By Bharat Misra:
It all started on the 2nd of October last year when I chanced upon an article on a sports news website. It told the story of India’s first Olympic swimmer, Shamsher Khan, who represented the country in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Prior to that, he had set national records in all four strokes, or categories, as well as in water polo and diving, making him the only Indian to do so!
One of his contemporaries happens to be Milkha Singh, whose victories are celebrated and remembered by the entire country. On the other hand, Mr. Khan languishes in anonymity. Nobody in the country knows his name or is even aware of his whereabouts. The article identifies his village as Islampur, situated in rural Andhra Pradesh.
After reading the article, I was determined to document his untold story on camera. I decided to visit his village along with four of my friends and attempted to make a documentary on the forgotten legend.
Over the next few weeks, we pieced together Shamsher, our tribute to India’s greatest swimmer. In a series of interviews, we conversed with his contemporaries, family members, well-wishers and finally, the man himself. We encountered an interesting variety of opinions not just about his life, but also about the lack of recognition sportspersons get in India. What started as a documentation of the life of one forgotten sportsman became the story of countless unknown athletes who struggle to get by on the back of their glorious achievements.
In the end, we were faced with difficult questions about the current condition of sports in the country, to which we found no easy answers. Our only hope is to spread more awareness about Shamsher Khan, and his services to a nation that refused to recognise him.