Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shankar Lakshman: The Hockey Wizard of Maratha Light Infantry

Dev Kumar Vasudevan, narrates the story of Hony Captain Shankar Lakshman, a fauji who became a hockey legend and brought great laurels to India both in the Olympics and Asian games
Shankar Lakshman was born on July 7, 1933 in Mhow. He belonged to the Shekhawat community of Rajasthan. He played hockey at a time when the goalkeeper had only pads as a protective gear. He was a member of the Olympic gold medal winning hockey team in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The other medals he won include the 1958 Asian Games gold medal (Tokyo), 1960 Olympics silver medal (Rome), 1964 Olympics gold medal (Tokyo) and the 1966 Asian Game Gold medal (Bangkok). He was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1965 and the Padmashri in 1967. He was dropped from the Indian hockey team to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 and the decline of Indian hockey also began with that tournament.

His opponents called him the Rock of Gibraltar. According to the manager of the silver medal winning Pakistani hockey team of the ‘64 Tokyo Olympics, Shankar Lakshman was the sole obstacle between the Pakistani team and the gold medal. Lakshman was the first goalkeeper captain in the world. Just take a look at his stunning record. In three Olympic finals against Pakistan he conceded just one goal and in three Asian Games finals he conceded two goals. That makes it six matches and three goals. Charles Cornelius, the former Indian hockey player had once said of him “Lakshman was among the game’s greatest. He was an epitome of courage and a role-model for others of his ilk. Unfazed by any situation, he had the ability to defuse any crisis. His team-mates were at a loss to know how his pads grew broader and broader as the contest wore on.” Referring to his performance in the 1964 Hockey finals against Pakistan in Tokyo the Australian Hockey magazine Hockey Circle had said “...for Lakshman, the ball was the size of a football. It was his afternoon of glory and fame.” Lakshman had joined the Indian Army as a bandsman in 1947 at the tender age of 14 and served in the Maratha Light Infantry’s 5th Battalion. He had retired from the Army as a Subedar Major in 1978 and was awarded the rank of honorary captain. As luck would have it one of the battalions posted in Mhow at the time of his death was the 26th battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry- his funeral was conducted with full military honours by this battalion. It was an emotional experience not only for the townspeople of Mhow but also for the Army. The Maratha Light Infantry could bid goodbye to one of its most illustrious sons. Garrison Ground Mhow has been converted into a mini stadium by the Infantry School and has been named after him. The Infantry School Mhow has also instituted the Shankar Lakshman Hockey Championship Trophy. An apt honour for a son of Mhow. This trophy was won for the first time by the 26th Maratha Light Infantry. That is something which would have made him proud if he had been alive.
Dev Kumar Vasudevan is a freelance writer based at Mhow
Remembering Hony Captain Shankar Lakshman

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