In the annals of Indian sports, December 3 assumes a lot of significance. The date marks the death anniversary of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, the winner of three Olympic gold medals, and the birth anniversary of Ramakant Achrekar, the cricket coach who moulded icon Sachin Tendulkar.
The two legends were born 53 years apart, with Dhyan Chand being the elder; he was born on August 29, 1905. Achrekar died on January 2 last year, 40 years after the hockey magician. It is, however, not known if the two ever met.
While Dhyan Chand's anniversary was observed in several cities across the country on Thursday, one of Achrekar's most successful pupils, former India Test batsman Indian Pravin Amre said that his coach's anniversary is not celebrated, except when his students pay respects on Guru Purnima, the day people pay tribute to their teachers.
Blood donation, recalling of personal anecdotes of Dhyan Chand, and religious functions in various parts of India marked the 41st death anniversary of the former national captain. The mobile phone of former India hockey captain Ashok Kumar, who is Dhyan Chand's son, was inundated with all kinds of messages, including nostalgic ones.
"I have received scores of messages on my mobile since morning from all over the country. People organised events in different cities - Amravati, Bhopal, Betul, Ayodhya, and Jhansi, our home town," Ashok Kumar, who scored the title-winning goal in the 1975 World Cup final, told IANS.
"Like always, puja was performed at our home in Jhansi. Also, the Vyapar mandal of Jhansi went to father's samadhi at Jhansi Heroes ground, where his funeral was held, and paid their respect. In Ayodhya, a blood donation camp was organised by a local organisation in father's memory. Then, events were held in Bhopal and Betul, both in Madhya Pradesh, and Amravati as well," informed the 70-year-old Ashok Kumar.
Dhyan Chand died in the early hours of December 3, 1979, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, and his body was taken in a helicopter to his hometown Jhansi. But the helicopter came only after Ashok Kumar underwent some anxious moments as he went out of the hospital looking for a vehicle that could carry the body of his illustrious father to Jhansi for the funeral.
"By the time I returned from Pusa Road with the vehicle, word had spread that the hockey wizard had departed and a crowd had gathered at AIIMS. The central government also heard the news through the Indian Hockey Federation, probably, and provided a helicopter to take the body to Jhansi," recalled Ashok Kumar.
Just like the government of the day at the time of his death did not initially care for the legend -- it provided the helicopter only under public pressure -- successive governments have ignored the late Dhyan Chand's rightful claim to the Bharat Ratna.
Interestingly, Achrekar's best known pupil, Tendulkar, received the well-deserved Bharat Ratna in 2014. Many experts, however, feel that while the batting maestro deserved the award, the government should have first decorated Dhyan Chand with it.
Amre, who played 11 Tests and 37 ODIs between 1991 and 1994 and was one of the most famous pupils of Achrekar after Tendulkar, said there were no functions in Mumbai on the occasion of his coach's 88th birth anniversary.
"We never celebrate the birthday or birth anniversary of Achrekar sir. So, there were no events here in Mumbai today as well. We the students of sir only pay our respects to him on the occasion of Guru Purnima, when teachers are honoured. Only once did we celebrate his birthday in a big way about six-seven years ago at Shivaji Park here in Mumbai. About eight Test players and 30 Ranji Trophy players produced by sir attended that function," Amre told IANS.