"You are doubtlessly aware that I am a common man, and then a soldier. It has been my training from the very childhood to avoid limelight and publicity. I have chosen a profession where I have been taught to be a soldier, and nothing beyond that." - Major Dhyan Chand
The Olympics fever has boiled down. Our players have returned home with glittering medals to cherish, and stories to tell. With the growing interest of Indians in sport and India's uphill journey in the Olympics medal tally, we pray that most of these sportsmen will achieve greater heights and fame. We pray that they will not be forgotten.
Let's also not forget the one man who lived during times when sportsmen were meant to be forgotten. Let's not forget the three times Olympic gold medalist from India - who died penniless. Today is a very important day for sportsmen in India - 29th of August is instituted as National Sports Day as it happens to be the birthday of legendary Indian hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand.
Major Dhyan Chand's contribution to the field of team hockey goes beyond what can be written here. He was a true gentleman and a lover of the game. A magnificent center-forward - Dhyan Chand is eternally remembered for his goal making feats. His rigor and obstinate passion for the field saw him bring 3 Gold Medals to India from the Olympics held in 1928, 1932 and 1936.
On the field he was named the "Wizard of Hockey" for he exerted complete control on the ball. It appeared that the ball was stuck to his hockey stick while playing. So great was the magic of Dhyan Chand that the Tokyo officials broke his hockey stick to search for a magnet inside, and then tried to console themselves saying he had added some sort of glue. On one occasion, a lady from the audience asked Dhyan Chand to play with her walking stick instead. He was supposedly so fast that TV analysis of his gameplay was rendered too slow.
An army man, when selected for 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Dhyan Chand was unstoppable. India scored 29 goals and conceded none. Of the total 69 goals scored by all participating teams, Dhyan Chand alone scored 14. The media described the Indian hockey team as the eastern typhoon.
In the 1932 world tour, when the Indian Hockey team also participated in and won the Los Angeles olympics, India scored 338 goals and conceded only 34. Dhyan Chand scored 133 goals. During a 1935 tour of New Zealand and Australia, he scored 201 goals out of the team's tally of 584 in 43 matches. Don Bradman and Dhyan Chand once came face to face at Adelaide in 1935. After watching Dhyan Chand in action, Don Bradman remarked "He scores goals like runs in Cricket".
In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Indians were again unstoppable. In the finals against the hosts, it is believed that after trailing by 6 goals, the Germans resorted to foul play. In a clash with the German goalkeeper, Dhyan Chand broke one of his teeth, but was soon back in action scoring 6 of the goals in the final match won 8-1.
After victory in Berlin, the team raised the Indian tricolour in the dressing room and sang Vande Mataram, instead of the British national anthem, which they were obliged to sing. Impressed by his performance, Adolf Hitler supposedly offered to make Dhyan Chand a Field Marshal in the German army but was refused.
Dhyan Chand retired from his defense service as a Major at the age of 51. He continued contributing to the game even after his retirement. He earned a diploma in coaching from the National Institute of Sports in Patiala, Punjab and was positioned as the Hockey Coach Chief at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala.
However, he died penniless in 1979, uncared for in a hospital, receiving a meagre pension. A year after his death, the Indian Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honour and a stadium, the Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi, was renamed in tribute.
Since his death, Major Dhyan Chand’s birthday is celebrated as the National Sports Day of India. On this day, schools and sports academies across the nation organize annual sports events in fervent patriotic zeal. The lifetime achievement awards in sports, which is regarded as the highest in the field in India - the Dhyan Chand Award, initiated in 2002 - is given away on this day.
A Special Award distribution event at Rastrapati Bhawan makes this day even more memorable for many. Popular and renowned sport-related awards like the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award are presented by the President of India, to great sportsmen of the year.
From a sorry state of affairs, India is slowly emerging as a nation where sports people are being recognized. India winning 6 medals in London Olympics is a testament to the journey Indian sports has undertaken. But this has happened at the price of the unconditional efforts laid by numerous people who lived just for the love of the game. Major Dhyan Chand's name shines brightest in the list of these selfless sportsmen.
Today, as the nation celebrates it's national sports day, let's not forget the wizard - and his magic.
Photo credit: thehindu.com