It is extremely challenging to write about this iconic hockey wizard — "Dada", as he was known to close circles. I must admit none of our generation, including myself, were fortunate enough to see him play in his prime. Still, those who saw him and played alongside him, considered him to be the greatest they had seen in their life.
Personally, I started hearing of him when I was quite small. My father, the late Kartar Singh, had in those pre-independence days the charge of raising and managing the AMC (then the Indian Hospital Corps) team at Rawalpindi. He himself was a player, a full-back, and he recruited players
from the famous Sansarpur and Mithapur areas for IHC Rawalpindi in the Forties. I remember some of the names: Hazura Singh, Sohan Singh, Sant Singh, Thakur Singh and one of them was the father of Piara Singh, of Indian Navy, who was in the Indian team at the 1962 Djakarta Asian Games. There used to be regular inter-command matches played in the Army, and Dada Dhyan Chand appeared for the Punjab Regiment. Of course, at the time I was too young to assess his greatness.
Indian hockey great Dhyan Chand.
But my first close interaction was when I came to Meerut in 1955. I turned out for Freshers' Club and played regular matches against Punjab Regiment, who were managed by Major Dhyan Chand and had Gurdev Singh (1956 Olympian) in the team, and Sikh Regimental Centre, having internationals like Hardayal, Haripal Kaushik, Bakshi and others.
In fact, when just twenty and a college student, I was asked by Dhyan Chand to play for them in Delhi, and I appeared for Punjab Regiment against Indian Railways and received good press attention. That was in fact a formative period in the development of my hockey career.
Then of course I moved from Meerut and my next encounter with Dada was during the 1959 Nationals at Hyderabad, when I represented Bengal while Dhyan Chand was a selector, along with Kishen Lal, K.D. Singh Babu and Balbir Singh - all Olympic captains! During the tournament Dada and Kishen Lal both told me to be ready for the coming East Africa tour. But ultimately, my name was in the list of stand-bys.
But I could witness the genius of Dhyan Chand only in the camp held at Patiala later in 1959 for the ensuing Europe tour. His complete mastery of the bully, and his wonderful half-volley stroke had to be seen to realize his class. All the top players of his time — Udham, Claudius, Hardayal. Prithipal, Joginder among them — tried the bully-off with him but every time the ball would be won by Dada. Then he show us all the trick in slow motion. It was amazing: at the third stroke he would hook his opponent's stick, simply so fast that naked eye could not catch the movement!
Similarly with the half-volley: he scored at will from the top of the circle against goalkeepers like Laxman and Deshmuthu.
My Golden Days - Gurbux Singh
When we went for the Lyons international tournament in France in 1969, I as vice-captain, he accompanied us as coach. His utter simplicity, and his genuine love for the game and the country, became evident on the tour. We won the tournament at Lyons but Dada was extra passionate about our game against the West German XI at Berlin during our European tour. He told us about winning the Gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and wanted we should win our game in the same stadium-which we did!
Dhyan Chand was also the chief coach at the Patiala national institute, till the 1968 Olympics. He was very fond of fishing, and loved to cook his "catch" himself, sitting in his shorts and singlet, and would call friends to share his cooking.
As coach, he was never particularly vocal in his instructions, but after matches he would sit and quite passionately discuss the game.
When he died (late in 1979), I was asked by Mohun Bagan's late Dhiren Dey to represent the club at his funeral, and I cherish the thought that I was able to fly to Delhi and then travel to Jhansi in time to attend the final rites of the greatest player the hockey world has ever seen.
He was the first Indian sportsman to be awarded the Padma Bhushan, and of course we observe the national Khel Diwas on his birthday. It is a pity he has not been conferred the Bharat Ratna: he was certainly the first sportsman from the country whose greatness the world appreciated, and for all time, he made the game of hockey synonymous with India
In fact, there was no Olympics in 1940 and 1944, otherwise he would have represented India in five Olympic Games. It is a pity, too, that there were to videos in his time to record his play, and to show the world his mastery of the game.
The above is an excerpt on Dhyan Chand from the book My Golden Days by legendary hockey player Gurbux Singh. The book gives a glimpse of Indian hockey as it existed from 50s through to last decade. Gurbux was born in Peshawar (now in Pakistan) and had to migrate to India due to partition. His description of partition and personal trauma, are moving. The highlight of the work is how India could wrest Olympic gold in 1964, which it lost to Pakistan in 1960. And then the Asian Games gold two years later.