were the times then...,” Ranjit says. He had heard stories from his father that while the public paid for his kit, R. Khardikar, the principal of Kolhapur’s Raja Ram College, mortgaged his house for Rs 4,000. It was done to ensure that his ward could participate in the Games. But over the years, Jadhav made sure he repaid the loans.
After competing in the flyweight category in London, Jadhav featured in bantamweight in Helsinki. If there was a language barrier, another major problem was getting used to the mat. Having trained in the mud in the akhadas , it was not easy to get used to a new format and new rules. But even then, he managed to win four out of six bouts and eventually lost to Russia’s Rashid Mammadbeyov.
It was heartbreak for sure, but then, Jadhav’s feat in Helsinki not only helped independent India win its first individual medal, but also put Indian wrestling on the world map.
Three years after his Helsinki heroics, Jadhav was offered a job of a sub-inspector with the Maharashtra police. While he got busy with his new role, he still wanted to participate in the 1956 Olympics, but a serious knee injury dashed his hopes. Meanwhile, he continued to win bouts at the police games.
When Jadhav retired as assistant commissioner of police in Maharashtra in 1983, with around Rs 2,200 as his last pay, he dreamed of naming his house 'Olympic Niwas' to commemorate his feat. He used Rs 75,000 that he received on retirement and sold his wife’s ornaments to raise the money to build the house.
“But he passed away in a motorbike accident even before the house was completed. But after his demise, my mother and I decided to complete the construction,” Ranjit says.
While Jadhav changed the perception of Indian wrestling, his family rues the lack of recognition. They still remember how the organisers of the 1982 Asian Games had sent an air ticket and Rs 3,000 to the Mumbai commissioner’s office just two days before the event for Jadhav to use to travel to Delhi.
After his demise, Jadhav received Maharashtra’s highest sporting honour, the Shiv Chhatrapati Award in 1994, and in 2010, just before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the wrestling stadium at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex was named after him.
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As a youngster, Ranjit wanted to emulate his father and take up wrestling seriously. He would even visit the akhada – which has now been made into a proper taalim centre in the memory of Jadhav – and train with wrestlers of his age. But his dream remained unfulfilled.
Ranjit’s two children, Amarjit and Shweta, have taken up academics and aim to study further. Pursuing wrestling hasn’t really crossed their minds, but they are proud to be part of the illustrious Jadhav family. “Even in schools and colleges, my grandfather is regarded as an icon, and being a family member, it is a matter of great pride,” Amarjit says.
Both Amarjit and Shweta, however, plan to help their father in setting up an archive to preserve all the medals and the certificates of Jadhav. “That’s all we have. He may not be with us now, but his legacy lives on,” Ranjit says.
A son of the soil, an incredible achiever – the legend of Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav lives on in the lanes and bylanes of Goleshwar!