Sansarpur, once India’s hockey cradle, doesn’t say ‘chak de’!

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Sansarpur (Punjab) : A few young pairs of legs do not let the dust settle in this Punjab village as they try to keep hopes alive for the country’s national game – hockey. But they are just a handful.

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For Sansarpur, it has been a freefall from being universally recognised once as a cradle of the best hockey players internationally to being just another village ground where some boys also play hockey.

In the 21st century when schools and unknown clubs flaunt their own private astroturf – in tune with changes in the way hockey is played internationally these days – Sansarpur has not been left miles away, it has got lost.

The story of the Indian hockey team’s debacle – for the first time in 80 years it has failed to qualify for the Olympics – perhaps has its beginning in villages like Sansarpur where hockey has lost out to the craze for going West and even to other sports.

India’s failure to qualify for the Olympics has not shocked anyone here, except a few lovers of the game.

“No one has cared for the national sport. Even people have become indifferent to such losses. They want to watch cricket on TV,” rues village elder Jagir Singh.

Tucked away just a few kilometres from the sprawling Jalandhar cantonment, Sansarpur is no longer the nursery of India’s hockey greats like Thakur Singh, who was the first hockey player from this village to play an international tournament in 1926, and the famous five of the 1964 and 1968 Olympics – Balbir Singh (Services-retired colonel), Ajit Pal Singh, Tarsem
Singh, Balbir Singh (Punjab police) and Jagjit Singh.

All Olympians and other international players from here have used the surname ‘Kular’ as all of them came from one family and one street on the village.

Hockey is neither a passion nor much talked about. The only stark reminder of a glorious past in the game is the Sansarpur hockey association’s academy that still has a few pupils – mainly those from nearby villages.

“Youth in this area are no longer interested in hockey. It commands little respect. From the time when every house used to take pride in churning out a hockey player, parents now want their wards to study and go abroad. It is a sad state of affairs,” points out Guriqbal Singh, the association’s joint secretary.

From the time a few decades ago when nearly half of the Indian hockey team used to be from Punjab and each of these players had a Sansarpur connection, just one or two players from here have figured in the national squad in recent years.

Beginning with Gurmit Singh who represented India in the 1932 Olympics, the village used to pride itself with a roll of honour of 14 Olympians, 15 international, over 150 national and scores of university and college level players.

“Players from the village have won eight Olympic gold medals, one silver and six bronze besides medals in the Asian Games and other tournaments,” Balbir Singh said.

“We don’t even have an Astroturf. How can we learn the game for the international level?” ask Varinder and Amit, who practise here, almost in unison. The youngsters play on a ground that is owned by the army and is used for exercises as well.

Parents of the present lot of young hockey players want their wards to give up the game.

But it’s not that hockey is being given up completely. In state capital Chandigarh, the Sector 42 hockey stadium has an academy for budding hockey players. Most of them are drawn from villages in Punjab and practise on a new Astroturf.

Perhaps someone – like Kabir Khan in blockbuster “Chak De! India” – needs to rescue the game from ruin here.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])