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Dribbling to success

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N J Ravi Chander
During the school summer vacations back in the 1970s my younger sibling N J Prasanna Kumar and I frequented an old, monkey-top house on Standage Road, Fraser Town, Bengaluru, just behind the street where we lived. Two families, including hockey Olympian Rajgopal, resided here. The house had a solid wooden door on the compound wall, masking the world outside.
Rajgopal’s abode was a trove of glittering trophies and medals of varied shapes and sizes. The sheer number of awards and plaques displayed on a shelf made us wonder whether it was a souvenir store. Curious kids like us who had befriended his son, R Sridhar stood wonderstruck while stealing a glance at the memorabilia but kept our distance from the trophy room. As a result, we never knew their significance until much later in our lives.
Rajgopal, a diminutive individual in his 50s with salt and pepper shock of hair, rarely spoke to us, though his son and nephews were our playmates. His home had photo frames depicting him as a hockey player of repute, but we were too young to see the bigger picture. The open space in front of the house, paved with granite, was our hunting ground, and it was here that we put the stick to the ball in a two-a-side game and honed our hockey skills.
The few times that Rajgopal locked horns with us, it turned out to be a one-sided contest. His dribbling skills were par excellence as he weaved mesmerising patterns around us, even as the ball clung on to his stick like a magnet. Truth to tell, we always came off second best! It was at an exhibition game between two veteran sides at the Bengaluru East Ground in Fraser Town that we got a real taste of his mind-boggling artistry. I recollect how he sneaked past the defence effortlessly, dodged the rival goalkeeper and banged in the match-winning goal, sending the crowd into raptures.
The hard yards that we put in during those formative years proved productive in later years. My brother, Prasanna Kumar and Sridhar donned the state colours in the Junior Nationals Hockey. They went on to represent Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) and Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) respectively in the sport for decades. This writer also enjoyed a long stint with State Bank of India in a sport touted as the national game. Hockey gave us a sense of identity, enabled us to go places and bump into people from different walks of life. It implanted in us a spirit of sportsmanship and discipline, besides teaching us umpteen invaluable life lessons.
For the uninitiated, Muniswamy Rajgopal was Karnataka’s first Olympic gold medal winner (1952 Helsinki Games). Renowned for his prodigious stick work, he earned the moniker of the “Artful Dodger”. He made his mark under the iconic Dhyan Chand when an unpartitioned Indian team toured East Africa in 1945.
He was instrumental in the Bengaluru based Hindustan Aircraft (now Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) emerging triumphant in the 1951 Beighton Cup – deemed to be the oldest hockey tournament in the world – in Kolkata. He passed on in 2004, but his name remains etched in the annals of Karnataka’s glorious sports history!
(The author is a former banker who has taken up writing as a pastime. He contributes to the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)

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