Balbir Singh Dosanjh was independent India’s first flag bearer at the Olympics and also the leading goal scorer in all the three Olympics that he represented India. At a time which was considered as the golden period of Indian Hockey Team, Balbir Sr represented India and helped India win Olympic gold medals thrice in a row (1948, 1952 and 1956). This sporting hero, who deserved to lead a fascinating and celebrated life with much fan fare, instead is leading a simple life away from all the limelight sportsperson receive in India. This article is a tribute to India’s hockey hero who made us proud with his immense skills and sporting brilliance.
Balbir Singh Dosanjh was born in 1924 in Punjab and is unheralded equal to Indian hockey’s megastar Dhyanchand. Balbir Sr is the most trustworthy inheritor of Dhyanchand’s legacy and a sportsperson who brought glory to the sport in India and across the world. But while Dhyanchand’s life is celebrated and is known to every other kid in the country, very few know of the achievements of Balbir Singh Dosanjh who captained India to Gold at Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
The untold story of Independent India’s Hockey Hero
This sporting hero of India took to hockey as he was mesmerized by the feats achieved by Major Dhyanchand with a stick in his hand. Just like Dhaynchand used his magic wand to score goals at will, Balbir Sr also made use of the hockey stick to score goals as when he wished. Balbir Sr was much feared by the goalkeeper of the rival camp as this sporting hero never gave any clue to the goalkeeper as to which side of the goal he was targeting. Balbir always maintained an unorthodox upright posture when he entered the striking circle with the ball glued to his magic wand, creating confusion in the minds of the goalkeeper as to which side of the goal would he place it. That is the precise reason why he succeeded exceedingly well in scoring much of the goals and emerged as top goal scorer in successive Olympics.
Several memories bring a big smile on Balbir Sr’s face, but the one that he cherishes the most is the incident where Punjab Police had handcuffed him in Delhi’s Lady Hardinge grounds and taken him to Lahore so that he would not play for any other institute and instead play for the British. “My father and uncles were revolutionaries; the police was loyal to British. How could I have joined them? So I fled to Delhi, but they ‘arrested’ me” says Balbir to TOI with a big grin on his face.
Among other stories he shares with the reporter, one which brings a shine in his eyes is the story about how the players with whom he initially played Hockey with became his rivals after partition. He fondly remembers the incident in which the players of undivided Punjab who represented Indian Hockey Team before partition landed at Lahore from 1947 National Championships at Bombay. As soon as they reached Lahore they were told that they would have to choose to go back to their homes immediately as the country was splitting. Balbir says many of them who parted ways after hearing the news ran into each other at the next Olympics, but the only difference was that the players who used to be his teammates were his opponents representing the newly formed nation – Pakistan.
A player of Balbir Sr’s caliber who has played innumerous matches at the national and international level and also emerged as top goal scorer in successive Olympics, it seems rather strange that when he lists out his favorite players, most of them went on to represent Pakistan Hockey Team. One of his favorites Ali Iqtidar Shah (Dara) was captured by the British and was tried as part of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army. This very Ali Iqtidar Shah who reserves the top position among the favorites of Balbir Sr had played for India in 1936 and then went on to captain Pakistan in 1948.
Awards and Accolades
- Balbir Singh Dosanjh was the first sportsperson to be honored with Padma Shri Award in 1957.
- He was honored in the Olympic Music Exhibition, “The Olympic Journey: The Story of the Games” during the London Olympics in 2012, held at Royal Opera House.
- In 2015 Balbir Sr was honored with Major Dhyanchand Lifetime Achievement Award at Hockey India Annual Awards, for his immense contribution to the sport.
- In 2006, Balbir Singh Sr was awarded the best Sikh hockey player award, which he refused to accept initially, but he made sure by his acceptance speech that sports should be used as a tool to unite people rather than dividing them. “When we played, it was never as a Sikh or as a Hindu, Muslim or Christian.”
- Balbir Singh Sr was the Manager and Chief Coach of the Indian Hockey Team of Men’s Hockey for the 1975 World Cup, which was won by India.
The Last Wish
The sporting legend of India has two small wishes which he wants to witness before he breathes his last. The first being the wish which every hockey lover has, that is to see India win Gold at the Olympics. “The top spot is always vacant. It is meant only for the hardworking and the brave” says Balbir. His second wish is to recollect the medals and blazer he had handed over to the Sports Authority of India who have supposedly lost the possession of Balbir’s prized possession.
This hockey’s legend is an inspiration to every sports lover worldwide. His love for sports has not reduced even by a bit even though he has been out of action for a few decades now. His favorite players who are mostly from Pakistan show how sports can help in eliminating animosity and instead spread love. His list of favorite hockey players also helps us to get a sneak peek into those wonderful times when sports was meant to be a sport and not a war as it is made out today. We do wish that this sporting star gets the deserving credit for his achievements and the government of the day takes appropriate actions to preserve the legacy before it is too late.