When Dhyan Chand & Co defied Hitler
They had the gift to mesmerise opponents and crowd alike. Few know, Dhyan Chand and his teammates had the guts as well to defy the Fuhrer at his backyard.
In fact, a new book suggests, India was one of the only two contingents -- America being the other -- which refused to salute Adolf Hitler during the opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
"Olympics: The India Story" by Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta sheds light on an obscure but glorious chapter of Indian sports and relives how a bunch of mostly unsuspecting, rustic Indians went on to make a stupendous political statement in a grand gesture of defiance.
The book narrates the opening ceremony of the Berlin Games, which was as much a Nazi propaganda vehicle as a sporting extravaganza. Hindenberg, the giant Zeppelin, whirred over the stadium as Hitler arrived for the guard of honour amid great fanfare.
The Indians, Dhyan Chand carrying the flag, were arguably the most dazzling contingent in their light blue turban and golden outfit, resembling a 'marriage procession', as one of the players later remarked.
"But this was no ordinary 'marriage procession' its members were about to make a huge political statement by becoming one of the two contingents who refused to salute Hitler," the book recalls.
The crowd watched in dismay as the Indians did not offer the Nazi salute and while their gesture went largely unnoticed back home, it created quite a stir in Germany, the book claims.
"For most journalists, the Americans were the story of the Games but the Indian decision not to salute Hitler was grand gesture of defiance, totally in sync with the tenets of the dominant stream of Indian nationalism and the Congress Party," the book says.
Its authors admit there is no concrete evidence to suggest that there was a direct linkage between the athletes' gesture and the Congress party but maintain it was a political gesture nonetheless.
"...The fact remains that it was a political act, breathtaking in its audacity, in direct opposition to most other contingents at the Games, including the British," they observe.
They also doubt the veracity of the sporting folklore that Hitler was so impressed by Dhyan Chand's sorcery with the stick that he offered him an officer's commission in the Wermacht.
"This story is almost certainly apocryphal because none of the contemporary sources mention this incident and neither dopes Dhyan Chand in his autobiography," they say.
The book also digs out another interesting trivia about how Dhyan Chand and the team management enforced a strict discipline code for the players in Berlin only to violate it himself and going out in the night to see the dance of a certain Ms Menaka.
"Newspaper archives and contemporary reports of the period give no clue about the identity of the intriguing Ms Menaka but it's clear that it wasn't just all work for the Indians in Berlin; they were also having good fun," the book says.
For the record, India crushed Hitler's Germany 8-1 in the final to complete their golden hat-trick in Olympics.