|Dhyan Chand with the ball agains France|
in the 1936 Olympic semi-finals
They pulled up outside a small village house with a mud wall. A cow was tied in the enclosure. No one was about, and they hesitantly entered. A woman came out and when they stated their mission, welcomed them warmly and seated them. They declined the offer of tea – surprised at being treated like honoured guests when they had been uncertain of even a glimpse of their hero.
|Sunil and Ajay relaxing by the victory stand|
Delhi Polytechnic c1974
The front door swung open and Major Dhyan Chand strolled in. Introductions were made, and the gangly, tongue-tied boys called on their halting powers of adolescent conversation. They politely asked about his routine, and how his son Ashok Kumar was doing. The gold medal was taken down, and they each marvelled over it again (this time officially). Dhyan Chand, the incomparable hockey idol was the most unassuming of people – simple, fulfilled, and relaxed. Somehow, an autograph just didn’t seem necessary. The auto driver was waiting to take them back to the railway station and stoutly refused payment for his services.
Ajay told me about this incident decades later.
We were on board an Indian Airlines flight from Delhi. Coffee had been poured, and Ajay picked up his cup – and it nearly clattered from his fingers when he saw who had poured it. He smiled and asked eagerly, “Ashok Kumar!”
The steward stepped back, embarrassed, and mumbled, “Yes,” his brilliance on the hockey field camouflaged under a new persona. His smile was polite but there was not the slightest flicker of pride at having been recognized – not even a trace of memory of his days as one of the top sportsmen of this country. Even when we stepped off the aircraft, there was the former Olympic player standing by the door, wearing the bland, trademark IA namaste smile and a distant, formal expression in his eyes.
|With Ashok Kumar at his academy in Bhopal in December 2015|
first appeared as a Times of India Midde on 2 Dec 1998