Abhijith N Kolpe
Daijiworld Media Network – Mangaluru

Mangaluru, Aug 29: Dhyan Chand, popularly known as ‘The Wizard’, is considered as one of the greatest field hockey players of all time, who scored more than 400 international goals. Dhyan Chand led India to victories at the Olympics in 1928, 1932 and 1936 along with his brother Capt Roop Singh.The government of India awarded him Padma Bhushan in 1956. His birthday on August 29 is celebrated as National Sports Day in India.

Dhyan Chand's son, Ashok Kumar Singh also shone at the global stage. Ashok Kumar scored the winning goal against Pakistan to win the World Cup in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Ashok Kumar was the conferred Arjuna Award in 1974.

Ashok Kumar spoke in an exclusive interview with daijiworld.


Ashok Kumar Singh


Excerpts

Q: Dhyan Chand is a name synonymous with Indian Hockey. What do you remember about him as a hockey player as well as a father?

A: When I was a child, I used to see my father in army uniform in Meerut. I remember him as a disciplined man, and also a jovial kind of person. We grew up in Meerut where he was posted as a Major. We left Meerut after his retirement and shifted to Jhansi.

My father had to struggle a lot carrying the burden of our joint family. He received the Padma Bhushan in 1956. But those days, it involved no money, just the award. Though he joined the army in 1921 at the age of 16, he had to work till 1970. He was called as the 'Magician of Hockey’. ‘Chand’ means moon and the name of given by people. Hence, he changed his name from Dhyan Singh to Dhyan Chand. I used to curiously see a lot of people meeting my father. I realised his popularity as I grew up.

I started playing hockey when I was in Jhansi. I played in the school, college and university level. My father was a genius and hence people called him 'Juggler'.


Dhyan Chand


Q: You too played hockey in global tournaments. How did his life inspire you?


A: I got inspired only by his name. In our times, they were no facilities or incentives. We used to play hockey only to secure medals. We were committed to earn medals like my father and other players for the country. This was the idea and thinking for us to play well.


Q: Being the son of a great hockey icon, how were people’s expectations?

A: My father never wanted us to become hockey players. One could never make a career playing hockey in 1960s and 70s. He wanted us seven brothers to move to the city and earn well to support the family.

My father stopped me and my brother from playing hockey when he used to come home on vacations. But then, we used to continue playing after he left back for work. We used to play in the street as we had no playground. Hockey was very popular during those days, but never got any monetary support from the federation or the government. Thus, my father never wanted us to play hockey.

After I played in the Asian Games, my father stopped playing hockey. When the media asked my father why he quit hockey, he said, “Both my sons are playing hockey now. They will continue and will learn many things.”


Q: Tell us about Dhyan Chand’s emergence as a hockey player from a city like Allahabad. Was the atmosphere conducive to hockey those days?

A: My grandfather was in Army when we shifted from Allahabad to Jhansi. He was an average student at school as he was more interested in sports. My grandfather forced my father to join army. My father had to play any sport or game as part of recreational activity in the evening. Kabaddi, football, wrestling and hockey were some of the most popular games then. My father was good at hockey. The hockey coach in the army noticed my father’s extraordinary abilities and started paying more attention to his game.

Major Bala Tiwari, the in-charge of training, who saw my father’s dribbling skills called him and gave him some advice which he followed and started to score goals. The team went on to win inter-regiment, inter-battalion, and national championship tournament. For the first time, the army team toured New Zealand in 1926. The international committee felt that hockey was a popular game and decided to introduce it at the Olympics in 1928 at Amsterdam.


Q: Being the son of a legendary player, did it inspire you or put some sort of pressure on your game?

A: Yes, but not much. Along with my father, my uncle, Capt Roop Singh was also a good and popular player who played in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. Along with my father and uncle, I too got an opportunity to play for my country. There were no coaching facilities during our times. While we used to have a month-and-a-half’s training before Olympics, we had only 2-3 weeks of training before Asian Games or World Cup. My father never coached me. We used to see other players’ techniques and that was coaching for us. I feel that part is missing in the country today.


Q: Many say that Adolf Hitler had a great admiration for Dhyan Chand. Tell us something about his meeting with the ‘Fuhrer’.

A: Adolf Hitler witnessed the historic match played between India and Germany in 1936 at Berlin. Germany was technically in the forefront as they were having television, aircraft etc those days.

Before the finals, my father had a team huddle where he took out the tricolour and motivated the team to give their best on the field.

Hitler was watching the match with his subordinates and a jam-packed crowd of 55,000 people. Everyone was confident of Germany’s victory. During the half-time, India was leading by a solitary goal. Playing barefoot, India went on to score seven goals in the second half. My father scored three goals while my uncle scored one. When India scored six goals, Hitler left the ground as he could not tolerate the German team losing to India. It was a humiliating defeat for the Germans against Indians with a score line of 8-1. There was pin drop silence in the stadium and the audience vanished without making any noise. It was a great victory for Indians.

While every player was busy celebrating in the dressing room, only Dhyan Chand was missing. They noticed that he was standing below the flag and literally crying as he felt that the victory had not come under their own flag, but the British one.

Hitler later called my father, and requested him to come to Germany and also offered him the post of ‘Colonel’. My father refused his offer and said. “I have to serve my country and cannot leave it.”


Dhyan Chand statue at Jhansi


Indian hockey team in 1936


Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium


Medals


Q: There was a popular demand that Dhyan Chand should be conferred with the highest civilian award 'Bharat Ratna’. What is your opinion? Would it be a boost to Indian Hockey?


A: Yes, he deserves the award for his love towards the country and hockey. He was a great personality and coach too. This will give a much needed boost to the game in the country. Future generations will come to know, who Dhyan Chand was. The love and affection given by people is enormous. As many as 20 statues of my father have been installed across the country and plenty of stadiums have been named after him.

Even his followers and supporters feel that Dhyan Chand deserves the award. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s in his ‘Mann ki Baat ‘, had mentioned about Dhyan Chand. The previous government had denied the award. Sports minister Vijay Goel has now recommended Dhyan Chand's name and we hope that it will be considered.


Q: People were ardent followers of hockey at a time when there was no television. People used to listen to commentary getting up early in the morning when India played in Australia. Why do you think the popularity of hockey has diminished now?


A: Hockey is an artistic and game based on skills. We used to bamboozle opponents with our skills. Passing the ball to other players and scoring goals used to excite the spectators. But this is lacking today.

It must be noted that players are not like the way they used to be in our times. The rules and regulations have changed. The ground quality has improved. If government stop giving facilities, hockey will find it difficult to survive.


Q: Has the emergence of Hockey India League helped to popularize the game in India?

A: These leagues help a lot. But it would be great if state level players are given opportunities. But in these leagues, only 60 players are selected who will represent India. They get all the facilities. I want all the players to get equal opportunity. That will help us to unearth talents who can go on to represent the country.


Q: India has been an unmatched emperor of world hockey. Dhyan Chand was one of the greatest dribblers. Did Europeans, who are more physically fit change the rules and regulations to suit them?

A: Yes, definitely. As hockey was an artistic, calculative and scientific game, India had an upper hand. Europeans wanted to stop India’s dominance. So they changed the whole scenario, the rules, ground and way of playing hockey.


Q: What do you think should be done by the government to bring back the glory of yesteryears?

A: Hockey is now being played in abundance and has become one of the expensive games to play. The government should support hockey. If hockey is popular in a place, students in schools and colleges should be encouraged to play the game along with good coaching facilities.


Q: Could you please share some unforgettable moments with our readers about your father.


A: After we won the World Cup in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur, I came home with the winner’s trophy. I remember the happiness I saw in my father’s eyes. He did not say a word but only patted my back. This was a great feeling as someone from our family had once again helped the country to win a world tournament. Our family has won six Olympic and four Asian Games medals.