Childhood is not without fascination. A child cherishes dreams that can’t always be fulfilled but that continue to provide inspiration for him/her. In the 70s and 80s, the craze among youths for taekwondo in Northeast INDIA was at a fever pitch. Though I was not allowed from home, this martial arts from Korea had also held my fascination. Now I can understand how it had helped me to kick a load of negativity. The credit for this goes to Luthre Lohar. I had heard that the Royal Enfield bike rider and the first taekwondo black belt holder of India from Korea stayed somewhere at Laitumkhrah, Shillong.
The curiosity about the Korean martial arts in me in fact had become more intense only after I had been to Guwahati in the marriage of my uncle. This is one of the very memorable anecdotes in my life. I was probably not even 12 years old then. There in Guwahati (Assam), a group of teenagers gathered around me as they learned that I was from Shillong. I was quite surprised. I wondered why they were after me and why I became so much important to them. I learned they were gently getting at me to extract more information about Luthre. I only heard from them that Luthre had already set up his taekwondo training centre in Tezpur (Assam). Those boys wanted to know from me many other titbits about the martial arts fighter from Shillong. Frankly speaking, until that time I was not much aware of the taekwondo pioneer of India living in Meghalaya. I felt too embarrassed. But I did not lie to them about my ignorance. However, I could relate to the fascination of those boys. Since that day I also grew eager to get more information about martial arts.
Almost all boys in the locality I stayed were good at throwing kicks and punches. As I was from a strictly conservative household I had very little to show. However, very soon I even picked up a few techniques and learned to strike common taekwondo poses. For practice, we usually hit the sand-filled punching bag and make our knuckles look raised and high. We would get very excited to discuss among the friends that Luthre could break a pile of wood planks and bricks with his fists and legs. We often would give a try breaking “thin” wood planks.
Well, one of my intimate friends was equally keen to collect more information about Luthre. With boyish innocence and naivety, we wondered how the taekwondo master looked like and how big his knuckles were. So, once we both decided to visit Luthre’s house at Laitumkhrah near DGR. It is still in my vivid memory we went to Laitumkhrah by boarding a popular local bus from Mawlong Hat paying 10 paise and eating chana. We only burst with excitement and anticipation all along the journey. To our sheer disbelief and relief, we were not alone to visit Luther’s residence. There were other boys, some quite aged too, who had come to see the house of their taekwondo master from a distance. We overheard from them the profuse amount of praises for the 7th Dan master. Though we did not get a chance to see Luthre popping in his spacious muddy courtyard, the feeling of joy and pride overwhelmed us. We both thought that we could at least brag with other friends about our visit to the residence of a heartthrob of the youths.
Probably within a month, I could see Luthre in person at NSCA Stadium, Shillong. I was awestruck by the way so many martial arts aspirants and instructors were being trained by Luthre. The vibes in that big hall with a huge number of practitioners furthered raised my respect for sports. I saw people from all communities and strata in one big gymnasium. All were looking up to their master with great attention. The entire stadium exhibited an immense sense of discipline, devotion and enthusiasm. I wished I were one of them. The first founded in Meghalaya by Luthre Lohar in India in 1973, taekwondo doubtlessly fostered and strengthened a unique bond of kinship and love among various communities.
But the sudden news of the demise of this martial arts icon of the 70’s and 80’s on 12th Jun 2021 at Nazareth hospital has left countless people across the country dumbfounded. There were outpourings of condolence messages from well-wishes from all communities and states. A senior advocate of the town Khalid Khan mournfully burst out – “It is an end of an era. A great sportsman and inspiration to generations of young people, Luthre Lohar will be remembered as a sporting legend who spread love, promoted talent and skill and brought different communities of Shillong and northeast under one umbrella of taekwondo.” Truly, Luthre’s demise at the age of 75 left a deep void and irreparable loss to the state. The Chief Minister Shri Conard Sangma himself has taken to Twitter to express the condolence —- “Meghalaya loses a legend with the passing of Grandmaster Luthre Lohar, 1st Indian Black Belt in Taekwondo who introduced Taekwondo in India and Meghalaya and who was also the founder of the Meghalaya Taekwondo Association.”
One most senior student of Shillong with 6th Dan under his belt – UN Shukla remarks — “Unlike any other things our grandmaster inspired countless youths to keep themselves out of drugs and alcoholism which can’t be described in words as I am witnessed to this fact. I feel this is a rare contribution to the state of Meghalaya and northeast by all account by our Grandmaster.” . Indeed, sports never fail. While the urbanity is beset with the scourge of drug abuse and alcoholism, the sportive spirit can effectively dispel the evil of addiction. Mr. Skukla was one of the trusted confidants of Luthre who supported his master to set up its branches in Mizoram, Assam, Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh and Kathmandu.
Born into a very humble Gorkha family, Luthre’s admirers include many eminent scholars, top bureaucrats and political leaders. A former Lok Sabha MP from Kokrajhar Shri Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary from Kokrajhar pays his tribute to Luthre by saying: “I do solemnly extend my deepest sense of condolences to all the members, relatives, friends and well-wishers of the bereaved family of the founding Father of Taekwondo in India.”
Similarly, Azad Mukhim from Shillong writes in this condolence message: “Taekwondo master with 7th Dan, but I personally know him to have 10th Dan, (he couldn’t collect the remaining belts because of the financial problem.. back when he was young then ). I have known him to be a very very humble and kind person always smiling all the time. The Sports Association of India has lost a GREAT LEGEND !!”
A veteran social activist Smt. Gayatri Devi from Kohima says — “The sudden demise of Luthre Lohar, a man with unflinching commitment and determination, has deeply saddened us. Words fail to describe this tragic loss especially to Martial Arts lovers and all Gorkha community in India.”
Life is short, death is inevitable. This pandemic has taught us that we mortal beings are only floating on the bubble of uncertainty. So, it is always rewarding to have the sportive spirit and follow in the footprint of the talents who kicked high!
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