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|I looked at Vinita and tears rolled down my eyes. I must have cried for more than 15 minutes, and Vinita did not stop or touch me.
These were not tears of joy, these were not tears of sorrow. They were tears of redemption, a feeling which cannot be expressed in words.
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e were expecting a hero's welcome in Delhi. But the flight was diverted to Mumbai, and it was a big anti-climax to us when we landed around 10 pm. I had already made a phone call, and my family along with my colleagues from the Customs department were there to receive us. There was no one from the local hockey association.
As the contingent was quite big, the airport authorities struggled for a long time to make arrangements for the tired heroes, who were forced to sit and lie down on the floor to take some rest. It was only after five hours of wait that we could finally check in to the Leela hotel.
Some journalists wanted to take a few photographs, but Dhanraj hid his face with his blazer as he did not like to be photographed. Dhanraj refused to speak to the media, and on persistent requests shouted, "I will never allow my son to take up hockey."
After settling everyone in their hotel rooms, I went to my home where my wife was wide awake, waiting for me at 3 am. Even before I could utter anything, I looked at Vinita and tears rolled down my eyes. I must have cried for more than 15 minutes, and Vinita did not stop or touch me. These were not tears of joy, these were not tears of sorrow. They were tears of redemption, a feeling which cannot be expressed in words.
After the Asian Games, when we arrived in Delhi, there was a huge crowd assembled outside the airport, and the reception was grand. We later moved to the Taj Mansingh hotel. I thought a new chapter in my life was beginning, and the future looked bright.
I was coming down from my room when I met Jyothikumaran. He put his hand around my shoulder and said, "I think you have achieved your dream, and may like to go." I was taken aback. But I knew the way the Federation works, and so I was resigned to my fate.
We had tickets to go back home to Mumbai, but the flights were over-booked. I went to the airport and spoke to the traffic assistant. I told him that I was the coach of the gold medal-winning Indian hockey team that had just returned from the Asian Games, and wished to go home to Mumbai. The traffic assistant did not even look up.
I had been away from my family and friends for more than two months, and wanted to go home at any cost. It was then that I saw Mizba, a former Indian Airlines hockey player, who immediately put me on the flight. Players are the jewels of their country. A country that does not value them can never become a sporting power.
Kaushik had suddenly started giving fiery articles in the media against the Federation. I requested Kaushik with folded hands to stop, but he did not pay any heed. Then the heads rolled. The IHF announced that six senior players - Dhanraj Pillai, Mukesh Kumar, Ashish Ballal, A. B. Subbaiah, Sabu Varkey and Sandeep Somesh - as well as the two coaches, have been "rested" for the upcoming India-Pakistan test series.
The entire nation was shocked. Such a thing could not have happened in any other country except India. Every newspaper went against Gill. But the Federation and the powers that be are made of thicker hides. I fail to understand why the IHF always treats players in this callous and contemptuous manner. The whims and fancies of a small group cannot ride roughshod over the aspirations of an entire nation.
With a little planning and management, the Bangkok Asiad win could have paved the way for the revival of Indian hockey. The Federation could have made the players the hockey icons of our nation. The same Korean team that we defeated twice in the Asian Games went on to play in the final of the subsequent Olympics. Instead, this golden opportunity was frittered away by removing the core group.
Pepsi paid sponsorship of Rs. 1 crore for the 1999 Indo-Pak hockey series, none of which went to the players. The IHF stuck to their stand of not distributing sponsorship money to the players. The first test match between India and Pakistan was played at the National Stadium in Delhi. Incidentally, this was the first official function of the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. India played some great hockey and won the match. But Pakistan won the nine-match series 6-3, and with that, the entire Asiad euphoria died down.
Indian team at Hotel Taj Mansingh - Photo courtesy The Golden Boot