August 29- the National Sports Day in India. Schools and colleges celebrate the day; sporting events are held in institutes and organisations; and of course the sporting honours are bestowed upon selected Indian athletes by the government.
This year too the honours were conferred by President Ram Nath Kovind. Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia became the first paralympian to receive the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award along with hockey star Sardar Singh. The Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Award were also conferred.
But all these hullabaloo on this day is due to that man who is remembered for his leadership, astonishing ball control and extraordinary goal-scoring skills. He was Major Dhyan Chand, the ‘Hockey Wizard’, who had won India three Olympic gold medal and had defined hockey in his own way.
Some of the legendary stories of his control and movement on the field are quite famous. It is said that cricket great Don Bradman remarked, “Dhyan Chand scores goal like we score runs in cricket,” after watching him play in 1935 in Adelaide. As he played, it appeared that the ball remain stuck to Dhyan Chand’s hockey stick. In Netherlands, the authorities broke his hockey stick to check if there was a magnet inside and in Tokyo play had been stopped to check whether he had applied glue to his hockey stick. He was supposedly so fast that TV analysis of his play had to be rendered in slow motion. The Austrians were so awestruck by his magical play that they erected a statue of him at Vienna to honour him and the Britishers named a tube rail station by his name.
But the incident that defies all as the most noted one had happened in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. The Indian hockey team arrived in Germany for the Olympics. But they lost 1-4 to the home team in a practice match. Captain Major Dhyan Chand was so shocked that he vowed, “As long as I live, I shall never forget this match, or get over the shock of this defeat, which still rankles me”
With the start of the Games, the Indian team turned up for their first match against Hungary and won with a huge margin of 4-0. They also won their next matches against the USA and Japan. Dhyan Chand’s magical stick work attracted crowds from all over Europe. German newspapers lit the excitement by referring, “The Olympic Stadium now has a magic show too.” There were posters all over Berlin: Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician Dhyan Chand in action.
India won the semi-finals against France by a huge margin of 10-0. Dhyan Chand himself scored 4 goals. The finals against Germany was an eventful one as top Nazi officials like Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Joachim Ribbentrop and the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler were present in the stadium. When India was leading by 6 goals, the Germans started body play. In a clash with the German goalkeeper, Tito Warnholtz, Dhyan Chand broke one of his teeth. But that did not stop him from playing the remaining minutes.
Myth says that Hitler left the stadium midway as he could not bear his team’s pathetic lose to India. India eventually won the match by 8-1 where Dhyan Chand scored 3 goals, AIS Dara scored 2 goals while Roop singh, Tapsell and Jaffer scored one goal each. Thus, Dhyan Chand and his team avenged the loss in the practice match. Reportedly, Dhyand Chand played the game bare footed and later with rubber slippers, leaving the audience awestruck with his extraordinary performance.
The following day Dhyan Chand was surprised to receive an invitation from the office of Adolf Hitler to visit him. The Hockey genius was worried as he had heard stories of the Nazi dictator shooting people on the spot. On meeting him, Hitler welcomed Dhyan Chand warmly in his private box in the stadium. He then asked Dhyan Chand about his profession in India. As he explained that he worked as a Lance Naik in the Indian army, Hitler offered him a high post in the German army. But, a true patriot, Dhyan Chand, politely refused the offer saying that his family resided in India and that it would be difficult for him to relocate. The German dictator was understanding towards his position and ended the meeting.
Major Dhyan Chand served his nation both by his profession and his passion. He reminisced in his autobiography Goal that he wanted to teach the Germans a lesson in ball control in the final match and that he would often pass the ball in the D to only tease the defenders and not score. Such was Dhayn Chand, a man of immense calibre. But he never voiced about his greatness. He only said, “I am a common man, and then a soldier. It has been my training from my 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.”