Thursday, August 28, 2014

Exclusive Interview: Pitaji was a man of few words, recalls Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Dhyan Chand’s hockey wizardry left a deep imprint in the minds of hockey lovers – the grace, dexterity, poise, gumption he exuded on the hockey maidans – made him a household figure in India. Dhyan Chand was an invincible factor in India’s three Olympic gold medal triumphs in 1928, 1932 and 1936 – he loves to reserve his best for the final – at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics he scored twice in India’s 3-0 win over the Netherlands in the final – at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, he slammed eight goals in the all-famous 24-1 hammering of USA and was later again among the goals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics final against Germany which they won 8-1, a game where he took off his shoes at half-time and played barefooted in the second half. Dhyan Chand made his last international match in 1948 scoring more than 400 international goals. He was bestowed the coveted Padma Bhushan in 1956 – the same year he retired from the Army as a Major.

Sadly, the towering image he has built during his playing days and beyond, hasn’t been accompanied by recognition befitting his stature. No wonder, he did not want his son Ashok Kumar to take up hockey as a career option. “Pitaji (dad) did not get much in terms of financial recognition from any quarters despite all his achievements. So, he kept discouraging me to opt for hockey as a career,” says the legend’s son and former Indian forward Ashok Kumar in an exclusive interview, recalling the times he spent with the illustrious father on his 109th birth anniversary.

Ashok Kumar recalled those days when his Allahabad-born father was opposed to him playing hockey. “He was against me taking up hockey seriously, so I used go the maidan to play hockey by slipping across our house’s back door. Believe it or, pitaji first saw him playing hockey when I represented Bengal in the Seniors Nationals in Bangalore in 1970. I still remember a lot of pressmen and people turned up to see my dad and me at the same venue and my father told the pressmen ‘he has a long way to’…”. Ashok Kumar, in fact, was a stalwart also – he played in four World Cups (1971, 1973, 1975, 1978) two Olympics (1972 and 1976) as well as three Asian Games (1970, 1974, 1978).

Prod Ashok as to why Dhyan Chand’s exploits went unnoticed during those days, he says, “Well, pitaji did not belong to a financially sound family. He was employed with the Indian Army, but there were hardly any financial rewards doled out to him during those heydays. I think that was one of the main factors for the start of the decline of Indian hockey as youngsters probably felt that if a stalwart like Dhyan Chand receive step-motherly treatment, it was a futile exercise to pursue hockey as a career path.”

According to Ashok, his legendary father was a man of few words. “I remember when I returned home after winning the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, it took me three hours to reach home from the railway station. When I reached home which was packed with mediamen, fans, family members, etc, I touched pitaji’s feet at the house entrance seeking his blessings, and he gladly touched my head flashing a smile – a smile which was more than words – just indicated the satisfaction of a dad seeing his son do something for the country.”

Statistics of hockey players are hard to find, but Ashok says it’s the medals that more than other things. “Today, we see players talk about the number of internationals they have played for the country. I firmly believed that how many medals you won matter more than the number of internationals played for the country. If a player has featured in many internationals for the country, but has not won any medal, there is nothing to show in terms of achievements,” he fires the parting shot.

The legend Dhyan Chand died of liver cancer on December 3, 1979 at the age of 74. His birthday anniversary is celebrated as the National Sports Day every year – an opportunity to remember the legend, who instilled fear in the minds of the opposition all across the globe.

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