Keshav Datt, the gentle giant on the turf

The Lahore-born Keshav Datt did not return to his roots after partition. He settled down in Kolkata in 1950, two years after winning the hockey gold in the London Olympics - the first for independent India.

Keshav Datt with son Kiron and daughter Anjali, in 1966.   -  Special Arrangement

Keshav Datt, one of the finest half-backs, was fierce on the field. He would not care if a player got injured by his tackle. The only thing that mattered was being sincere and committed to hockey. Off the field, he was a gentle Punjabi who helped people.

Growing up in Kolkata, I realised how the city holds on to its stalwarts. People still talk about the bar in Bhowanipore where filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak would drink his rum. Footballers P.K. Banerjee and Chuni Goswami were always the preferred guests at major sporting events, even years after their retirement.

READ: Two-time Olympic hockey gold medallist Keshav Datt passes away

Similarly, Datt — the two-time Olympic gold medallist — is alive in the corridors of Calcutta Cricket and Football Club and Saturday Club, where he served as president. He also played multiple sports for Mohun Bagan. Besides hockey, he excelled in badminton.

The Lahore-born Datt did not return to his roots after partition. He settled down in the city of joy in 1950, two years after winning the hockey gold in the London Olympics - the first for independent India.

Keshav Datt could not make it to the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 as his employers did not sanction the leaves.   -  Special Arrangement

 

The city welcomed him and opened a floodgate of opportunities. "He used to socialise and was a well-respected person. He was a great badminton player, and was meant to be Bengal No. 1," remembers Gurbux Singh, gold medallist at the 1964 Olympics, who moved to Kolkata in 1957. "I used to call him my guru. I would always visit him. He was a simple Indian. People would often speak in English in social circles but he had no such traits. He would love to talk in Punjabi and Hindi."

Datt had a simple game. He would not tinker around with techniques. In 1952, he was part of Kunwar Digvijay Singh’s team for the Helsinki Olympics. And they beat Holland 6-1 for the fifth gold.

READ | 1952 Helsinki Olympics: A fifth hockey gold for India

He could not make it to the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 as Brooke Bond, where he was employed, did not sanction the leaves.

Later, Datt had donated the 1948 medal to the National Defence Fund after the Indo-China war, while his son, Arun, preserved the 1952 medal. "The Olympic gold medal was not on display at our home as it was too valuable, it is now the most prized possession of my brother, Arun,” informs Anjali, his daughter.

In his last days, he would keep in touch with the sporting world through television and newspapers. The nurse, who took care of his food and medicines, kept him in good spirits by making him recall the tales from the glorious days. 

Santoshpur, the quiet neighbourhood in the southern part of Kolkata, was asleep when he bid farewell to the world in his sleep.

It is a coincidence that Datt, 95, passed away on the same day when another Punjabi, from Peshawar, closed his eyes at 98 - actor Dilip Kumar. 

It is truly the end of an era.

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