Kishen Karve, the lonely Hockey warrior from Gujarat, is no more. He passed away recently, after being ill briefly in Ahmedabad at the age of 84. I had met him several times last year while trying to do my own research on why Indian sports lagged behind at most international meets. My aim was to compile suggestions and publish a layman’s report either in the print or digital form. “Mama” (uncle), as he was fondly called by his pupils, friends and well wishers, had warned me against this exercise. “You won’t reach anywhere,” he quipped. “Many dreamt of changing this system, but none succeeded in garnering anything. Better focus on making money in life, and be not bothered about this messed up world. ”
And most other people I had spoken around him had similar views; this included ex-Ranji cricket players and the cricket, hockey and tennis coaches from Gujarat. Karve was speaking based on his experience of the past six decades in hockey, most of which revolved around the Gujarat College Hockey Ground in Ahmedabad. He would drop in there early morning, clean and trim the grass around, provide tips to the young budding students, and leave very late in the evening. He had seen the transformation of the Indian hockey and society both over last few decades. Having learned the basics of hockey from the famed duo of Dhyan Chand and Manna Singh, Karve was one of the last surviving links from that golden era.
Before he could be selected for the national side, Karve started coaching the Gujarat boys and girls, something Manna Singh had requested him to do. He lived bachelor the whole life, and never accepted any salary from the Gujarat College authorities. Thousands from Gujarat got trained in hockey during all these years. He had numerous tales, some depicting the glory of the past era, and others telling the abject disregard India shows towards its own talent (read examples here and here) .
On being asked about what ailed the Indian sports, his eyes would flicker in anger and frustration, his hands would tremble as if one had opened up Pandora’s box. He would tell numerous stories, but also add in the end, “you shouldn’t have asked this. My mind becomes full of anguish with the events of past. I have been through it (hockey’s downfall) and don’t want to live it again.”
Some described him as a lonely, frustrated guy. Those others, who had seen him closely, would hail him up. I was somewhat shocked, amused and surprised at the dedication he had towards his own game. I never carried on with my personal research thereafter. Suddenly, his death was reported in the local print media some days ago. I write this post with a sad and guilty conscience. Sad, for having lost such a devoted hockey freak in India, and guilty, for not having taken up with my writings on the Indian sports after interviewing him…it just proved how lazy, selfish and ignorant I was like others that Mama had spoken about an year earlier!