‘I wish he was still around for his only passion – hockey, and its fans’

Eldest daughter of triple Olympic gold medal winner and former Indian hockey captain, Padma Shri Balbir Singh Senior, remembers her father on his first death anniversary, May 25

As somebody whose association was the longest with my father, Sardar Balbir Singh Dosanjh, after that of my mother, I still cannot believe that he is no longer with us. I feel his presence in every corner of our home and in our lives in every moment that goes by. Everybody says time is the best healer, but somewhere deep inside my heart, I wish he was still around for his only passion – hockey, and its fans.

I was born four months after the Indian hockey team won the historic gold medal in 1948 London Olympics and my father called me the ‘Olympics’ baby.

As he returned after the London Olympics triumph, he would often tell my mother, Sushil Kaur, that winning the Olympic gold medal was his biggest joy and being father to a daughter was his second biggest joy. He named me with letters from my mother’s name and his own. I grew up watching him practice at the goal post made at our home in Jalandhar Cantt. I and my younger brother learnt playing hockey at the same goalpost. We would also watch him play in some tournaments. Watching us in the audience brought him a lot of joy. I played hockey at the university level and got the Panjab University colour later, which he was very proud of. He would often tell my mother that she is his lucky mascot as he won all the three Olympic medals after their marriage.

One of the many things that he taught us by example was to respect every religion and every human being.

During the 1975 World Cup Indian hockey team training camp and then the World Cup, he would tell all the players to keep their respective idols or religious books on one table and pray together. For him, it was Team India despite the different religions it represented, and that’s what he lived for all his life. While he was in England during the training camp, my grandfather was admitted in a hospital. One week later, my grandfather died and later my mother also suffered brain haemorrhage. But country came first for my father. He conducted all the religious ceremonies for his father post the Indian team’s win and after his return to India.

During the last one year of his life, I would watch all international matches live on TV with him, sometimes during the night, and he would tell me when the Indian team wins the Olympic gold, he would do bhangra with them. Watching players across any sport discipline made him happy.

He was a big believer of karma and never chased the fruit of his hard work. He would say that both Lord Krishna and Guru Nanak Dev taught that one should work and not worry about the results. But I disagree with him. Having won three Olympic gold medals and being the chief coach of World Cup winning Indian team, he deserved Bharat Ratna. We would have long discussions on this issue, but his only reply would be that it is all God’s will.

We wish his legacy is preserved and the Indian government is able to trace the missing memorabilia of my father, including his 1956 Melbourne Olympics blazer, and a museum is built so that future generations can be inspired. On Tuesday, Punjab government will rename the Mohali Hockey Stadium after my father and I will be praying from home for the departed soul.

Few years ago, a young child portrayed the role of young Balbir Singh Senior in a documentary. Years later, the same child came with his father to meet my father and told him that he has been selected in the state’s junior team and it was due to my father that he got inspired and play hockey. That’s what Balbir Singh Dosanjh’s true legacy is and I am sure whenever the Indian hockey team will win an Olympics gold, he will be watching with joy from the heavens above.

(As told to Nitin Sharma)

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