Memories of a Receding Past: 10

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Football in the Palace

That was not the only time I went across inside the Jai Vilas Palace. Sometimes when football matches would be played with Maharaja’s Jiwaji Club these would be held in the Palace ground. The ground was close to the gate on what was known as the Private Road. The players would take me along if I happened to be with father. Father remained as sports in-charge for a number of years and he had to accompany the team just in case the Maharaja decided to watch it. Those were the days of the feudal potentates. Their writ did run all over in their respective principalities though they were subservient to the British Crown.

Everyone, except the players and, of course, children, if any, would have to don their respective head gear as soon as they crossed into the Palace premises. According to the convention, none could get into the precincts of the Palace bare-headed. My father would put on his sola hat. Sola hats are not seen these days but they were very common before independence. One would see most of the officials wearing sola hats which, I think, were made in England and yet were priced very reasonably. The idea was surely to give fillip to the British industry.

There would be very decent arrangements for witnessing the match by the Maharaja, his staff and the college authorities. Good looking chairs would be kept for them. Even the half time refreshments were decent. While officials would be served tea and biscuits the players would get the usual fare of lime and chilled water. Not any and everyone would be allowed anywhere close to the ground. I do not know whether there was some arrangement to prevent access of people to watch the match But obviously there was acheck point presumably the massive Palace gates.

I would generally be made to sit on a chair in one of the back rows. Sitting so close to the football pitch would give me the strong smell of freshly cropped wet grass. I remember it so well that even now I can recall it, so well registered it is in my olfactory system.

The college team would always beat the Maharaja’s Club. They were no match for the college boys some of whom used to be too good. I remember the two full backs – one was Kunzru and the other was Pawar. If anyone managed to take the ball past them the college would in all probability concede a goal. I used to like the way Pawar kicked the ball high up in the air and sent it far enough to cover almost three quarters of the ground. He looked a solid man, a no-nonsense type and would seldom allow the ball to get past him. The college had a very good goalkeeper, too, in a boy called Nandu. He was of above average height, lean and very agile and would make many remarkable saves.

Principals HM Bull and others

Talking of college football reminds me of the sight of the principal out on the field in the sun with his sola topee on his head looking for and removing teasel of Indian variety from the field. I was still a toddler and I remember his pale eyes as he would pick me up and try talking to me in, of all the languages, English. He was HM Bull who was so caring of his students that he would himself try to make the football ground teasel-free. He knew boys used to play barefoot and the spikes on the teasel could hurt them. There were no football boots those days and what most of the boys wore was only an anklet. It certainly did not protect them from injuries.

HM Bull was followed by two other Englishmen as principals – MA English and FG Pearce – but neither ever bothered to go teasel-hunting. Surprisingly the Gwalior College (it wasn’t a post-graduate college till then) had English gentlemen as principals. The reason could either be the British regimes keenness to pursue Macaulay’s policy to the hilt or the Maharaja’s wish to ensure a better standard of education.  I might add that the Indian principals who followed viz. Dr. AR Wadia and DN Bhalla were no less qualified or competent. But it is true none of the ones who followed them ever went after the teasel on the college football ground.

Allies and football in Gwalior

In the early Nineteen Forties before the armistice football in Gwalior became interesting as the Allied Forces stationed in the town would play it with of a lot of passion and vigour. Among the forces were Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and, of course, the British. I recall, the British were known as “Rovers” and the New Zealander called themselves “Wanderers”. They used to participate in the local tournaments and would often come to the College ground to play with the college team during the football season. They used to be quite formidable and even as a child I could see how puny and emaciated the college boys appeared in front of the hulk of these well-fed and well-cared-for big white men. Besides, all the white men would be playing with their boots on where as all the college boys, barring the two full backs, would be barefooted. On many an occasion one or the other college boy would collapse on the ground writhing in pain, perhaps, hit by a white man’s boot.

It might be of interest to know that those days Football was a summer game in Gwalior and was almost never played in winters. Hockey and Cricket were winter games just as Tennis and Badminton were and were seldom played formally in tournaments in summers. I cannot imagine the reason as these days all the games are played round the year. Perhaps, the governments used to be short of resources.

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More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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