Syed Modi (1962–1988), is actually Syed Mehdi. Syed Mehdi was born in a Muslim family in the muffosil town of Sardarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. His father, Syed Meer Hassan Zaidi, worked in Sardarnagar sugar mill and his mother, a housewife. Syed Mehdi was the youngest of their eight children, six sons and two daughters.
When Mehdi first began going to the local school, the person who entered his name in the school records mistook his name “Mehdi” for a common Indian surname “Modi” and wrote it down that way. As a result, this became his name in all educational and government records. Modi was average in his studies but, later became a notable sportsman.
He was very popular in his school for his open, affectionate nature and bright good looks. Modi’s elder brothers were not highly educated, but they worked and had very good hope on him and contributed towards the family expenses and supporting Modi in his childhood, having huge expectations on him.
Modi fulfilled their hopes as he became the junior national Badminton champion at the age of 14 in 1976. The same year, Modi started training under Mr. P.K. Bhandari the then chief badminton coach, N.I.S, Patiala till 1982. Thereafter, he trained under Dipu Ghosh, National Coach of Indian team.
Modi won the national badminton championship at the age of 18 in 1980. In the same year, Government of India recommended his name and Modi was given a paying job as a Welfare Officer in the Indian Railways (NE). He was initially posted in Gorakhpur, nearest to his hometown and family. In 1982, his new coach wanted that he should train in Lucknow which had better facilities, so he was transferred there.
Syed Modi won the national badminton championship between 1980 and 1987, eight times in a row. In 1981, he received the Arjuna Award from the Government of India. At the 1982 Asian Games, he won the bronze at the men’s singles event. He took home the Men’s singles Gold at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. In 1983 and 1984, he won the Australian International.
He later married Amita, a fellow badminton player. His game started going downhill in 1987-88, when his marriage life was not happy, and Modi lost the national badminton championship for the first time in 1988. In May 1988, they had a baby daughter who they named Aakanksha.
Two months after the birth of his daughter, Modi was murdered. On the evening of 28 July 1988, at the age of 26, Modi was shot dead as he was coming out of KD Singh Babu stadium, Lucknow after a routine practice. A brilliant career was cut short and a severe blow was dealt to badminton in India as Modi was touted to be a superstar like Prakash Padukone. His murder sent shockwaves throughout India.
After Modi’s death, a badminton tournament was named in his memory, “Syed Modi Memorial”, All India Syed Modi badminton championship hosted each year at Lucknow, which turned into “Syed Modi International Challenge” in 2004, and from December 2009 it was graded to “Syed Modi Grand Prix”, organized by Badminton Association of India.
The Railways, where he was employed respected his badminton sport and as an employee, opened the Syed Modi Railway Stadium and auditorium at his native place, Gorakhpur.
(Image Courtesy: timesofindia.indiatimes.com).