India has a bittersweet relationship with the All England Open, on one hand, it has given the country moments of ecstasy on the other moments of loss and agony. This article is about one such moment of agony where events in court succumbed to the events in real life.

India held its breath on March 21st as the country’s new Badminton sensation Lakshya Sen lined up against the world No 1 Viktor Axelsen in the All England Open final. The 20-year-old from Almora, Uttarakhand fought hard but ultimately had to settle for second place.

It wasn’t the first time an Indian had lost in the finals of the All England Open, the country’s history with the tournament dates back long before Padukone’s and Gopichand’s time.

In 1947, India was on the cusp of Freedom and Europe reeling from the effects of the second world war. The atmosphere was both of despair and hope. In this midst, Britain decided to hold the All England Badminton Championship, the first since 1939.

India was given a chance to send two players to the tournament, and they sent their very best Prakash Nath and Devinder Mohan. The duo were boy-hood friends, it was expected that they would meet in the finals and fight for the championship.

The All-England Authorities had other ideas. Since there was no seeding, they pitted Nath and Mohan against each other in the quarterfinal itself after the duo managed to ease through in the first few rounds.

What followed was quite remarkable. Instead of playing a grueling match against each other, the duo tossed a coin. Their sole concern was that an Indian should win, no matter who it was.

Luck favored Nath and he won the toss and headed into the semifinals. Britain’s media was in shock and made a huge fuss about the matter, but Nath and Devinder didn’t think much of it. Nath made light work of an Englishman in the semis and romped into the final against the Dane Conny Jepsen.

However, on the morning of the match, Nath was shocked to read the headlines, ‘Lahore in flames’. Riots had broken out in his hometown, the areas around his house had been destroyed by mobs, and many people had been killed.

Nath was devastated, his thoughts going back to his family and friends, were they safe? The match, which was supposed to be a defining moment for him and his country, became an afterthought. Nath lost to Jepsen, 15-7, 15-11.

Upon returning Nath found that his home had been burned down, though his family was safe. The atmosphere had become very hostile, he would later move to Bombay with his family after partition.

“I almost lost my life on several occasions during those dreadful days, and they gave me nightmares for years thereafter” Nath said in an interview years later. He would never play badminton professionally again.

Though Nath’s name as the first Indian to play in an All England final cannot be erased from the record books, the tragedy of his career has often veered out of memory.

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