I've led a full life, no regrets at missing out on Padma Shri: Gurbux Singh

Gurbux Singh
IANS|31-Mar-2019 15:29

Kolkata, March 31 : "God has been very kind to me." At 83, that is how Olympic gold medallist and former India hockey captain Gurbux Singh looks back at his life.

Far away from the spotlight in a posh South Kolkata neighbourhood, Gurbux is leading a quiet life, while enjoying the occasional call-ups from the media to hark back on his illustrious career that has forever made him the toast of the nation.

"My family regrets that players who were extras in my team got the Padma Shri but I did not get.I don't regret that," Gurbux told IANS while carefully taking out his 1964 Tokyo Olympics gold medal for the photographer to do his job.

"I am still very much involved with the game. I follow the game regularly. I was at the World Cup (in Bhubaneswar last year) from the quarterfinal to the final. I am happy in that space. I have watched hockey for 50 years from close quarters, first as a player, then as a manager, coach and journalist. I have done it all, and I keep on saying God has been extremely kind. 

"God has been very kind also because I am a rare player in the world to have played all his hockey with the specs on," said Gurbux, his autobiography, titled "My Golden Days", lying beside him.

Since moving to Calcutta (as it was known then) in 1956 to join his brother-in-law's automobile spareparts business, Gurbux captained India to the Asian Games gold in 1966, besides being a key player in reclaiming the gold medal from Pakistan in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In between, he played in 25-26 editions of the Beighton Cup, leading three club sides - Customs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan - to 12 title wins. He was also awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1966, but without much fanfare.

"I was given third class fare from Calcutta to Delhi and received the award from (President) Zakir Hussain. There was no money, it was just the award and the certificate. We did not even get a blazer or tie then."

Gurbux began his professional life with Overseas Impex Corporation, where he worked from 1965-1995. From then till now, he has been a director at Topsel Toyota.

"I don't have to do a lot. I usually instruct somebody how to go about the work...if my boss is there, we have lunch together."

The day for Gurbux begins at 6 a.m. and one of the first persons he looks for after getting up is his gardener.

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"I look after all the plants in the (apartment), which must be in thousands. I have got about 250 plants of my own here. I nurse them, applying the seeds and all that. If you see my tomatoes...from America I brought the seeds," gushes the hockey legend, jumping out of his chair and bringing tomatoes to show this correspondent. 

Back at home by lunch time, Gurbux's activities for the day are over.

"Then in the evening I talk to my daughters... Three are in America and one is in Chennai. I have got four daughters and one son. I have nine grandchildren and three of them are married," a wry smile adorns his face.

Gurbux often visits his daughters in the US. In fact, he was busy preparing for a trip when IANS caught up with him. 

Born in pre-partition Peshawar on February 11, 1936, Gurbux was associated with the Bengal Hockey Association (BHA) as its secretary for over 18 years. 

"I resigned in 2012 because of the age factor. I'm still on the hockey sub-committee of the West Bengal government and regularly attend their meetings."

Though Gurbux says he has been "fortunate enough to have done everything", he has two regrets.

"One of my regrets is I haven't succeeded in getting Bengal an astro-turf. The reason behind this is the government's apathy towards the sport.

"I have time and again said that if we have an astro turf for five years, our boys will be in the camps for Indian team."

The other regret is the bronze medal finish in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, where he was the joint captain, along with Prithipal Singh.

"We cried on and off the ground. We did not go for the Port of Spain tour that was scheduled right after the Olympics, we came back heartbroken."

Gurbux was the national selector and manager of the Indian World Cup team in 1973, and coach of the side for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He also coached the French team in 1974-75.

"I am not in favour of changing coaches too often. We are catching up but it is very slow, it will take time," Gurbux says about the current crop.

Besides gardening, Gurbux is an avid stamp collector and also fond of photography. Memories, thus, will forever be captured in those frames and dates for him. Recognition, he says, has completed a full circle.