In the recent days one of the things that have surprised me the most is the clamour that has been going around for awarding the Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the nation. Of course he deserves it as he has provided ecstasy to millions or I should say billions of his fans all around the world with his supernatural batting display. Yes, he is the face of the new India, a person who was out there in the field when we were a closed economy and is still out there after more than 20 years of liberalisation. In his earlier days, his potential was never doubted but he made strides to genuine greatness only around the time India started making strides towards attaining the stature of a developed country. Given all this, Sachin should not be the first sportsperson to receive the Bharat Ratna.
The one who should be the first one is of course the guy whose birthday is celebrated “National Sports Day” in India: Dhyan Chand Singh. He was the guy who created magic with his stick. There are instances so surprising, so awe inspiring and so jaw dropping that it would be a shame if he is not the first Indian sportsperson to receive the Bharat Ratna. He was the constructor of Three Consecutive Olympic gold medals which also included a world record 24-1 win over United States of America in the 1932 finals. He was the man who sent chills down the spine of the English men. He was the one who showed them that they may be the one who had modernised the game of hockey but still the Indians were no less than their masters and defeat them emphatically in their own creation. He in his own way played a part in eroding the inferiority complex that had settled in us.
Some of his huge number of spell binding instances are:
1. In 1935, when Don Bradman saw him play, he said “He scores goals like I score runs.”
2. In the 1936 Olympics when India was to play a game, a word went around that a magician was on the field. A newspaper even carried the headline “MAGIC SHOW INCLUDED IN OLYMPICS”. The wizard was the one and only Dhyan Chand.
3. A lady spectator said that if he was really a wizard then he should be able to play with her walking stick. Dhyan Chand obliged and even scored some goals.
4. Once, Hitler saw him play and offered him the German citizenship and a promotion in the German army. Dhyan Chand (fortunately for us) declined.
No matter how great Sachin is and how revered he is, I for some reason don’t see him in the same zone as Dhyan Chand. Even if you talk about longevity, then let me tell you that Dhyan Chand lasted about 22 years on the international circuit. Sachin has played most of his cricket when the standard of wickets around the world was improving, the protective gear was improving and the fear of fast bowlers was going down. Dhyan Chand for that matter played in an era when there was no artificial grass, when the game was to be played without proper care and to be learnt without coaches. Dhyan Chand played around the world when travelling across continents was done by ships and when there was no money to be made of sports (well when it comes to Hockey in India, there is still not much money to be made as a player).No, I am not saying Sachin is not great, I am just saying that once upon a time there lived a man (also small in height) who is still revered as an individual with exemplary skills and a level of talent that is still unmatched and thus the first instance of Bharat Ratna to be given to a sportsperson should be posthumous.