While temple city Varanasi, limbers up to welcome its bronze medalist Team India forward son Lalit Upadhyaya on return from Tokyo, a 61-year-old bank clearing agent of the city is basking in double glory.
At the age of 61, Satish Upadhyaya, the father of 2021 bronze medallist Indian Men’s Hockey Team’s forward Lalit Upadhyaya, is not only eagerly awaiting his son’s return. But he is also missing his childhood classmate Mohd Shahid, the master-dribbler who is considered the key architect of the Men in Blue’s last Olympic gold medal triumph at Moscow in 1980.
“Had my friend (Mohd Shahid) been alive, he would have driven down to my house immediately after Team India won the bronze in Tokyo on Thursday. I’m lucky to be linked to both the memorable triumphs, the 1980 gold and 2021 bronze medal conquest,” Upadhyaya said with a glint of joy and tears in his eyes.
According to Upadhyaya, both he and Shahid were classmates in high school (Class IX and Class X) at Varanasi’s JP Mehta Inter College.
Mohd Shahid, (who was awarded Arjuna Award in 1980-81 and Padma Shri in 1986) is possibly one of the finest dribblers of the hockey ball after legendary Dhyan Chand in India. Shahid died due to liver disease in 2016.
Just five km distance separates Shahid’s home in the Orderly Bazar area and Upadhyay’s home in the Bhagatpur (Shivpur) area of Varanasi.
“When Indian team won the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold with my classmate’s winning goal against Spain, there was no TV in our city and we depended on radio sets and newspapers. But things are different now, as we watched all Tokyo 2020 matches live, whether Lalit played in them or not. It was unfortunate that Lalit couldn’t play the final due to injury, but all that mattered to us was our country’s win. In every member of the team that pipped Germany on Thursday, I saw my son Lalit only, even though he was sitting outside due to injury,” a proud Upadhyaya gushed out.
“Though Shahid was my high school classmate, I never asked for any help from him for both my sons Amit and Lalit. While elder son Amit, also a national level hockey forward is now employed at Accountant General (AG) Office in Prayagraj, Lalit is already part of Olympic glory and we hope to see him on top of the podium with teammates in Paris in 2024,” he added.
Both brothers Amit and younger Lalit started playing hockey in 2003 at the UP College in Varanasi under the Sports Authority of India (SAI) National Sports Talent Contest (NSTC) program under the watchful eyes of SAI coach Parmanand Mishra.
While Amit was a national level forward, Lalit has represented India at all major international tourneys, including Champions Trophy, Asian Games, Asia Cup, Commonwealth Games, World Cup and now at the Olympics.
“Lalit is any coach’s dream disciple as he stays focussed on his game and has great stick-work and a signature left to right dodge artistry, besides being equally incisive as a striker and midfielder both. Aussie veteran Graham Reid is the Indian team’s coach, but before every match at the Olympics, Lalit has rung me for boosting his morale. I’m sure that Thursday’s bronze medal triumph will revive hockey across India, including Varanasi, which has given to India, Olympians like Mohd Shahid, Vivek Singh and Rahul Singh,” said Lalit’s coach Parmanand Mishra.
Varanasi has been home to many champion hockey players, including the legendary Late Mohd Shahid, Mohd Naeem, Late Vivek Singh (centre half at Seoul Olympics 1988) and his younger sibling Rahul Singh (centre half at 1996 Atlanta Olympics).