Much cherished success
N J Ravi Chander
From a tender age, hockey fascinated my maternal uncle, M D Umapathi. He trotted off to the Bengaluru East Ground in the evenings, watch the barefooted players in action, and learn the nuances of the game. Watching the young lad turn up at the maidan each day, one of the observant senior players invited him to join them and learn the ropes.
A young Umapathi spent the next few days wondering how to get started. Pocket money was scarce, and it was rare to find someone gifting a hockey stick. Cobbling together the pocket money given by his maternal uncles, Umapathi saved just enough to fulfill his dreams of playing hockey.
A brand new hockey bat at any premier sports goods shop cost a tenner those days, which was extortionate. But a store on Kamaraj Road, going by the name Sharma Sports sold used sticks for a steal – two rupees apiece – and uncle picked the best bat out of the lot. He was now the proud owner of a hockey stick!
There was another hurdle to cross! My maternal grandfather, Lieutenant M. Dharmalingam, though an avid hockey enthusiast who wore the MEG colours, was reluctant to allow his son to take up the game. He considered hockey a rough and challenging activity with every chance of getting hit or injured.
Uncle would, therefore, time his practice sessions to coincide with grandpa’s walk in the evening and would sprint home before the latter’s arrival. Grandfather would admonish his son and threaten him with a few whacks if he spotted him playing.
Uncle made his hockey debut with the Bangalore Muslims, a motley crew of Tamils and Mussulmans from East Bengaluru who figured in the ‘C’ division. From there, it was a gradual climb. Blessed with a superb physique, Umapathi revelled as a fullback and featured in many of the club’s stirring victories. As he stepped into St. Joseph’s college, his interest in the game grew more assertive.
The college hockey trials conducted in batches at the college’s hostel ground was a marathon affair, spread over a week. Over 200 contestants vied with one another to get picked. His efforts to make it to the college team proved futile as favouritism marred the selections. The college think-tank dominated by the captain and a few seniors resorted to picking their close confidants and trusted lieutenants.
The uncle never gave up and continued playing for Bangalore Muslims. By some strange quirk of fate, the team bumped into St. Joseph’s College in the BUS Cup Hockey tournament – a fixture for non-medallists conducted by Karnataka State Hockey Association (KSHA) at the BRV Grounds. Both teams failed to open their account during a barren first half, but after lemon time Bangalore Muslims earned a penalty corner, and uncle banged in the winning goal.
That goal was to earn him a ticket to the college hockey team. Rev Fr Sequeira, the college’s sports secretary, who was a spectator, learned that the match hero was from his college and lost no time in imploring the uncle to join the college team. A kit containing the hockey gear was issued. It shocked the sports secretary to learn that the player took part in the trials but did not get the selectors nod. The uncle took over the reins of captaincy soon and led his college to many glorious victories.
After graduation, uncle represented the Accountant General’s office in the State league. He aided in helping the team graduate from the lowly ‘C’ Division to the Senior division by infusing fresh blood. He also represented the State in the Senior Nationals. The crowning moment arrived when the Karnataka State Hockey Association delegated him as the manager of the State team, technical delegate for international matches and as a member of the State selection committee.
(The author is a former banker and writes for the Deccan Herald, The New Indian Express, The Tribune, The Hitavada, The City Tab, The Hans India and Kashmir Vision)