My early hockey days …2

By Prabhjot Singh

Other than winning the Panjab University Inter-College Hockey Championship, 1974 was an eventful year. I not only lost my father but also failed to get into a medical college. My career was at crossroads.

Two days before my B.Sc. final (practical exams) were to start on March 9, 1974, I lost my father. For 18 years, he not only had his left side paralyzed by a stroke but was also without eyesight. He had lost one eye in his childhood while playing “gulli danda” and the second in a paralytic stroke. Still, I never saw him complaining. Whenever anybody asked him how he was “Shukar hai Waheguru da” would be his usual answer. A wrestler by choice and an excellent rider, he was a very disciplined man. 

His physical limitations notwithstanding, he would normally get up at 4 in the morning, take support of the wall of his room, go to toilet and washroom, have a bath, all by himself and return to his bed. My mother used to keep his new clothes and turban by his bed side before retiring for the day. He was very particular that his pajama and kameez were well ironed. After tying his turban and reciting “Nitnem”, he would switch on Radio to listen to Bhakti sangeet, news and other prograammes. 

In between he would have his cup of morning tea and then breakfast. In the afternoon, on my return from school, I would recite “Sukhmani Sahib” path to him before doing my homework and my evening game. I would return home by 6-6.30 to take my father to a gurdwara by holding his hand. After “Rehras Sahib”, we would return home. He would take his dinner and retire while I would go back to my friends. My father was also a keen sport lover. Though he never played or saw cricket but would invariably listen to cricket or hockey commentary on All India Radio. He was a great support to me.

Dejected by turn of events, I decided not to study science anymore. I got admission in Lyallpur Khalsa College, Jalandhar, as a student of MA Political Science. It was the first year when the Guru Nanak Dev University decided to shift to English medium for postgraduate classes. Added attraction for me was that my new alma mater had an excellent hockey team.

The college management offered me a spew of concessions and benefits in recognition of my impressive academic record and achievements in extracurricular activities. Though I had to travel every morning from Ludhiana to Jalandhar Cantt by rail and then walk to the college a few km away, the new experience was exciting.

My association with Lyallpur Khalsa College lasted a few months as Punjabi University, Patiala, decided to start Bachelor of Journalism course by roping in one of top journalists of the country, Mr. Kuldip Nayar, as the Visiting Head. Luckily, I got admission in the first batch.

After medical sciences, and political science, journalism was my third choice within the year, I was the youngest student on the batch, just a science graduate while some of my class fellows were pursuing, side by side, doctorate, M.Phil. or other postgraduation courses, including diplomas. Unfortunately, the University Campus, unlike Panjab University, had no sports teams.

For my Bachelor of Journalism, I chose Hockey for my dissertation. In between I not only introduced sports page in vernacular newspapers of Jalandhar, but also started visiting Panjab University Campus in Chandigarh where the national camp for Indian hockey team for the 1975 World Cup was in progress.

Though I did not get a chance t play much of hockey at Patiala but I was compensated with my visits to Chandigarh camp of Indian hockey team.

It was a great opportunity for me to meet almost all players in the 1975 World Cup camp. The campers were staying in the newly built Girls Hostel located just opposite the lush green playfields of Panjab University campus.

Because of the national camp, sponsored by the Punjab Government and co-sponsored by the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) and Panjab University, Chandigarh started hawking news media headlines. The Indian Hockey Federation was divided and had become defunct after Mr. Ashwani Kumar quit.

During one of my interactions with campers, a startling fact drew my attention. Only a handful of our national players held good jobs as most of them were class III employees. Harcharan Singh Boparai, HJS Chimney and Ajit Pal Singh belonged to the small band of gazette officers.

There was an interesting development in 1974. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi summoned the IHF President Ashwani Kumar to the union capital. Posted in Jammu and Kashmir as Inspector-General of Police in Border Security Force, he was on an inspection visit to Gulmarg when the message was flashed to him that the PM wanted him in Delhi by the evenings. A special chopper lifted him to Srinagar from where he took a flight to Delhi.

He was shocked when Mrs. Gandhi questioned him about “domination” of Sikhs in Indian hockey teams. His explanations fell flat. After the meeting, Mr. Ashwani Kumar put in his papers after talking to the IOA President, Raja Bhalendra Singh. It led to emergence of a parallel group in claiming itself to be the genuine IHF.

Since the IOA had taken the control of Indian Hockey Federation, it accepted the offer of the Punjab Government to train the Indian team for the 1975 World Cup. Punjab Chief Minister Giani Zail Singh entrusted the administrative responsibility to Mr. Umrao Singh, Education and Youth Affairs Minister, besides Mr. KJS Bains and Mr. Manmohan Singh – senior bureaucrats handling the Department of Youth and Sports.

Balbir Singh Senior and Gurcharan Singh Bodhi were assigned to train the team while Dr. Surinder Singh Gill of Panjab University was assigned to look after the physical fitness of the campers. Dr. Jatinder Mohan, also of Panjab University, was associated as a psychologist while r P.N. Chhuttani, Director, PGI, deputed Dr. Rajendra Kalra for providing the medical cover to the team.

There were 42 players in the camp that started in December 1974. The number was pruned down to 24 after the month-long preliminary camp. The final selection saw 16 players being named for the Kuala Lumpur event.

And the team scripted history by improving further the color of the medal – from bronze in Barcelona (1971), to silver in Amsterdam (1973), and gold in Kuala Lumpur (1975).

And after the historic Kuala Lumpur triumph, the victorious team did visit Panjab University campus and the hostel to pay its gratitude, before girls finally moved into the rooms that earlier hosted World Cup heroes, their coaches, and other members of the training staff.

After several weeks of celebrations, life returned to normalcy. My Bachelor of Journalism had ended with distinction as I stood second overall. It paved way for my return to SCD Government College, Ludhiana. I was back on the hockey ground though this time, many of star performers of yesteryears had moved to the neighboring Arya College. Supremacy of 1974 was gone  though the Panjab University’s competition arena had shrunk by nearly half as it lost its administrative control of colleges located in Haryana.