S. K. Sham - Tehelka.com
A few years ago, when on a European holiday, I had the occasion to visit two hallowed venues on which hockey wizard Dhyan Chand had left his indelible mark. The first was in Amsterdam, which hosted the 1928 Olympics, and which marked the beginning of India's fantastic gold-medal-winning run in hockey. The other was in Berlin, where the great Indian had the distinction of sharing the limelight with the "greatest athlete of all time," Jesse Owens.
The Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, before it was taken over by a leading football club, was in total ruin when I visited it. The main gates, which had ushered in the crowds in 1928, had sunk into the ground and lay rusted. A first request for a peep into the stadium was turned down with a gruff "It is inaccessible to outsiders because the rights have been sold."
When the request was turned into a plea - "I just want to have a glimpse of the wall on which is engraved the name of a great Indian called Dhyan Chand, and it would be for just a few minutes," the gruff Dutch security man finally relented.
He took me in from a side entrance through his office. It did not take me long to locate the "Hall of Fame." So deeply engraved on the front wall that even a heavy moss cover could not obliterate it was the name of Dhyan Chand. Alongside his name was that of Johnny Weismuller, the man who, in later years, was to conquer the celluloid world as "Tarzan."
Weismuller, who had put America on the Olympic map with his record-breaking feats in swimming, was the original and the most enduring Tarzan, played by so many thereafter. It so happened in 1928, however, that Dhyan Chand was as big a hero as Weismuller.
For a nation fed on soccer, the feat of scoring dozens of goals in a game called hockey was considered a near impossibility. And that is exactly what India did, as it trounced Austria 6-0, Belgium 9-0, Denmark 5-0, Switzerland 6-0 and Netherlands 3-0 to win the gold.
Who knows, it must have been Dhyan Chand's feats that could have unknowingly sown the seeds of this game in the Netherlands, a country which today can boast of having won the Olympic title, World Cup and Champions Trophy.
"How do you remember this man, Dhyan Chand?" the Dutchman asked in astonishment.
"Because the whole of India still remembers him," I said with pride.
But, in my heart of hearts, I knew that what I had said was not entirely true. If it were indeed so, the entire nation would each year mark August 29, the birth anniversary of Dhyan Chand, and remember him on what has been dedicated as the National Sports Day. Sadly, few among the present generation has even heard of Dhyan Chand.
A few days after the Amsterdam trip, I revisited the heart and soul of Dhyan Chand. This time, in Berlin.
To see the Olympic venue at Berlin even now, over 60 years after the Games were held there in 1936, fills one with awe. Adolf Hitler might have been a perverted genius, but a genius he was. The way he planned and executed the entire Olympic complex is a challenge to the very best that money and modern technology can buy in this jet age.
The vast expanse of the Olympic complex in Berlin, unprecedented as it was, has not been duplicated since. All the Games venues were in one place. Every discipline was held in one complex, this included even the athletes' village, media and officials' housing complexes, hospitals, banks, post offices, radio stations, luxury hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, cinema halls, opera theatres, casinos and even the red-light areas.
Hitler, so conscious of the scheming of his rivals and a stickler for security, had boasted that he could close the outer gate of the Olympic complex and still have the Games going. With this in view, he had the whole gamut of facilities and necessities encompassed in his Olympic town.
When India played their first hockey match, a few days after the opening ceremony, Dhyan Chand's magical stickwork became the talking point and started drawing the crowds from other venues to the hockey field.
The next day, a leading German newspaper carried a banner headline: 'The Olympic complex now has magic show too.' That was not all. The next day, there were posters all over Berlin hailing the new Olympic hero, apart from Jesse Owens. The posters said: 'Visit the hockey stadium to watch the Indian magician, Dhyan Chand, in action.'
After every match played by India, hundreds of spectators would troop down to the players' enclosure and touch Dhyan Chand's hockey stick to see what trick it was that kept the ball from leaving his stick, as he dribbled his way all over the field. One journalist reported: "It looks like he has some invisible magnet stuck to his hockey stick so that the ball does not leave it at all."
Such was Dhyan Chand, like so many of our heroes, honoured more abroad than at home. The man who literally sold the game of hockey to the world, has not been conferred even the smallest sporting award in our country. In Holland and Germany, they have his name emblazoned among the greatest of the greats.