On the occasion of National Sports Day 2014, we remember one of India’s greatest heroes who cemented India’s position as the undisputed international hockey champ at a time when Independence was still a dream. Dhyan Chand, the greatest hockey player India has ever produced was a genius, whose fame transcended national boundaries.
On the occasion of National Sports Day today on August 29 2014, Ramendra Kumar pays a tribute to the legend.
The year was 1915, a ten year old boy and his friends were playing a rustic version of hockey in the lanes of Jhansi. They had cut a branch of a date palm tree and removed the leaves. With a curve at its end, this branch became an improvised hockey stick. From old rags they had made a ball and running barefoot they engaged themselves in playing the popular sport in their own style. No one could have imagined that this youngster who began playing with a stick and rags would one day grow up to become the greatest exponent of the game and enthrall the entire planet with his magic. Yes, the little boy was none other than Dhyan Chand, the Wizard of Hockey.
Dhyan Chand (Dhyan Singh) was born in Allahabad on August 29, 1905. His father Sameshwar Dutt Singh was a soldier in the Indian army. The young Dhyan’s hockey skills were soon noticed and he was inducted into the Children’s Platoon at the age of 14. Two years later Dhyan followed the family tradition and joined the First Brahmin Regiment in Delhi army as a Sepoy. Dhyan Chand was initiated into the art and craft of hockey by his Subedar-Major Bale Tiwari. He was a keen hockey enthusiast and a very fine player. He introduced Dhyan Chand to this game and gave him his initial hockey lessons.
Dhyan Chand’s first big break came when he was selected to represent the country on a tour to New Zealand. One day his commanding officer called him to his regiment and told him, “Boy, you are going to New Zealand.” Dumbstruck Dhyan Chand somehow just about managed to salute the officer. Later, overwhelmed at this opportunity, he broke down in his barracks.
He had a very successful trip in New Zealand and was selected to represent India in the 1928 Olympics. The Indian team played brilliant hockey and set up a final against Holland, the home team. A huge crowd of 50,000 people had come to cheer their home team. In a memorable encounter, India outplayed Holland 3-0. Dhyan Chand who was suffering from fever throughout the game had the distinction of scoring two of those goals.
Four years later in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics the story was no different. On August 11, India met the United States in the finals of the tournament. It was a cakewalk for the visitors, and they won by 24 goals to 1.
The high point of Dhyan Chand’s illustrious career was no doubt the quest for Gold during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. For the first time he had the honour of leading the Indian team.
Just before the finals, the Indians raised the Indian tricolour and sang Vande Mataram in the dressing room, rather than the British national anthem, which they were obliged to sing on the field.
The whistle blew for the start of the game. The crowd roared as Germany adopted India’s game and took to short passing. In the first half India could manage only one goal.
The Indian team got into their rhythm in the second half. Dhyan Chand scored in the opening minutes of the second half. India then scored a barrage of goals – four in five minutes to seal the fate of the match.
As the ground was still slippery due to rain, Dhyan Chand discarded his spiked shoes and stockings and played with his bare feet. It was the incredible stick work of Dhyan Chand that had the crowd mesmerized. He moved with the ball as if it were stuck to his hockey stick.
Indian won the match 8-1 with the skipper being responsible either directly or indirectly for half a dozen goals. After the final, as the Indian players were rejoicing at the victory, Dhyan Chand appeared a little sad. On being asked the reason, he said, “I would have been far happier if the victory had come under the Indian flag.”
Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany had come to witness his dream team Germany annihilate the Indians. Less than seventy minutes later his vision lay shattered. The Fuehrer wanted to meet the player who was mainly responsible for crushing his dream and soon the tryst was organized.
“What is your profession?” Hitler asked him.
“I am a Lance Naik in the Indian army.”
“Why don’t you come to Germany and play for my team. I’ll make you a Major or even a Field Marshal.”
“I would rather play for my country. My India.”
Hitler nodded in appreciation, saluting in his heart, no doubt, the patriotism of the Lance Naik.
As Dhyan Chand grew in years and experience the legends around him kept growing. On the field it was told he had the eye of a hawk and the speed of a grey hound. They broke his hockey stick in Holland to check if there was a magnet inside; in Japan they decided it was glue; in Germany, Adolf Hitler even wanted to buy it! The residents of Vienna built a statue of the Indian with four hands and four sticks, signifying Dhyan Chand’s unparalleled control over the ball.
During the Berlin Olympics, a German newspaper carried a banner headline: ‘The Olympic complex now has a magic show too.’ The next day, there were posters all over Berlin: ‘Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.’
Don Bradman and Dhyan Chand once came face to face at Adelaide in 1935, when the Indian hockey team was in Australia. After watching Dhyan Chand in action Bradman remarked, “He scores goals like I make runs in cricket”.
In 1956, at the age of 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. The Government of India honoured him that year by conferring him the Padma Bhushan (India’s third highest civilian honour). The Government released a postage stamp in his honour on December 3, 1980, exactly a year after he died. The Indian Olympic Association named him the player of the century. August 29 is celebrated as National Sports Day when the national sporting awards are handed out by the President of India at Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
Berlin Olympics 1936 – Major Dhyan Chand (Rare Video)
I had an opportunity to interview Ashok Kumar the son of the legendary player and an icon in his own right. “Which one quality would best define your father?” I asked him.
Pat came the answer, “Simplicity. He was a straightforward man who had no airs about him. Even though he had reached the pinnacle of success his feet were firmly on the ground.”
“What was he like a father?”
“At home he was a strict disciplinarian. As kids we were scared of him. However, in the barracks he was quite fun loving. He used to crack jokes and even indulge in shero-shayaari. Of course when we were told this we were quite surprised. We couldn’t imagine our father, who sported such a tough demeanor at home, would be such a fun person with his comrades.”
Most legends in a particular field would want their children to excel in the same arena. We have scores of examples of politicians, films stars, cricketers who have pushed their sons and daughters to achieve success in their vocation. These superstars have invested their time and energy in their progeny hoping to create their bonsai or larger versions. However, Dhyan Chand, after he quit the game, was soon a disillusioned man. Despite putting the country on the global map the maestro had to live a life of penury. Bringing up seven children was not an easy task and existence became a constant struggle.
“My father didn’t want us to play hockey. ‘Concentrate on academics so that you can earn a decent living,’ he would admonish us. Whenever he was at home we would slip out of the back door with our hockey sticks and practice outside, away from his gimlet gaze,” Ashok Kumar said.
Clearly while the genius had given his life to the game of hockey and his youth to the nation, the sport and the country had let him down very badly.
Dhyan Chand, the man, died on 3rd December 1979 at New Delhi but his legend lives on. As Gulu Ezekiel and K. Arumugam write in their book, ‘The Great Indian Olympians’, “Dhyan Chand was an ordinary Indian, merely a serving soldier. Neither did the game improve his living standards nor enhance his creature comforts. Yet he took up the game and evolved it into the finest display of sporting skill. If a single sports personality gave the country credibility as a sporting nation, it was none other than this common man.”
Dhyan Chand’s was a life spent selflessly in the service of the nation both as a committed soldier and a brilliant player. He is an icon whose legacy is beyond time and space. The values he stood for, the ideals he lived up to will remain endearing, enduring and eternal.
Dhyan Chand – the values he stood for, the ideals he lived up to will remain endearing, enduring and eternal. http://t.co/D31NaaELEn
— Learning&Creativity (@LearnNCreate) August 15, 2014
— Times of India (@timesofindia) August 12, 2014
As legendary hockey player Dhyan Chand’s name gets shortlisted for the Bharat Ratna, here’s a look at his resume http://t.co/8e1bfWoI56
— mid-day Infomedia (@mid_day) August 13, 2014
— Sonia Faleiro (@soniafaleiro) August 14, 2014
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