Hockey WC goalkeeper Kumar has lost his father and son during matches

Dec 02, 2018, 10:40 IST | Ashwin Ferro

How Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam is coping and still performing for his country despite the sudden deaths of his son Haarshenn and father

Hockey WC goalkeeper Kumar has lost his father and son during matches
Netherlands's Bob de Voogd tumbles over Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam during the Men's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar on Saturday

Malaysia's veteran goalkeeper Kumar Subramaniam, 39, is fearless when it comes to thwarting some of the fiercest drag flicks hurled at him at over 100mph, but dreads a midnight phone call while on tour. In 2010, while on national duty at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, he got a call from his wife, Parimala at 2am IST, informing him that his father, Subramaniam, 55, who was hale and hearty until a few hours back, passed away due to a massive heart attack. Five years later, at the 2015 World League Semi-finals at Antwerp in Belgium, he received another midnight call. This time, his wife was wailing. They had just lost their son, Haarshenn, two.

Dad and me were pals
"I didn't know how to react and thought I was dreaming on both occasions. One can understand if it was a prolonged illness, but both were sudden. My father and me were good friends. I was the only son. He was a hospital attendant and we had a modest upbringing. He taught me a lot and instilled discipline and prayer in me. That fateful evening, we spoke for 45 minutes and he was talking about my game. We were facing Pakistan next and he told me that he had asked our relatives to watch the game.

Kumar Subramaniam
Kumar Subramaniam

In Haarshenn's case, it was worse. My whole world came crashing down. He was our second son and Parimala was shouting and crying on the phone saying, 'our son is not moving, nothing [no life] is happening.' He contracted mild fever as I left for Antwerp and she took him to hospital. Eight hours later, he died. They conducted all the tests, but couldn't find any problem. The doctors said it was normal fever and put him on drip but he suddenly suffered convulsions and collapsed," Kumar, the senior-most member of the Malaysian team participating in the hockey World Cup here, told mid-day.

Kumar rushed back home from both tournaments and drowned himself in spiritual duties. Thoughts of quitting hockey did occur, but the first time, his wife encouraged him to get back, and in the second instance, his late son appeared in his dream with a message. "Haarshenn kept coming in my dreams and told me not to worry and that he is in a good place. He told me that he had taken my bad fortune upon him. He also said that he would come back soon," said Kumar adding that even some spiritual gurus had said that death was actually meant for him and not his son.

Subramaniam shows the name of his late son Haarshenn tattooed on his right arm. Pics/PTI, Ashwin Ferro
Subramaniam shows the name of his late son Haarshenn tattooed on his right arm. Pics/PTI, Ashwin Ferro

These off-field emotional lows have not had any effect on Kumar's form. His latest heroics were witnessed at the Jakarta Asian Games where he thwarted India in the semi-final shootout in what seemed to be a sure-shot gold medal tournament for the Indians. There was tension in the Subramaniam household earlier this year too, just before he left for the Test series in Argentina, where he was returning after a dope ban.

Dope low
"An initial two-year sentence was reduced to six months after it was learnt that I had consumed a banned substance [sibutramine] by accident. I was determined to go to Argentina and do well because this dope news threatened to spoil my name, but Parimala was towards the end of her pregnancy.

I was a bit worried but she insisted that I go and that her brother and father would take care of her. She delivered a baby boy. I had travelled for the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games also while Parimala was pregnant. I was worried but went. We won silver there and I also got the news that she delivered a baby boy, so I was doubly happy," said Kumar, who has three sons Varshan eight, Siddthaa Pavanaj, two and Rishann, six months.

Having guarded the Malaysian post for two decades, Kumar realises that he doesn't have too many hockey years ahead of him. "I'm happy to take it tournament by tournament and I am not even thinking about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I'm currently mentoring younger goalkeepers in Malaysia and hope they can do well in the future after I have finished," he said.

His son's death returns to our conversation "I have his name tattooed on my arm [shows his right arm], so he is always with me. In fact, I see a lot of him in Siddthaa — he looks, walks and talks just like Haarshenn. God has been kind. He has given me whatever he could and I've given whatever I could to Malaysian hockey," he signed off.

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