“करके फरियाद जाने क्यूँ उसे शर्मिंदा किया करते हैं........ख़बर जिसे हर राज़-ए-दिल की है;
ख़्वाब वो सुनहरे चूमेंगे ख़ुद ही कदम.......गर हम उनके क़ाबिल भी हैं...”
The name of Indian Army is almost synonymous with bravery and glory. Every single soldier is a hero himself. Their eyes shining with pride, head held high and their uniform studded with medals speak of their heroics and valor. Some of these brave hearts rise to heaven protecting the mother India while some hold our hands with compassion when mother nature gets angry. Each one of them deserves a grand salute. The Indian Army have been formidable in the battlefield but not many know that they have also dominated the sports arena for many years. They have given some of the greatest sporting legends to the country and put India on a global stage. In the social turmoil of poverty ridden India, the Indian Army proved to be the perfect breeding ground for legends whose extraordinary feats totally eclipsed their meager backgrounds. Undoubtedly, it was their sheer hard work and passion for their sport that took them to such great heights but the Indian army certainly laid down the foundation stone. The army aptly played the best matchmaker here and who knows how they would have met their dreams without the Indian Army by their side. Sadly, still many of such prodigies might not have made it out of their backyards.
First among such heroes to rise to the occasion was the one who went on to become the face of the Indian national sport - Major Dhyan chand (1905- 3 Dec, 1979). He is best remembered for his extraordinary goal scoring feats and the 3 successive Olympic gold medals in 1928, 32 and 36 in hockey. But this legend first met with his hockey stick in the army grounds only and they fell in love instantly. The Army gave him the much needed opportunity and then there was no turning back. He did not just win matches but hearts also and that too of the likes of Adolf Hitler and Sir Don Bradman. He was truly the “magician of hockey” and his dream run in hockey never had any major low points.
“He scores goals like runs in cricket” - Sir Don Bradman
To commemorate his contribution to the legacy, his birthday, 29th August, is celebrated as the National Sports Day and the highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is named after him. He went all over the world and left his mark everywhere, from Vienna to London. But after he retired from the army as Major, all his medals lost their luster. He couldn't tackle this time and destiny scored. He was left penniless and debilitated. It is a shame that a legend of his stature had to die of liver cancer in a financial crisis. If you think it was sad then the next story was even worse in terms of its climax. He was Subedar Paan Singh Tomar. He never always knew what steeple chase was but the hurdles were no match for his agility and hard work. He became the National Champion seven times and his record of 9 min 4 sec in 3000 mtr steeple chase remained unbeaten for a decade. But then a family feud went berserk and he had to retire early only to fall prey to the dark side of his destiny. Further events took such a tragic turn that the story culminated in the transformation of an international sportsperson into a dacoit. He was hunted down and killed in an encounter few years later. It is a pity that a champion died a criminals death. But this next legend’s past was as gory and filled with bloodshed as were Paan Singh’s last days. He was the ‘flying Sikh’ himself - Milkha Singh.
He also met the sprinter in him after joining the army as Sepoy only. The feats he achieved set a new benchmark in athletics. After amassing a pile of medals, he ran his dream run in 1960 Olympics. He just missed the medal but his record time of 45.73 sec for 300 mtr was glued to his name for 40 years. He was the only male individual to win athletics gold medal in commonwealth games until Vikas Gowda did it in discus throw in 2014. He subsequently became the Director of Sports in the Punjab Ministry of Education, from which he retired in 1998 but still serving the country in one way or the other. This next legend is also serving the country and is still active in sports and preparing to fetch 6th World Champion Title for her three kids. She is M.C. Mary Kom. She never served in the army but the Indian navy cheekily played a vital role in boosting her career. Mary Kom was deeply inspired by a Manipuri boxer ‘Dingko Singh’ who served in Indian navy and won 1998 Asian Games gold medal in boxing. She later trained under the same coach and went on to become a boxing legend. The connection is small but nevertheless important.
All these legends were unique in their own way but they all shared something in common too. They all belonged to meager backgrounds and realized their dreams only after joining the Armed forces. They were all naturally gifted and born winners and the army catapulted their potential to another level. The Armed Forces deserves a salute for their contribution to their sporting careers. These legends dominated each of their sporting fields for decades and set unmatchable records but sadly, some of them were forgotten in their last days. With their splendid performances they made one thing more than clear that
“we may be lagging behind in medal tallies
but we were never scarce in talent”.
We just need to look around with intent and such legends will keep coming up, each with a more inspiring story than the other. But a performer is nothing without an audience and the least we can do is, pick a sport and follow and support it with all our heart and let them hear the echoes of our screams till their last breath. The political and administrative changes will take their time but we have our hearts and that’s all we have to give. These legends need us as much as we need them. So, come forward and make India proud.
Dhyan Chand - Goal
Milkha Singh - Race of my life
Mary Kom - Unbreakable