I have been bemused by the recent clamour that the rules for awarding Bharat Ratna be modified to include sportspersons too so that our batting sensation Sachin Tendulkar can be awarded the nation’s highest civilian award. Given the way some of the national civilian awards have been devalued in recent years, especially Padma Shri, with all sorts of people with doubtful integrity and accomplishments getting selected, considering Sachin for the nation’s highest award would easily seem one of the most merited.
I too am a fan of Sachin who has provided joy to millions of Indian, indeed the world, cricket lovers with his supreme batting displays. Even more than that, I marvel at the manner in which he has handled himself while being scrutinised so closely for well over two decades. Not a shred of allegation on his personal and professional behaviour. Of course, the way he has managed to retain the passion for the game that would do men half his age proud is something folk stories are made of.
However, despite all these great things attributed to Sachin, I am still unconvinced that if indeed the rules of the game are changed to include sportspersons, Sachin should be the first in the line to get the award.
The one name that comes to mind immediately is that of our hockey great Major Dhyan Chand. Whether you are a hockey lover or not, anyone who claims to be a sports lover would, or should, know about Dhyan Chand. He was instrumental in the country winning three successive Olympic Gold medals in hockey – 1928, Amsterdam; 1932, Los Angeles and 1936, Berlin. Such was his mastery when the sport was indeed India’s national game, that there are tales of people travelling from different countries to just watch him play a game of 70 minutes.
And while Sachin’s feats may still be getting there, Dhyan Chand’s accomplishments and stories are already part of the sporting folklore. Consider the following:-
- At Berlin Olympics in 1936, when India played its first game, word went around that a wizard was at work on the hockey field and it drew spectators from other venues. A German newspaper carried a headline: The Olympic complex now has a magic show too. Posters were put up all over Berlin asking people to watch a show like never seen before.
- At one occasion, a lady spectator said if he was such a wizard, could he play with her walking stick. Dhyan Chand did, and scored goals, with the walking stick.
- Apparently in 1935 at Adelaide, Australia’s hockey capital, Dhyan Chand and cricket great Donald Bradman came face to face. After watching him play, the Don remarked: He scores goals like runs in cricket.
- And of course, the most celebrated story of how Hitler, after watching his stupendous performance at Berlin Olympics, offered him the German citizenship and also a promotion in the German army. Of course, Dhyan Chand refused.
And this is just a sample of stories around the man, whose exploits on the hockey field with his team mates, especially his elder brother Roop Singh, are enough to write a book on. Honestly, do you think Sachin’s exploits, amazing though they are, come even close?
As I said, I hold Sachin in extremely high regard but there is yet another major difference between Sachin and Dhyan Chand. When Dhyan Chand played, it was the golden age of hockey with several great players, but Dhyan Chand’s stature was unquestionable. He was unparalleled. However, while Sachin too is considered great, there are his contemporaries who, depending on who you speak to, are considered as good, if not better. Internationally, these would include those like Brian Lara or Viv Richards, and at home, easily the redoubtable Sunil Gavaskar and India’s man for all seasons, Rahul Dravid. Of course, how can one not mention the Don, but there has rarely been talk of Sachin being greater than him.
In Dhyan Chand’s case, however, there was no one who came close. In terms of stickwork at least, there have been the likes of our own Mohd. Shahid or the Pakistani duo of Hassan Sardar and later Shahbaz, but absolutely none had such a mesmeric influence over the game as Dhyan Chand.
So, back to the debate on whether Sachin should get the Bharat Ratna or not? Yes, most certainly. As I said, he merits it ahead of a lot of others who keep getting national awards these days. But should he be the first one? I most certainly think not. Dhyan Chand it should be.