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Hockey and Terrorism Part II (12/8/2008)
When I got a job opportunity in Delhi in the early 90s, I grabbed it. One of the attractions of Delhi was to catch up India’s only annual international tournament: Indira Gandhi International Gold Cup.

Conceived as an equivalent to FIH’s Champions Trophy, the Indira Gold Cup was staged with much fanfare in Delhi. Strong teams from Europe and traditional rival Pakistan took part regularly, and the contests were exciting.

I was raw in journalism in those days, still I found missing out the live hockey action was unacceptable. I was then working as a Hydrogeologist with a government organization in Nagpur, a city 1300 km south of Delhi, after completing part of my studies in the now terror-stricken Mumbai.

In the early 90s, Delhi was not a safe place being notorious for transistor bombs, risky transports and what not, what with Punjab terrorism on its peak. But my interest in Indira Cup, and the rural hard grind upbringing, took me to Delhi.

In the beginning, I was scary in Delhi especially whenever I read the police warning in the bus seats: Look below your seat, there may be a bomb. Alert police and earn rewards!

But unfortunately, the Indira Cup that used to be a regular in northern part of India, had to be held in Mumbai in 1993, almost robbing of my purpose of coming to Delhi. The organizers wanted to have it in Delhi, but a new Delhi Corporation rule that forbade in-stadia tobacco advertisements came in their way. The Indira Cup organizers had Wills, a cigarette giant, one of their sponsors. So, Mumbai, which had just then got a new turf ground, got the chance.

As I was traveling by train to Mumbai for the 1993 Indira Cup, about six hours of total 20 hrs journey remained to reach the city, the news of serial bomb blasts came. Terror struck Mumbai for the first time. Powerful bombs went off in 13 public places, paralyzing the city, killing almost 300 people.

What will happen to Indira Cup? I did not cancel my journey unlike many others, reached the city, after checking up had an urge to know what happened to the England team that had already landed in Mumbai.

Despite the serial bomb blasts the city was back to normal, buzzing with activity. With a little help from the Bombay Hockey Association, I reached the Trident hotel – the same Trident which saw two terrorists killing 40 people last week – where the English team was lodged.

Believe me, there was no police around, neither the area was cordoned off nor any visitor like me was frisked. I,after initial enquiry, was in the room of Allan Walker. He was with the British navy, trained their hockey team, and was in India as manager of the national team.

Courtesies exchanged, I asked him a stupid question, how about your maiden visit to India. When I asked this I was not aware, not only the seriousness or intensity of the bomb blasts, but also the fact that the Indira Cup had already been postponed.

The lanky officer just pointed at the window and smilingly said, “as good as the window pans’.

In fact, there were only window frames no pans at all. All the glass works were shattered, as one of the bombs, as Allan explained to me, went off in the vicinity of the hotel, and the hotel building too bore the brunt. His room was strewn with glasses everywhere. Though he was upset and mood downcast, he gave me a good interview, and called the players I wanted for shoot. Later, probably Sportstar carried out that interview.

The England team went back soon, without having a chance to open their stick bag – the bombs went off within 8 hours from their landing -- but had again sent in their consent for the revised dates. However, the edition was not held due to subsequent Maharashtra earthquakes.

The English hockey team’s gesture of willing to come back was matched in spirit by their cricket team too. Unscared by the bomb blasts, the English cricket team visited Mumbai and played all their engagements a fortnight later. 15 years later too another brand of terror attacked Mumbai, England cricket team was in India, and it is heartening they are returning in a week's time to resume cricket.

Some other instances related to terrorism in hockey:

Former IHF President KPS Gill was in the hit list of many dreaded terrorist organizations. He had therefore faced difficulty to reach Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic as all private US airlines refused to take the risk of taking him on board. It is said that he threatened pull out of Indian hockey team from the Olympics if he was not taken to Atlanta. Ultimately, he was in Atlanta.

The States women hockey team had to skip France World Cup Qualifier in 2001 as the team could not fly due to 9/11.

The States women team left India before playing the 3-match test series due to a travel advisory. It was due to escalating tension between Indian and Pakistan after the Indian Parliament attack by terrorist. Incidentally, an Indian-Canadian Shiv Jagday was the chief for the States then.

Metro bomb blast in Madrid took place when a major Qualifying tournament was underway in the city.

Many tournaments allotted to Pakistan had to be taken back to other places as participating teams were wary of visiting.

In the end, I wish to state the following facts for the global audience why The Idea of Indian Nationhood cannot go wrong, not at least by the misguided youth.

One in four Indian is a religious minority. Religion does not form basis of Indian polity or business. Present Prime Minister, who is CEO of India, is a Sikh, Defence Minister is AK Anthony, a Christian, leader of the biggest political party is an Italian married to an Indian political family; till recently a Muslim, APJ Abdul Kalam, was the President of India. Kalam was a scientist by profession, most admired and loved of all Presidents of India. (The biggest business house is run by Parsi) No one identify all these leaders for their religious labels, but solely for their political identities. The Obama phenomenon, which is talked about widely in the world with wide eyes, is a time tested and well-settled routine in the world's biggest democracy, India.

So, India will overcome the Mumbai trauma in a dignified way.

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