There is something about the way some parents name their children. Punch Gunalan. Prince Gunaratnam. Maybe these were names they acquired somehow and then remained with them. Punch Gunalan was for a long time, simply P. Gunalan. It was some time after I knew this hero as P. Gunalan, that I found out that “P” stood for “Punch”. I am very curious if that was his name all along or he came to acquire it and if the latter, what were the circumstances surrounding and leading up to it.
I grew up with Punch Gunalan as the household name for badminton. He played both singles and doubles. His doubles partner was Ng Boon Bee. He was lanky and Boon Bee was almost squat by comparison. The enduring image is Punch doing a leaping, overhead smash from the baseline with Boon Bee standing in front of him, head bowed low and presumably ready to pounce on a poorly retrieved defence from the other side. They were champions. Punch was also in his own right as a singles player, a champion. I can’t remember now if he ever played the Indonesian legend Rudy Hartono but I suspect he did and would not be surprised if someone told me he has beaten Rudy Hartono.
Punch Gunalan is dead. The hero of Malaysian badminton for so long – I hope he was well enough to savour the Olympic silver medal feat of Lee Chong Wei recently. There were other names – Tan Aik Huang, Phuah Ah Hua, Saw Swee Leong, Foo Kok Keong, the Sidek brothers, James Selvaraj and now of course we have Lee Chong Wei. They were all national heroes in their time but the one enduring and undisputed and therefore venerable name in Malaysian badminton was Punch Gunalan. Thank God for that unusual name.