The sea-faring Olympian

The sea-faring Olympian
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First Published: Fri, Jul 25 2008. 01 03 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Jul 25 2008. 01 03 AM IST
Cdr Grahanandan “Nandy” Singh’s Olympics gold medals (he has two since he was part of the winning men’s hockey team in 1948 and 1952) are stored safely in a bank vault and willed to his 12-year-old grandson who lives in the US. “My grandson plays soccer, which must be because of the Brazilian blood from his mum’s side,” he says, as I watch him agilely dribble the ball on his carpet in his living room in Delhi’s posh Defence Colony.
The 84-year-old, who spends time looking after his wife, now afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, still plays golf three-four days at the Delhi Golf Club and also devotes time to the association that handles the Nehru Cup. He confesses that he has no hockey sticks lying at home any more. “People always ask me to sign them and then take them away.”
Singh remembers playing hockey when he was very young. “My father was in the education business and we were well off. He had bought around 26-27 hockey sticks and every day children from around used to come home to play the game. I think we to used break many windowpanes and my mother was always furious.” His father passed away when he was just 6 and the family moved from Rawalpindi to Lyallpur (Faisalabad) in Pakistan. “Things were different suddenly, but I think that move made me the player that I eventually became. If you ask me Faisalabad’s mitti (soil) has the ability to produce hockey players.”
Singh joined the Government College in Lahore for further studies, another place he believes was a breeding ground for hockey talent in the 1940s. “Back then there were four centres of hockey in north India and Government College (in) Lahore was a great place to be for budding hockey players.” At 23, Singh was approached by the Mohan Bagan team to play for them and then he joined the Calcutta Port Trust and was eventually selected to play in the 1948 Olympics. “It was very fair in those days. Different states sent in their teams for a tournament and the selection was made in Mumbai,” he says. Of his teammates from back then, he remembers Balbir Singh being the top goal scorer, but also says with some amount of pride, that it was the skill that he and his other teammates possessed in passing on the ball to Balbir Singh that made the difference. “Even now I think it is not fair that in a team sport like hockey, one person is singled out as a top scorer. If he does not get the ball courtesy the passes that his teammates make, how will he score?”
It was on his trip back on the RMS Circassia from the 1948 Olympics that got Singh interested in the sea and eventually he applied and was selected in the Indian Navy from where he retired as a commander. “I used to gather four or five sailors on every ship and take them on shore to play hockey with the locals. Crowds used to come and watch a former Olympian play the game. Those were great days.” Singh did not play after the 1952 Olympics because, being a sea-faring man, he found it tough practice regularly.
Singh was a part of the infrastructure team that helped organize the 1982 Olympics. Ask him who his favourite hockey player today is, and he shakes his head. “If they are not going to telecast hockey matches, how will people take interest in the game,” he says, referring to the fact that the Junior Asia Cup has not been telecast.
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First Published: Fri, Jul 25 2008. 01 03 AM IST