By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, Jan 10 (IANS) Hockey wizard Dhyan Chand was a "great man, great human being and a great player" and it is a surprise that he has not yet been conferred with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, says former India hockey captain B.P. Govinda.
"The Bharat Ratna is conferred in recognition of the laurels that people brought to the country and so on and it is based on recommendations and nominations. I say that (when) so many people have recommended (Dhyan Chand's name for the honour) why not give it to Dada?" Govinda, who is remembered as a fiery forward who was part of the India team that won the 1975 World Cup, told IANS.
"Being a hockey wizard and someone who is well known around the world, why not? Why shouldn't he get it? People have compared Dhyan Chand to what Pele was to football. I knew 'Dada' well; I had met him at the National Institute of Sport (NIS) in Patiala. He was known world over but he never showed that," said the 69-year-old player who was also part of the Indian team that finished runners-up in the 1973 tournament and clinched bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
After he stopped playing, the legendary Dhyan Chand also spent several years as chief hockey coach at the NIS, where Govinda met him. Govinda was part of a generation of young players who were lucky enough to pick Dhyan Chand's brain at the NIS.
Cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar is the only sportsperson to have been conferred with the Bharat Ratna thus far.
There has been a steady demand for Dhyan Chand to be bestowed the honour. Born on August 29, 1905, Dhyan Chand was arguably the face of sports in pre-independent India and for many years after 1947 as well. He led the Indian team to back-to-back gold medals at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics.
Govinda formed a deadly alliance in the Indian team up front with Dhyan Chand's son Ashok Kumar, who was the star of India's World Cup triumph in 1975. But for him, his brief interactions with Dhyan Chand were special, despite a slight language barrier.
"I was very young, I met him during my first or second camp, and back then he was the coach in Patiala. I was just a kid back then. I met his son Ashok in the late 1960s and by 1971 we were playing together," he said.
"Back then I did not even know Hindi that much. I still listened to him and tried to understand whatever I could when he talked. Each time I would ask those who knew Hindi, 'what did he say, what did he say', like that," laughed Govinda.
"A very simple man, a thorough gentleman," was how the former national selector described Dhyan Chand.
Dhyan Chand, a centre-forward, was a selfless person and player. On the field, if he saw another player was in a better position to score a goal, he would pass the ball on to him rather than keep it to himself.
Legend has it that after watching Dhyan Chand, a major in the British Indian army at the time, in action at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Adolf Hitler offered him German citizenship and a higher army post. The prolific striker, however, politely turned it down.
Born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, on August 29, 1905, Dhyan Chand was actually named Dhyan Singh. As Dhyan Singh displayed his rich hockey skill, Pankaj Gupta, his first coach, predicted he would one day shine like a 'chand' (moon). That is how he got the name 'Chand' - Dhyan Chand.
In 1956, the Indian government conferred on him the Padma Bhushan -- he was never presented the Arjuna award though -- and released a postage stamp in his memory on December 3, 1980, exactly a year after he died at the All India Medical Sciences in New Delhi.
Now, the Bharat Ratna honour awaits him.