हॉकी का जादूगर
“This is not a game of hockey, but magic. Dhyan Chand is in fact the magician of hockey.”
— Excerpt from a newspaper post India’s triumph (Gold Medal Win) in 1928 Amsterdam Olympics
Next two Olympics had the same result ; only the newspaper excerpts became packed with more superlatives .
“The All-India field hockey team which G. D. Sondhi brought to Los Angeles to defend their 1928 Olympic title, was like a typhoon out of the east. They trampled under their feet and all but shoved out of the Olympic stadium the eleven players representing the United States.”
— India won 24-1 against Hosts Nation USA in Los Angeles Olympics 1932
“The game was played at a fast pace and was packed with thrilling incidents. The Germans undercut and lifted the ball, but the Indian team countered with brilliant half-volleying and amazing long shots. Twice Dara attempted to score but was declared offside. Dhyan Chand discarded his spiked shoes and stockings and played with bare legs and rubber soles and became speedier in the second half.”
— India registered a 8–1 victory over Germany in the 1936 Olympic final
Chapter 1 : A Legend is Born
Dhyan Singh was born in Allahabad , city of Triveni Sangam . Coincidentally , he had two more brothers making them a trio . While not much is known about Mool Singh , his other brother Roop Singh was himself a decorated
hockey player and was part of the dream team of 1932 and 1936 Olympics .
The family had some background in hockey as father played hockey in the British Indian Army. Dhyan , although nonchalant to hockey game at first , came into contact with it once he joined army at the age of 16. He garnered attention with his practice hockey sessions post duty every night . In fact , that’s how the “Chand” (literal meaning moon) got attached to his name.
In the next four years , he played extensively in the internal Army tournaments and regimental games . Things then started to get major (pun intended) and ultimately , he got selected for the Indian hockey team that were to tour New Zealand . The team performed exceptionally well and since then , he never looked back.
Chapter 2 : Stint with Citius, Altius, Fortius
Unfortunately , Field hockey was removed from the Summer Olympic Games at the 1924 Paris Games because of the lack of an international sporting structure. The International Hockey Federation (FIH, Fédération Internationale de Hockey) was founded in Paris that year as a response to field hockey’s omission. Subsequently it led to Men’s field hockey becoming a permanent feature at the next Olympic Games, the 1928 Games in Amsterdam and future editions of Olympics .
India blew away everyone with their performance at 1928 Olympics with wins netting in as high as 9 goals difference. India didn’t concede even a single goal in the whole event . Beat that .
1932 Olympic wins were even more memorable. By debilitating host nation by 24–1 , the team had nothing else left to prove . Fun fact , Chand along with his brother Roop, scored 25 out of the 35 goals scored by India. This led to them being dubbed the ‘hockey twins’.
And then arrived the much awaited 1936 Berlin Olympics shrouded with the claims of alleged Aryan Athletic Supremacy . Apart from biting dust and tasting disappointment at the hands of Jesse Owens in the field and track events , the hockey added more embarrassment to the host nation. After India played its first match in the 1936 Olympics, Dhyan Chand’s magical stickwork drew crowds from other venues to the hockey field.
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.
In the words of Dhyan Chand himself , as scribed in his autobiography titled ‘Goal!’
“When Germany was four goals down, a ball hit Allen’s pad and rebounded. The Germans took full advantage of this and made a rush, netting the ball before we could stop it. That was the only goal Germany would score in the match against our eight, and incidentally the only goal scored against India in the entire Olympic tournament. India’s goal-getters were Roop Singh, Tapsell and Jaffar with one each, Dara two and myself three.”
The final features in Olympia , a 1938 German film documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics . During a match with Germany in the in the same Olympics , Dhyan Chand lost a tooth in a collision with the particularly aggressive Germany goalkeeper Tito Warnholtz. Returning to the field after medical attention, Dhyan Chand reportedly told the players to “teach a lesson” to the Germans by not scoring. The Indians repeatedly took the ball to the German circle only to backpedal.
Chapter 3: To Infinity and Beyond
Doyen of world hockey , Dhyan Chand , remains celebrated to this date with his off-the-planet skills still resonating in the minds of not only those who witnessed him play but also the subsequent generations such as Baby Boomers , Generation X , Millennials and the one I belong to , Generation Z .
Cricket world’s legend Don Bradman and Hockey’s greatest player 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, Don Bradman remarked “He scores goals like runs in cricket”.
In 1956, Dhyan Chand retired from the army with the rank of Major and in the same year he was conferred India’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, by the Government of India.
A tube station was named after him in London, along with 358 other past and present Olympic heroes, in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics. Only six stops were named after hockey players, with the three Indians — Dhyan Chand, Roop Singh and Leslie Claudius — cornering the majority.
However , the biggest gift that he got , in my opinion , is the celebration of his birthday as National Sports Day in India.
No wonder , there are numerous apocryphal legends surrounding the “legend” himself.
1 Once, while playing a hockey game, Major Dhyan Chand was not able to score a goal against the opposition team. After several misses, he argued with the match referee regarding the measurement of the goal post, and amazingly, it was found to not be in conformation with the official width of a goal post under international rules.
2Dhyan Chand used to practice ball control by sprinting along the length of railway tracks while balancing the ball on the track rail.
3 The Führer was so impressed by Dhyan Chand’s wizardry with the stick that he offered the Indian a chance to move to Germany and the post of Colonel in his army, which the Indian is said to have declined with a smile.
4In the Netherlands, the authorities broke his hockey stick to check if there was a magnet inside.
A hero is someone who has given his/her life to something bigger than oneself .
— Joseph Campbell
For Dhyan Chand , it was hockey .
In years to come , India will continue to participate and hopefully win accolades but it’s a rarity that they will ever reproduce the Golden Era (1928–1980) at the Olympics . Just look at the sheer stats of Indian Hockey Performance in Olympics in that period and you’ll nod your head in agreement.
Here’s to hoping that the tricolor will once again adorn the hockey arena and at least attempt to create and weave the heritage magic that we are so proud of.
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