The little town of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh commemorated the 35th death anniversary of the wizard of Indian hockey, Dhyan Chand yesterday with a traditional inter-school match. The 15-foot statue of the legend atop a hill nearby was also garlanded in his honour.
Dhyan Chand during the 1930s. (Inset) Ashok Kumar
At home, a small hawan (prayer ceremony) was performed by Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar, who promptly recalled the sad phase when his father passed away in a not-so-honourable manner. "My father was a humble man and died after suffering from cancer in the general ward of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in Delhi.
"He suffered, but did not want any VIP treatment despite being famous world over for his prodigious hockey skills," Ashok Kumar, also a former India hockey captain just like his father, told mid-day yesterday.
Besides the personal significance, the occasion also holds special significance for Ashok Kumar (64) on the professional front. "It so happened that my name was listed in the national camp that was to begin in a couple of days in Delhi, but I was obviously unable to attend due to babuji's death.
Then, after completing the tervi (13th day prayer) when I was about to join the camp, I was told by the IHF (Indian Hockey Federation) that my services were no longer required. Mind you, I had captained India the very same year (1979) to a successful tour in Australia.
"And this, after playing for 10 years including four World Cups (1971, 1973, 1975, 1978) and two Olympics (1972 and 1976). To be told that I was wanted anymore, was probably as shattering for me as the passing away of babuji.
"I never played for India thereafter, so it won't be wrong to say that babuji's death coincided with the end of my India career," said Ashok Kumar, who scored the winning goal in India's only World Cup-winning final victory against Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur in 1975. He stays bitter at his unceremonious exit from the national game.