Desh Prem Azad was a man who succeeded in this world of bitter rivalries, cut-throat competition and manipulation, to leave a lasting imprint on all those he groomed and interacted with.
He had seen life, as he would often narrate during high-spirited evenings with his friends, in its raw, bare necessities. He was proud of the fact that where many of his ilk had failed, he fought against odds to become a famous coach, a man whom Kapil Dev refers to as his guru, mentor and much more.
Chandigarh’s Sector 16 coaching centre, where Azad honed the skills of young, impressionable boys, was the centre of his life, an abode where his writ ran. He was, in the tradition of Indian gurus, a man whose word was law and no one dared defy his instructions.
If anyone did, as Kapil discovered one day, the punishment was severe and harsh: no more cricket for them for days together. He was an accomplished batsman himself, having played first class cricket. His wards watched in awe and admiration their coach scoring hundred and double hundreds in club cricket even while he was in his forties.
The seventies Chandigarh was a place where boys would be lucky to find a place to play. It all changed when the NIS-trained Azad transformed the government-run Sector 16 coaching centre from a lazy hub into a rigorous, vibrant, disciplined place where you went to sweat it out in training and not to do sundry personal work for the coach.
Another famous student of his, Ashok Malhotra, thinks they all owe a debt to the man. That cricket is not a hit in the gully but has to be pursued with discipline and harsh regimentation is something Malhotra realises helped them fulfill their dream of playing for the country. Azad had many detractors, as any successful man would have.
He didn’t care, disdainful of all those who pulled him down.
Much before Kuku became the Kapil Dev we know, he told the world he was going to give India its first fast bowler. The matting wicket at the coaching centre was replaced by a turf and all efforts were made to make it lively and bouncy to encourage Kapil in seeking his goal.
For someone like me, who played at his centre first as a university student and later interacted intimately with him as a rookie cricket reporter, DP Azad’s memory will always be cherished.