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Roop Singh: A match for Dhyan Chand (7/17/2012)
--K. Arumugam
Roop Singh: A match for Dhyan Chand

Largely unknown and unsung, India’s greatest hockey player and Dhyan Chand’s younger brother Roop Singh is a forgotten hero.

Date of Birth: September 8, 1908. Place: Jubbulpore, India. Domicile: Sipri Bazar, Jhansi City, Country: India. Nationality: British subject by birth.

This was how the details the identity card No. 3770, dated 25.1.1932, issued by the organisers of the Xth Olympiad in Los Angeles, read.

undefined ‘The British subject by birth’ is Roop Singh, the greatest hockey player India produced. His exploits, patented backhand forward passes, those stylish goals which mesmerised men – and more women — of his times were hardly recognised even when he was alive. That the nation let his 100th birth anniversary go unnoticed three summers ago, therefore, was hardly surprising.

Seventy-six years ago, on August 15 at the Berlin Olympics, under a blazing sun, the famed Indians failed to dazzle, wilting under the crowd pressure. Defending champions and prolific scorers, India could not net one till the 32nd minute. At this stage, the jewel from Jhansi stepped in. Forgoing for once the habit of setting up goals, he scored to break the deadlock.

Reinvigorated, India, led by Roop’s elder brother Dhyan Chand, went on to add another seven in the next half. For those who mattered, the tally of goals and captaincy meant more with the result that the crucial goalscorer in Roop Singh never got the credit due to him.

undefined This inside-left maintained a low profile and rarely interacted on tour; all apparently to show humility to his elder brother. This despite his straight-talking, famous sibling often making this clear: “Roop is a better player than me”. When Dhyan Chand repeatedly said this in Ceylon, the first stop on way to the Los Angeles Olympics, reporters first refused to believe him. And then, after a few matches they heaped paeans on the younger brother.

Hardly the one to prop up someone undeserving, Dhyan Chand didn’t say this for effect. At the Los Angeles Olympics one month later, Dhyan Chand’s words were vindicated when the scorecard read: India’s total goals: 35; Roop Singh: 13 Dhyan Chand: 12.

undefined Unfortunately for Roop, World War II denied him a third Olympics. Thus he lost the chance to lead the team, win another gold and garner as much adulation as everyone else. Captain-obsessed India is yet to bestow a single honour or award to its greatest sportsman. Our media even goes ga ga over Bradman turning 100, forgetting this poor, home-bred genius -- who turned 100 three summers ago.

By staying loyal to his ‘State’, Roop unknowingly spurned his fortune. The graduate was with Bombay Customs when the then Gwalior Maharaja Jiwajirao Scindia asked the son of the soil to join his personal staff.

Post Independence though things were different. Roop, who had a big family, had to take up a menial job and was condemned to a life in poverty. He even gave up the president’s post of the Madhya Pradesh State Hockey Association as a favour to those who loaned him money or supported him! When he was ill, a Chennai based doctor took pity on him and offered free treatment.

Maybe, just maybe, had he actually been a ‘British subject by birth’, things would been different.

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