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Shankar Laxman Remembered (5/6/2006)
--Arumugam
The gathering was small, but impressive. The arrangements were simple, but befitted the occasion, oozing an aura of solemnity. Two triple-Olympians and an assorted hockey personalities assembled at the lawns, about 100 feet from the August Dhyan Chand statue, at the capital’s National Stadium on the evening of Friday, the 5th May. This day was seventh day since Shankar Laxman last breathed; those present were to pay homage to the departed soul.

Jalandhar’s Haripal Kaushik, often Shankar Laxman’s room mate, peer in both domestic and national hockey team, was thoughtfully invited for the occasion. Kaushik, like Laxman, played the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics.

Kaushik was invited to garland a big size portrait of Shankar Laxman that was placed at the podium on which legendary Dhyan Chand’s statue stood. The same was followed by triple Olympian Harbinder Singh, irresistible R.S. Bhola, 1956 & 1960 Olympian, World Cup hero Ashok Kumar, from the same 1975 World Cup winning team HJS Chimni, Dronacharya award winner Rajinder Singh Sr., J.N. Tyagi, the IHF treasurer. Enthusiastic participant in the floral tribute part included a stream of hockey players from both Air India Academy and Hockey Training Centre.

40 odd jawans (from Maratha Light Infantry, the unit Shankar Laxman belonged) led by Col. R.K. Sharma, Officer in-charge of Mission Olympics in the Indian Army, were there in upright uniform, lending an aura of dignity to the Condolence Meeting.

Back to the stage on the grass grounds, a member from the organizer, yours truly, gave a brief introduction on the life and times of Shankar Laxman, an unique player who played six finals, 3 each in Asiad and the Olympics, in a decade that stretched between 1956 and 1966. A handout extolling the achievements of Shankar Laxman was simultaneously distributed.

First to speak was Col. R.K. Sharma, who in the true army traditions, was brief and pertinent in his points. “To keep up the spirit of Shankar Laxman, the army will endeavour to produce many players like him”, Sharma looked honest.

Sqn Lr. Kamal Choudhry, former Member of Parliament, and the organizer of the popular All India Lal Bahadur Shastri Hockey Cup, paid his sincere tributes. Commander P.K. Mahanand, noted weightlifting champions and writer, expressed sad that Laxman’s welfare was not properly taken care of by the powers that be. HJS Chimini, on his turn, reminisced his boyhood vividly; “ I was in sixth standard and we used to go and see games in which Shankar Laxman played and wondered they were all staying in my school rooms”.

R.S. Bhola, who brought with him an album containing vintage images, was at his best. He informed that Shankar Laxman was second goal-keeper for the Services team that took part in the 1956 Olympics. “I saw potential in Shankar and recommended more training for him. Shankar grabbed the chances with both hands and went on to figure in three Olympics”. R.S. Bhola pleaded, "I request the IHF and the institutions for which the players belong to, should do more and devolve a system of recognization of players' services. Why not a fix a honorium to the family and a condolence meeting for every Olympic medallist? It'snot going to cost much, but only some efforts", he said.

Accepting a view expressed from an earlier speaker -- who said that Shankar Laxman stopped 90 percent of shots -- Harbinder Singh minced no words. “The 1964 Olympic Gold and the 1966 Asian Games gold were largely due to him. In 1964, Pakistan got a penalty corner a minute before the final whistle which awesome Munir Tar executed. He took it on the chest, and the Pakis got three rebounds but every time, Shankar could not be pierced. When a sardar player injured during the match, he exhorted him, “What sardar you are, come and play”.

Chief guest Haripal expressed happiness that someone thought of remembering a great player as Shankar Laxman. He felt sad the Indian legendary stable is getting depleted as time passes by. Having said these words, he turned furious on authorities. He fumed, "Influential people are heading the organizations like the IHF and the IOA, which also generate a lot of public money. Why are they so indifferent towards legendary players, who brought Olympic medals, and allow them to die unsung and unheralded. Leave organizing condolence meeting, they don't even bother to send condolence message to bereaved family".

Only sore note on the otherwise thoughtful function was near absence of media. Just two television channels and a few from print media were there to record the occasion for the posterity. I tried to justify this is to the fact that hardly in Delhi ever a condolence meeting was held to pay homage to a departed player!

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