The story is from 1967. Murlikant Petkar was fed up with life. He had intended to commit suicide. INHS Ashwini was sitting on his bed of Naval Hospital. He had intended to end his life.
Then a cleaning worker came running to him. He asked Petkar for 10 rupees to play ‘Matka’. Matka is a way of gambling in which people want to earn big money by investing less money.
Petkar was ready to take 30 sleeping pills along with alcohol. He gave Rs 100 instead of 10 to the employee. When the sweeper asked him to gamble on the same number, Petkar gave him another 100 note. And asked to bet on one number more than the number which the employee had come in the dream.
The next morning was strange for Petkar. A lot of vomiting had to be done to get the alcohol and nei pills out of his body. Not only this, for the first time since the day in 1965, when he was shot, Petkar felt the urge to urinate. When Petkar came to know that he had won 40 thousand rupees in a pot, Petkar’s bladder was also put to work.
If luck hadn’t written the story, India might not have got its first individual gold medal in the Paralympics. It was the 1972 Paralympics. “Luck has been both cruel and kind to me,” Petkar told our colleague Times of India over a video call. Petkar is now 73 years old and lives in Pune. He spoke to us from his living room. The room which is a museum full of trophies and medals.
Petkar is watching the Tokyo Paralympics with great care. The Padma Shri awardee is narrating his story on international TV channels. Petkar was a star boxer of the army. When he went to Kashmir in 1965, he was called Chhotu Tiger.
Many thought that after the long sirens at the time of the Pakistani Air Force attack, many people who were waiting for the evening tea must have been killed.
Petkar was hit in the shin and thighs. Some bullets hit his right cheek and scalp. He fell. And after this an army jeep passed over his feet. Petkar’s son Arjun says, ‘A bullet is still in his spine.’
Arjun works in an ordnance factory and makes bullets to survive. Petkar’s father was a freedom fighter. He had a total of six siblings. The Sangli district of Maharashtra from which he came was very famous for wrestling. Petkar recalls that he used to mix thandai in the local akhara in his village, Islampur.
Petkar used to learn wrestling tricks from local wrestler Ganpat Khedkar. And by drinking cold water, he kept himself moist. Petkar narrates how at the age of 12 he went to fight with the son of the headman of a neighboring village for a reward of five rupees.
He recalled, “Usually the reward consisted of batashes and coconuts. But this match was so big that the villagers threw a lot of coins on the cloth. The knives came out after Petkar won the wrestling as the people of Kanderi thought it was a deliberate insult to their village. Khedkar sensed the atmosphere. He put the winning money in Petkar’s pocket and sent him to Pune in a truck. A week later he was on a train with his uncle who was taking him to Bangalore. There he was taken to recruit the local army.
Petkar worked hard at the Army Institute and soon did a good job in hockey. Petkar said, ‘I was not selected in the Karnataka team because I was a Marathi boy.’ After that he left hockey and started playing boxing.