Thursday 29 August 2013

A Man with Four Hands and Four Hockey Sticks - Dhyanchand's tryst with Mythology

Major Dhyanchand would have celebrated his 108th birthday today if he were to physically present. Like his son Ashok Kumar once mentioned – “My father became more popular after his death”.

Field Hockey, being India’s national sport was consumed intensively among people until the 1980’s. Gold as a metal is not deficient in India and is a national treasure linked with traditions and rituals; the same is for Olympic gold in hockey. After 1980 Moscow Games, India has tried hard and each occasion we have failed. Not just gold medal, even silver or bronze is a destination too far in field hockey at the moment. We have eight gold medals including a six-game streak since the time India made its Olympic debut in hockey way back in 1928 at Amsterdam. If not for the World War II, there could have been two more added to the list. ‘If’

There are lots of stories linked to Dhyanchand, who by the time retired from the army had contributed enough both in his field of work and more so for hockey. He was a ‘Major’ at the time of his retirement and the name has stuck since the time it was conferred upon him.

August 29th is officially India’s National Sports Day. A lot of events take place commemorating the occasion and many of the national sports awards are given away by the President of India. Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (the highest honour for an Indian athlete), Arjuna Award (excellence shown by an athlete), Dronacharya Award (excellence in sports coaching), Dhyanchand Award (lifetime achievement award) and Sports Development Award titled ‘Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar’ with categories such as: Nurturing the young talent, providing financial assistance, establishment and management of sports facilities and academies and employment and welfare measures for Sports persons.

The National stadium in New Delhi, which hosted the inaugural 1951 Asian Games, is an exclusive hockey stadium at present. It is more popularly known as ‘Major Dhyanchand Stadium’ since 2002.

Along with these above mentioned highlights, there are many stories that involve Dhyanchand. He is known to be Pele of hockey or for that matter Sir Don Bradman himself had admitted and compared to Dhyanchand goal scoring abilities to his run scoring ability in cricket.

Legend has it, Hitler after seeing ‘The Wizard’ humiliate the German hockey team at 1936 Berlin Olympics offered him a higher rank in his army and a German citizenship. Dhyanchand declined this offer and went on with his life, the way he knew after having picked up his third gold medal.

Sometime in the late 90’s, at a quiz forum there was a question on an athlete whose statue with four hands and four hockey sticks being erected by the residents of Vienna. Who else but Dhyanchand? Yes, that was the most popular guess and it has been a popular trivia for a long time. When I was researching for sports questions, I always wanted to find a picture of this statue and put it as a question. 

After good number of years, my patience finally ran out and I began to wonder if this story has any basis. If it were to be true, why isn’t a single photograph of this on Google or atleast the location of this statue? Indians travel a lot and out of these tourists, I would expect a small percentage to have knowledge on Dhyanchand. They would have surely found this. And isn’t this matter a curious one for the field hockey fraternity?

While the search for this picture or the location was on, I realised and asked the Austrian Hockey Federation directly on this. In one sentence they wrote back to me “Nein, die Geschichte stimmt nicht. Es gibt keine Statue in Österreich”; which translates to - “No, the story is not true. There is no such statue in Austria”. This is in response to me asking if they had ever come across a statue of Dhyanchand with four hands and four hockey sticks.

Honestly, I would have loved to see it being true. However, the sheen on Dhyanchand exploits does not diminish an iota by the mere absence of a statue, a symbol if not anything else. The legend of this story continues even today that such a statue exists. It might be an exaggeration or a poetic license or whatever you call it in literary terms. I could relate to it being true and I do not need any physical presence of a statue to tell me this. Such was his domination and I say no more.

As I conclude writing this, the kid in me wishes some resident of Vienna would one day discover and exhibit this statue, which was found while he/she was cleaning or looking for some antique or precious stuff of their ancestors at the cellar or roof of their house.