Tuesday 19 November 2013

Dhyanchand or Sachin Tendulkar - Bharat Ratna Debate

Yesterday, I was part of an interesting conversation on Whatsapp group chat - a group of four friends at different locations discussed the merits of Sachin Tendulkar being awarded the highest civilian award 'Bharat Ratna'.

Though no one disputed the man for being awarded, all of us did express our surprise of him being awarded on the day of his retirement. Personally, I am huge fan of his and I would have waited for at least five years or ten years before bestowing this honour on him.
Now that he has been awarded and thereby the first sportsperson to be recognised with the top civilian award - another topic came up. Why isn't Major Dhyanchand recognised for all this hockey achievements?

How many of us remember Major Dhyanchand? A lot of them do but not as much as Sachin Tendulkar and that's the modern day truth. I try to make sense to myself on why Dhyanchand's legacy is caught in a maze of illusion when compared with Tendulkar.

A friend of mine had illustrated about India in which the legend of Tendulkar took its birth. It was a time in India when people had few TV sets manufactured by handful of companies. There was no satellite television and national television had one channel for the whole of India - which then were customised depending on which region you belonged to. Cricket was edging field hockey slowly by the day and Tendulkar accelerated that process.

That was the India I was born and by the time I was barely six, Tendulkar had made his debut and before I was eight years of age, he had excelled in Pakistan, England, New Zealand and Australia.  
Every country loves to have their own set of heroes in any field. The fundamental difference being the nature of fellow countrymen and their reactions. Cricket became the preferred sport and Tendulkar became the hero and much more.

TV sets were on the raise and soon there was cable television with multiple channels - people of India could witness a Indian taken on the best of the teams across the world and excel. Everyone could see Tendulkar bat, or bowl or even field and was well appreciated. There were famous Indian cricketers from the past but none reached out to the common man like the way Sachin did.   
Ardent sports fan always found ways to keep in touch with best of sports stories. Which individual or team stories can one think of - purely from Indian sports context in the 90's? Vishwanathan Anand taking on Gary Kasparov for the world title; Leander Paes winning the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics comes to my immediate mind. Where was hockey, our national sport? Lost in the past glory and refusing to accept the present.

There were performances by other athletes here and there - none matched the consistency of Tendulkar. Mind you, he was still in his 20's at the turn of millennium and his aura had reached grandly proportions.

 The commerce industry was on the increase in the 90's which resulted in the creation of 'Brand Tendulkar' which became a story in itself. One cannot fault a individual if he is getting a raise in his pay because of his performance. His personal life is set as an example for a lot of families in India.

Then came the darkest hour of cricket - the match fixing scandal. Bulk of the senior Indian cricketers were exposed and out of few guys who came out clean - Sachin Tendulkar was hailed as a saint. The year 2000 was very crucial for Indian cricket and to the world cricket in general with few of the cricket fans choosing the dark side of cynicism over a new hope.

There was dirt all around when the exposé took place and Indian cricket had to re-build its image. Cricket in general needed a fresh start. Sachin Tendulkar along with Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, VVS Laxman took up the mantle and took Indian cricket to new heights. Their performance was one of the reasons cricket became and still is one of the heavily invested property in India. Unlike other sports federations in India, development was taken seriously and Indian cricket has never been healthier at the grassroots level.

When you talk about Sachin Tendulkar, he is beyond the statistical world. His personality is strong enough to overlook the petty fights of who's the best cricketer in the world. What does one achieve if he is the best? Will he escape death? Will he cease to become a human being? I am curious to know what does one benefit from being the best. Cricketing wise - he has been a complete player than most of the cricketers in the history of the game. On a personal front though, he is in a stage of infancy without cricket.

What are his next set of challenges?
To understand his two teens at home; help his wife in day-to-day matters; start a new career in development of sports; take up politics; become an entrepreneur or become the recluse he wished to be - the options are plenty.

The opinions will always be divided no matter what and when it comes to Tendulkar both sides of the argument attract tremendous attention. As a cricketer he had to cope with simple expectations multiplied by countless ocean of people from different backgrounds and cultures; he was expected to help Indian win matches and score runs every match. Now what are the new set of expectations?
He had a flawless professional life and personal life thus far - but he knows with each passing day the responsibilities will only increase. It will not be as a player and life outside of cricket field. 

People would continue to have expectations more than any athlete in the history of sports. The 22-yards and the cricket field provided the perfect refuge from all the pressures - it was one place where he felt at ease irrespective of the opposition he faced.

As he prepares to lead a life of an ex-cricketer - he is now bestowed with Bharat Ratna and with it comes scrutiny of another level. Such is a life of this persona that he can never lead a simple life. His own talent, extraordinary abilities and discipline have made him to lead this uncommon life in a country of common men.

Give me a worthy guy to succeed and I shall find a cynic who thinks otherwise. And now the debate of Dhyanchand or Sachin Tendulkar is becoming a battle of egos.

Who would benefit from Dhyanchand winning the award? What has been done to Dhyanchand's legacy in the name of National Sports Day in India? What is happening to Indian hockey?
Yes, Indian hockey has won eight Olympic gold medals since the time they made their debut in Amsterdam in 1928. Six gold medals on a trot and the first three involved Dhyanchand - which included the famous victory at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of the Nazi regime and Hitler.

What is its relevance now? The last time India won a hockey gold medal was helped by the cold war which saw many of the countries boycotting USSR led Moscow Games. That was in 1980 and my parents didn't even know each other. It is part of history.

I love history but history to me is convoluted. It does not give me the right answers to my questions - it always leaves me with unexplained situations and on top of it all it narrates countless myths when it comes to specific people or events.

We like metaphors because it is soothing, appealing, poetic and dramatic as compared to simple reports or bland narrations. I, like many would get lost in these metaphors created by few writers. For Tendulkar there are plenty of written and visual evidence; on the other hand Major Dhyanchand, sadly very few saw or has been written about him.

The Union Government of India had instituted Dhyanchand lifetime achievement award in 2002. The National stadium which hosted the inaugural Asian Games in 1951 was later renamed as Major Dhyanchand Hockey stadium in New Delhi. The National Sports Day which falls on August 29th of each year also happens to be his birthday.

How many of us remember where he is from? The town he hails from is more popular by a woman patriot by the name of Laxmi Bai. Who can accurately prove which place he was born? Do people know he was an ex-service man who served for the Army in pre-independence and for a decade after independence?

Major Dhyanchand's statue in Jhansi
The famed four hands and four hockey sticks myth of this hockey wizard remains a mystery though it is very much part of Indian sports folklore. He played for pride because he mostly played in the pre-independence era. For independent India, it was all about helping Indian hockey unlike his playing days.

He was short of money towards the end of his life and was unrecognised by nation and at some of the tournaments he went. He died of liver cancer in 1979 in AIIMS in a general ward. Is that the way one treats an icon never mind a potential Bharat Ratna candidate?

Indian hockey and its decline over the years have not helped to elevate Dhyanchand's legacy. The best way to honour according to me would be - To make the national sport, a sport for the nation. Make it a governmental priority through Sports Ministry as BCCI does not need any help from the government funds. India has a lot of space for team sports outside cricket.

Any institution is governed by politics and this aspect is magnified when it concerns Government. Governmental awards over the years have always had political influence in some way or the other. People have different opinions of the same topic and awards are no different.

Why the reluctance to award Dhyanchand, the top honour of India all these days? Why blame Sachin Tendulkar if he is being awarded instead of Dhyanchand. Why should Tendulkar step in and say who deserves the award or not? How does their value legacy diminish by not honouring this award?

Dhyanchand's autobiography ‘Goal’ starts with the lines “Needless to say I am a common man.”  Looking at the legacy and upbringing of Tendulkar, he too is a common man. Their achievements in the sports field are uncommon. Their names are, have and will be exploited and used as means to spark debates of all kinds.

Will it silence the debate once in for all if both these sportsmen were awarded jointly? I guess not... 

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