I have always believed that To be an 'Icon' the mantra is 'Ican'
And this maxim has been proved time and again. For instance let me take you back to the year 1936. It was the Hockey Final of the Berlin Olympic Games. 40,000 spectators were there rooting for the home team. And among them, sitting in his private box, was the most feared man of his generation: Adolf Hitler. He had come to witness his dream team Germany annihilate the Indians who were gasping for breath under the British yoke. In seventy odd minutes the Fuehrer’s vision was in tatters – all because of a dusky man of average height and build called Dhyan Chand.
In the first half India could manage only one goal. The Indian team got into their rhythm in the second half. Dhyan Chand, who was leading the team, struck in the opening minutes of the half thereby opening the floodgates. India went on to score a barrage of goals - four in five minutes to seal the fate of the match.
As the ground was still slippery due to rain, Dhyan Chand discarded his spiked shoes and stockings and played with his bare feet. It was the incredible stick work of the maestro that had the crowd mesmerized. He moved with the ball as if it were stuck to his hockey stick.
Indian won the match 8-1 with the skipper being responsible either directly or indirectly for half a dozen goals. After the final, as the Indian players were rejoicing at the victory, Dhyan Chand appeared a little sad. On being asked the reason, he said, “I would have been far happier if the victory had come under the Indian flag.”
The Fuehrer wanted to meet the magician who had almost single-handedly shattered his dream and soon the tryst was organized.
“What is your profession?” Hitler asked him.
“I am a Lance Naik in the Indian army.”
“Why don’t you come to Germany and play for my team. I’ll make you a Major or even a Field Marshal.”
“I would rather play for my country. My India.”
The German Chancellor nodded in appreciation, saluting in his heart, no doubt, the patriotism of the Lance Naik.
I had the privilege of interviewing Ashok Kumar, a former hockey legend and son of Major Dhyan Chand. It was in connection with a biography of the wizard which later went on to bag a national award. Ashok Kumar told me his father was a common man from an ordinary background but with an extraordinary will power. He created history through his genius, guts and gumption. He proved with his conviction that impossible is really nothing. Now I let me give you another example closer to our times.
Arunima was a national level volleyball player who was pushed out of a running train by miscreants in the dead of night. One of her legs got cut and was hanging by the tendons. She lay on the tracks in this condition for more than six hours screaming for help, even as 49 trains passed overhead. Faecal matter fell on her and rodents started nibbling at her body but she didn’t give up. She grabbed stones in her hand and by pressing them hard tried to ease the pain and the horror.
In the morning, villagers found Arunima and took her to a hospital. Unfortunately the hospital did not have any facilities for anaesthesia. She was barely conscious, but even in that condition, Arunima had the will power and raw courage to tell the doctors to go ahead and amputate her leg.
Later as she was recovering from the physical pain and the mental agony of having been amputated, she had to face torture of another kind. She had to fight rumours that she had tried to jump off the train because she was travelling without a ticket. There was also a buzz that she had tried to attempt suicide. Added to this sickening potpourri was the overdose of pity.
In a no-win situation such as this, most individuals would have given up. But Arunima decided to take adversity head on by doing the toughest thing in the world – climb Mt. Everest.
When she shared the idea everyone ridiculed Arunima except for her brother and mother and later her mentor, Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to conquer Everest.
After months of rigorous training Arunima set off on her mission and reached Camp 4 of the ‘Everest climb’ on 20th May 2013,
Things began getting extremely tough from there onwards. She could see dead bodies strewn all over in various stages of decomposition. Arunima’s troubles got compounded as her oxygen started getting over. Sherpa, her guide, began forcing her to go back. Though he put tremendous pressure, warning her of dire consequences she didn’t. She told him, “No one can realise how important it is for me to capture the summit. I have to go on at any cost whether you come or not.”
At that instant she remembered the words of her mother. ‘Beta, take one step at a time and if you feel you cannot move forward just look back and see how much you have already travelled.’
Keeping her mother’s advice in mind, Arunima began slowly moving towards her target, neither losing patience nor hope. Finally, on 21st May, 2013 at 10.55 Arunima Sinha climbed the summit becoming the first woman, as well as the first Indian amputee, to climb Mount Everest.
“I fell on my knees and raised my hands. I wanted to shout and scream, ‘Now no one can say a woman cannot achieve or a handicapped person cannot achieve’,” she told me during an interview.
Arunima’s story brings to my mind another tale of unconquerable will in the face of the most terrible of circumstances.
I am sure not many of you have heard of Saurabh Kalia. Saurabh, who died at the young age of 22 is the epitome of supreme sacrifice. In May 1999 a war broke out between India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir. Saurabh was the first officer to give information of the large-scale intrusion of the Pakistan Army in Kargil. He and five of his men were captured alive on May 15 and were in captivity for 22 days. During this period life was just a blur of memories: bits of searing torture, moments of waking up to unbearable agony and then slipping into a daze of excruciating pain.
The questions would come hurtling followed by kicks and blows and abuses. Saurabh and his brave colleagues did not yield. With the minutes turning into hours and hours into days the resoluteness of the Indian soldiers grew. As the Indians scripted a new saga of courage and determination, their Pakistani counterparts slipped to new lows of indignity and savagery. Finally courage won over cowardice and patriotism triumphed over brutality. Saurabh and his men were shot dead.
It was only when the bodies of the brave soldiers reached India that the true enormity of the crime hit the nation. The Pakistani Army had desecrated every tenet of humanity by subjecting the Indian soldiers to brutal savagery.
I was doing a story on the martyrs of Kargil and spoke to Saurabh’s father Dr. Kalia and his brother Vaibhav on a number of occasions. “The body was in a terrible state. There was hardly anything left of my brother’s face. My parents couldn't have seen him," Vaibhav told me, barely able to articulate his feelings.
If anyone epitomizes the bravery of our soldiers at its blistering best it is Captain Saurabh Kalia who suffered inhuman torture but didn’t yield. He died second by second and inch by inch, so that we can live in peace.
Dhyanchand, Arunima and Saurabh Kalia had neither the blessing of a legacy nor the benediction of fate. What they had going for them was indomitable will, visceral courage and unflinching dedication.
They proved beyond doubt that To be an 'Icon' the mantra is 'Ican'