Motilal Bhatia, one of the most revered and respected names in Indian water polo passed away at his residence in Walkeshwar, Mumbai on May 6.
Motilal (80) is survived by his wife, son and three daughters. He was ailing and had become frail during the past couple of years. The name Motilal Bhatia was synonymous with water polo.
Such was his unbridled passion and love for this Olympic sport that he seldom missed a single match in Mumbai city for over six decades. He epitomised club loyalty and proudly represented PM Hindu Bath, a club which has given the country innumerable champion water polo players, for over four decades.
He once turned out for PMHB at an invitational water polo tournament in Pune when he was over 65 years of age. He was a fierce competitor and took pride in his performances till the very end of his playing days.
He was also an accomplished swimmer and successfully swam the distance from Elephanta Caves to Gateway of India when he was nearly 70 years old. His love for water polo remained undiminished even after his active playing days. A prime example of this was when he was out witnessing a national level invitational water polo tournament at Andheri Swimming Complex on the day of his daughter’s wedding.
Motilal was one of the finest defenders of his time and was the scourge of rival forwards. He used both exemplary technique and strength to quell the threats of rival forwards. His tough, no-nonsense style of defending was an education in itself for every young player wanting to earn his spurs in this tough water sport. He was unremitting in his quest for excellence and was tough as nails in the water. He showed no favours to forwards and ensured that there were no easy goals to get when he was marshalling the defence of his team. His positioning and understanding with the goalkeeper were hallmarks of his defending.
He ensured that it became unbearably difficult for every forward to score goals. He had the distinction of representing Maharashtra State at the Nationals for several years. He also visited Singapore to play an invitational international water polo tournament and was privileged to have played against the visiting Czechoslovakian water polo team in Mumbai. He also excelled at the Bombay Colombo invitational water polo tournaments. The handsome Motilal inspired awe and reverence with his majestic presence at the various inter club leagues. He possessed a fund of water polo knowledge and inspired, nurtured, guided, generations of players who would swear by him for their success.
His contribution in producing some of the finest players in the country was monumental. He was a hands-on teacher who went into the water and played with talented youngsters imparting to them the nuances and skills required to excel at the national level. He was extremely patient with any player who sought his guidance and was only too happy to help the player in polishing the rough edges in his game.
Motilal was a mentor to some of the most exciting water polo talents that the country has produced. He epitomised club loyalty and when there was an exodus of players who defected to NSCI from PMHB in the 1960s, Motilal remained true and loyal to PMHB.
It was only due to his unwavering commitment to resurrect the PMHB team, that the team was rebuilt and it rose like the proverbial phoenix to emerge as one of the best club teams in India. Some of PMHB’s water polo stalwarts who benefited immensely from Motilal’s tutelage and guidance are Bharat Merchant, Ranjit Udeshi, Arun Merchant, Jayant Merchant, Anant Shende, Ambrish Vyas, Anirudh Nansi, Mahesh and Rajesh Manghani, Paresh Thakkar, Sanjay Thakkar,Rajiv Thakkar, Ketan Somaiya, Vivek Merchant, Nirav and Parag Vora.
As a token of recognition and appreciation of Motilal’s remarkable contribution to water polo, the GMAAA conferred upon him ‘The Distinguished Service Award’ some years ago. The passing away of Motilal has left a void which the Mumbai swimming and water polo fraternity will find hard to fill.