16th Nov, 1968 might have been just any another day in life for many. But it was clearly not for Nagalingam and Andalamma at Kirkee near Pune. Neither they, nor anybody else for that matter would have thought that their boy would go on to represent the nation not once, but for a record 4 four times in the Olympics. It was on a Tuesday, a few weeks after the India won bronze at the 1968 Olympics, Dhanraj Pillay came into this world.
Encouraged and supported by his mother, he used to play the game with broken sticks and discarded balls along with his four brothers. Anemic in academics, brilliant with the hockey stick, the knack and fitness he had developed has taken him to represent the nation. On 20th December, 1989, a year which also saw the emergence of Sachin R Tendulkar, Dhanraj achieved his personal dream of playing against China.
Had a player of this stature represented any other nation like Australia, or Germany, they would have struck gold at almost every tournament this man was involved. He was under treated by the Indian hockey federation, under rated by many, but his unparalleled passion for the game saw him represent India with pride.
He made his Olympic debuted at the 1992 Los Angeles games. He announcing his arrival on the big stage in 1994 Sydney world cup, and tasted success at the SAF games 1995 which made him a star. He represented the nation in 339 International matches. He is the only player in the history of the games to feature in four Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004), four World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002), four Champions Trophies (1995, 1996, 2002, and 2003), and four Asian Games (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002).
Dhanraj means “The king of money ”. But in reality our Dhanraj was never paid his dues by the Indian Hockey federation.
While that cricketer, who started his career along with Dhanraj Pillay tasted superficial stardom on and off the field, the authorities tuned a blind eye and it had always been a common sight in his days. But these things never diluted his pride and passion in representing the nation and bringing home that elusive Olympic medal.
It was 2004 and the Olympic games have begun in Athens. Dhanraj dreamed of winning a medal for India for so long.
As fate would have had it, India lost to Korea and finished 7th over all, ending the career of a man whose only dreamed of representing the nation and not for the materialistic purposes. It has not only ended a glorious international career, but also pushed a visibly strong Dhanraj into tears.
For me personally, it was the end of an era. I could do nothing about it except to pen down these lines. I would sum it up with the following lines written by Sundeep Mishra in his book on Dhanraj Pillay, “Forgive me Amma.”
Watching Dhanraj play was magical, it tells us a story so personal, so universal – the story of one man’s pride and passion being humbled by the whim and fancy of the gods.