A Canadian remembers the man from his native village in Punjab who inspired him
BY RAVINDER RAI
LT. COL. Haripal Kaushik breathed his last breath on January 25, 2018. His death has saddened both hockey lovers and other Indians who appreciated his contributions to his country’s defense. And then there are people like me who have one more layer of sadness. I am from the same village where the ace hockey player and the brave solider was born in the 1930’s. He was 20 years my senior but I had the opportunity of seeing him play hockey at the peak of his career, and of meeting him personally as recently as January 2018.
Let’s consider his career as a hockey player first. Playing for one’s country in the Olympics is never a small achievement. It was particularly tough to represent India in the 50’s and 60’s. That is because India’s hockey teams were star-studded those days. Every player was a star in their own right. Don‘t forget, India was number one in the world at that time. This was the time that gave the world hockey stars like Harbinder Singh, Udham Singh, Peter, Prithipal Singh, Balbir Singh Senior and Haripal Kaushik, to name a few. Haripal shone as an attacking forward, being particularly known for his speed and supreme stick work. He played for India in 1956, 1960, and 1964, when India won its last gold medal, beating Pakistan in Tokyo. Representing India then, as I said before, was not easy as opposed to today when the Indian team boasts of just a star or two. For Haripal to be selected thrice in a row is not an achievement that has been repeated by many. Without a doubt, he was a hockey legend.
The Sikh Regiment is one of India’s elite fighting units. Commanding a Sikh battalion is an honour given to the best commanding officers. Haripal was the commanding officer of the first Sikh battalion, which has proved itself on many occasions since the country’s partition in 1947. Haripal not only commanded this battalion but led it with distinction as a young lieutenant. When he was commanding a platoon during the Chinese aggression of 1962, he was decorated with a Vir Chakra because he acted very courageously and was instrumental in saving some very heavy weaponry in the face of relentless Chinese onslaught. It is well-known that the ill-equipped and ill-prepared Indian army was no match for the well-trained Chinese army, which outnumbered the Indian army trying to defend the border in the inhospitable, mountainous conditions. As a young officer, Haripal saved his men from heavy losses as far as lives and equipment were concerned. He rose to be the commanding officer of the first Sikh battalion – an outstanding achievement in itself. This is the last position he held until his retirement.
The Haripal’s funeral was not a lavish event. It was an honour for the small village to have its hero back for the last rites. He was given the army’s send-off with an armed forces contingent. Hindus and Sikhs paid their last respects. In keeping with his secular outlook, both the gurdwara and temple had ceremonies to honour him. He was the perfect blend of both religions.Such people are very rare.
His spectacular achievements took place in the 50’s and 60’s but he continued to play a very crucial role on the national scene. Firstly, in the 70’s, he was the adjutant for IMA, India’s elite military academy. Secondly, he was the national selector for the Indian hockey team, a prestigious position he held for several years.
Haripal was not a fame-seeker. He did not hire writers to write books about his achievements. He spent his years quietly away from the spotlight. He hardly gave any interviews and avoided press as much as possible. But he never forgot his native Village Khusropur. He gladly presented himself at the tournaments the village hosted and also attended the social functions. He was freely available for anyone who wanted to see him and seek his advice.
He will continue to inspire generations to come, not only to become ace hockey players but to also serve the country in uniform and in other numerous ways. He was an ideal role model.