“Many times, I would think he would score, but invariably he would pass the ball to inside forwards or the centre forward to give the finishing touch”. – Gian Singh.
Well, the world might have survived the apocalypse, but not the sports faithful in India. If the nation moaned on 23rd December when its cricketing demi-god left the game, it lamented in grief on 20th December when one of its finest Hockey children, a legend in himself, Leslie Walter Claudius, breathed his last. The latter though, did create a void inside my heart. As an Indian by birth, I was taught to show gratitude and respect to my elders. In retrospect, I’d like to talk about a legend and a colleague to Claudius who, in the hockey circles is famously called as Dada.
23rd June, 1980 did not auger well for the hockey fraternity in India. The national team was practising for the Moscow games to be held in a month from then, and there was a great euphoria. All of a sudden, from nowhere, the clouds wore a gloomy look, when the news carrying the demise of one of the greatest right wingers to have ever played the game spread out.
A long dive into the ocean of history, three decades before the British left the nation, on 2nd February, 1917, in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, a place which is also the home town of the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ Shankar Lakshman, Kishan Lal was born. Ironically, hockey was not the first love for this legend. It was actually polo that gave life to a hockey player inside him. Adulation always stood by his side from his early teenage when he held the hockey stick. He was soon seen playing alongside the hockey immortal – Dhyan Chand for the Jhansi Heroes. Significantly, it was in the year 1933 that his good deeds on the field struck recognition. They attracted the attraction of the Maharaja of Tikamgarh state. Four years later, he joined the BB and CI Railways, today called Western Railways.
A day of good fortunes arrived in 1947 when Kishan Lal was made the deputy to Dhyan Chand on an East African tour, which earned him his first international cap. The subsequent year was even more special, as he was selected to lead the team at the 1948 London Olympics. In the midst of rife speculation due to no player from the past, Dada led the team to triumphs against Austria, Argentina, Spain, Holland and the hosts Great Britain in the finals to return home with a gold medal. That moment entered the history books as independent India’s first gold medal, and it was heartening to see the national flag rising high with our national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” in the background.
One small story relating to Dada circles around even today. In one incident as a school kid in Mhow, he spoke harshly to a sweets vendor for feeding the flies. The vendor came back: “Who do you think you are? The son of a king? Do you dine with Princes and the Rajahs?” Then our Dada in a rather strong tone, replied: “Don’t be smart. I’ll dine with the kind of England.” Eventually, Dada did dine with the British monarch when the jubilant team that struck gold went on a goodwill tour to France, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland, and was given a red–carpet welcome upon their arrival by sea in Bombay.
After serving the nation as a player from 28 long years, Dada donned the role as a coach and continued lending wisdom till 1976. His prudence in hockey coaching earned much admiration. He was even offered a chance to nurture talent in Malaysia in 1964 and East Germany in 1968.
The nation did honour this legend with a Padma Shri in 1966 by the then president Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
To the despair of every Indian, Kishan Lal (Dada), one of the greatest right wingers to have ever played the game, left the world on 22nd June 1980.
This hockey legend should be a great source of inspiration to future generations concerned and connected with hockey in one way or the other.