Sunday, April 30, 2006

Shankar Laxman of Mhow - Indian hockey's forgotten hero is no more

'Laxman was among the game's greatest. He was an epitome of courage and a role-model for others of his ilk. Unfazed by any situation, he had the ability to defuse any crisis. His team-mates were at a loss to know how his pads grew broader and broader as the contest wore on.' - Charles Cornelius , former Indian hockey player.

"No chest guards and pads in those days, just the pads and the stick"- Harbinder Singh, former Indian hockey player, quoted in an article by K Arumugam, Hindustan Times, May 2, 2006.

"...for Laxman, the ball was the size of a football. It was his afternoon of glory and fame" - Hockey Circle, Australian Hockey Magazine, referring to Laxman's performance against Pakistan in the hockey final of the 1964 Olympics, as quoted by K Arumugam in an article in the Hindustan Times, May 2, 2006.

Shankar Laxman - Indian hockey hero, goalkeeper and captain of the Indian hockey team in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is no more. He died yesterday Saturday, 29 April 2006, of a heart attack at Mhow, the Cantonment town in Indore district of Madhya Pradesh. He had not been keeping well for quiet some time. A month or so ago people were shocked to learn that he was suffering from gangrene in one leg. He had got his toenails removed surgically. Doctors suggested amputation. He and his family members refused. They opted for alternative therapy. He was going to Ramesh Parmar, former cricketer and a healer who uses traditional herbal remedies. When I asked somebody who knew Laxman I was told that Dada, as he was known locally, was improving. Member of Parliament Jyotiraditya Scindia had promised him all help when he had come to Indore to attend the One Day International cricket Match against England on April 15. It was a shock to learn that he was no more. It was strange to learn about the death of someone who lived not far away by seeing a flash on TV from a New Delhi based news channel's studio a few hundred miles away.

I had been hearing of Shankar Laxman since my childhood and was always in awe of him. A fortnight ago I had visited his house in the market place of Mhow and was told that he had gone to get herbal medicine applied on his leg. I was asked to come later. I could never go. Perhaps I was destined not to meet him.

Shankar Laxman was born on July 7, 1933 in Mhow. He was a member of the Olympic gold medal winning hockey team in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The other medals he won include the 1958 Asian Games gold medal (Tokyo), 1960 Olympics silver medal (Rome), 1964 Olympics gold medal (Tokyo) and the 1966 Asian Game Gold medal (Bangkok). He was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1965 and the Padmashri in 1967. He was dropped from the Indian hockey team to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 and the decline of Indian hockey also began with that tournament. His opponents called him the Rock of Gibraltar. According to the manager of the silver medal winning Pakistani team of the '64 Tokyo Olympics Shankar Laxman was the sole obstacle between the Pakistani team and the gold medal. According to an article titled There cannot be another like him by K Arumugam in the Hindustan Times dated May 2 ,2006 Laxman was the first goalkeeper captain in the world. Arumugam mentions his stunning record. In three Olympic finals against Pakistan he conceded just one goal and in three Asian Games finals he conceded two goals. That makes it six matches and three goals. I also remember Indore's Mir Ranjan Negi, whose father was a schoolteacher in Central School Mhow. Negi was the goalkeeper of the Indian hockey team in the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games and he had conceded something like seven goals in that match against Pakistan.

Laxman had joined the Indian Army and was in the Maratha Light Infantry's 5th Battalion. He had retired from the Army as an honorary captain. As luck would have it one of the battalions posted in Mhow now is the 26th battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry- his funeral was conducted with military honours by this battalion. It was an emotional experience not only for the townspeople of Mhow but also for the Army. The Maratha Light Infantry could say goodbye to one of its most illustrious sons.

He had begun his sports career as a footballer. According to an obituary report in the Indore edition of the Free Press he was the captain of the football team of a village named Kodaria which is part of Mhow. It was only after he joined the Army that he switched over to hockey. The rest, as they say, is history. He had founded a club named Heroes Club in Mhow to popularise hockey. Young Brothers, Mhow's best football club, also benefited from his expertise. His expert comments given during the 1982 Hockey World Cup in Bombay (Mumbai) were much appreciated.

Laxman lived a quiet retired life in Mhow. He even ran a small rationshop to make both ends meet. The IHF and officialdom may have ignored him but he was loved by the people of this small town who were very proud of him and loved him dearly. For them, he was and will always remain one of the few genuine heroes that their small town has produced.
Also see: Used and Abused - The Indian Goalkeeper by Sundeep Misra in, Sept 27, 1999